Rolex Watches You Never Knew Existed

Rolex is one of the world’s most coveted brands because it is an instant communicator of status and success. Rolex’s design DNA is so strong, its most popular designs can be easily recognized even from afar.

Of course, it took generations of consistency to get to this point, not to mention years of experimentation. The result is an amazing archive of timepieces – ones that we rarely hear about, but have helped shape the Rolex watches that we know and love today.

 

Here are our favorites among Rolex’s unique and rare archival pieces.

 

Cellini Moonphase
Rolex Padellone ref 8171 (photo from Christies) and Rolex Cellini Moonphase

Rolex Padellone (1949)

Rolex is not known for its complicated timepieces, choosing instead to focus on robust tool watches — so this triple calendar moonphase is quite special. Launched in 1949, the Padellone’s 38mm dial was large at that time, so it got its name from the Italian word for ‘big frying pan’. There are only about 1,000 of these special watches ever made. Rolex would wait until 2017 to bring back the moonphase complication, this time in the Rolex Cellini Moonphase.

 


 

Datejust Turnograph
Rolex Zerographe ref 3346 (photo from Christies) and Rolex Datejust Turnograph

Rolex Zerographe (1937)

The Rolex Zerographe ref 3346 is astonishing in many respects: it was created before World War II, is the first Rolex chronograph to feature an in-house movement, and the first Rolex to feature a rotating bezel. If we are to trace the provenance of Rolex’s most important features, we’ll find many in the Zerographe. It was never produced commercially, however, and is more of a final design. It is estimated that Rolex made up to twelve pieces, with only four known to be in existence today. It looks most like the Rolex Turn-o-graph, which also featured many firsts in Rolex history.

 


 

Explorer 39
Rolex Space Dweller ref 1016 (photo from Christies) and Rolex Explorer I 39mm Steel Watch

Rolex Space Dweller (1963)

Unlike other models on this list, the Space Dweller looks very familiar. It is a special edition of the Rolex Explorer I made especially for the Japanese market. In 1963, the astronauts of Project Mercury, the United States’ first man-in-space program, were so well-received during their visit to Japan, that Rolex decided to capitalize on their popularity. Rolex replaced the dial of the Rolex Explorer ref 1016 with one that says “Space Dweller”. Released in limited quantities and only in Japan, this is a rarity among Rolex timepieces.

 


 

Daytona
Rolex Yachtmaster Daytona prototype ref 6239 / 6242 (photo from RolexForums) and Rolex Daytona Ceramic Bezel Watch

Rolex Yachtmaster Daytona (1965)

Here’s another Rolex that was never offered to the public. The Rolex Yacht-Master would not be introduced until 1992, but thirty years before that, the company had already been experimenting with this 39mm nautical watch. This prototype has been dubbed as the “Yachtmaster Daytona” by watch circles, as it looks more like the Daytona. There are only three pieces known in existence, one of which was owned by Grammy-winning artist Eric Clapton, before it was auctioned off.

 


 

Yachtmaster 40
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner prototype ref 1680 (photo from Christie’s) and Rolex Yacht-Master 40mm Platinum Blue Dial Mens Watch

Rolex Submariner Prototype (1970s)

This very interesting looking timepiece created a lot of interest in 2017, and ended up becoming the most expensive Rolex Submariner sold publicly. The 18k white gold Rolex Submariner prototype looks a lot like today’s Rolex Yacht-Master. Its bezel is knurled in two opposing directions and features a blue nipple dial with gold markers and hands. There are only three examples known to exist – two with this blue dial and another one with a black dial.

 

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