Underwater And Beyond: Rolex Sea-Dweller vs. Rolex Submariner
It’s the ultimate Rolex diving watch showdown: Sea-Dweller vs. Submariner ► Explore their differences and find your match.
Rolex GMT-Master II
Rolex Yacht-Master II
Rolex Oyster Perpetual
Rolex Explorer II
Rolex Air King
It’s the ultimate Rolex diving watch showdown: Sea-Dweller vs. Submariner ► Explore their differences and find your match.
Rolex is the ultimate luxury watch brand. These classic timepieces define the watch industry, and are renowned the world over. Moreover, many models are experiencing eye-popping value appreciation, and have thus become profitable investments.
Many consider Rolex to be the epitome of luxury watches, and not without reason. Rolex's models are iconic in the watch industry, often serving as the blueprint for entire watch categories. Take for example the Rolex Submariner; although it was by no means the first of its kind, this model is deemed the quintessential diving watch. The GMT-Master was just as influential, radicalizing GMT watches with its two-tone 24-hour ring.
Prestige, excellent quality, and timeless designs are all synonymous with Rolex, and demand for timepieces produced by the Swiss giant has been steadily rising as a result. High demand coupled with limited availability ensures that prices are also on the up and up. This means that Rolex watches are very likely to appreciate and can, therefore, make for profitable investments.
Rolex's reputation is bolstered by the fact that it has remained independent and attaches great importance to crafting its watches almost entirely in-house. After all, many other well-known watch manufacturers now belong to large corporations; for example, Omega is part of the Swatch Group. Another secret to Rolex's success is their discreet company policy: Tours of their workshops are rare, the CEO seldom gives interviews, and even their annual profits are kept private.
|Model, reference number||Price (approx.)||Value appreciation 2021–2023 (approx.)|
|Submariner "COMEX," 5514||115,000 USD||+54%|
|Daytona "Rainbow," 116595RBOW||595,000 USD||+52%|
|Milgauss, 116400GV||13,000 USD||+36%|
|Submariner "Hulk," 116610LV||25,500 USD||+27%|
|Day-Date 40, 228396TBR||162,000 USD||+26%|
|Day-Date 40, 228238||47,000 USD||+25%|
|Cellini Moonphase, 50535||30,000 USD||+22%|
|Datejust 36, 116200||9,000 USD||+20%|
|Lady-Datejust, 69173||6,200 USD||+19%|
|Yacht-Master II, 116688||50,000 USD||+17%|
|GMT-Master II "Pepsi," 126710BLRO||22,500 USD||+11%|
|Yacht-Master 42, 226659||35,000 USD||+10%|
|Daytona, 116500LN||33,000 USD||+9%|
|Oyster Perpetual 28, 276200||7,100 USD||+7%|
|Submariner "No Date," 114060||12,500 USD||+3%|
|Explorer II, 216570||11,500 USD||+/- 0%|
|Daytona "Paul Newman," 6241||255,000 USD||+/- 0%|
In spring 2023, Rolex was listing the models in their portfolio for between 6,150 and 41,900 USD. But there's a catch: It's virtually impossible to buy most Rolex models from your local authorized dealer. In fact, you can easily spend months or even years on a waiting list. It's much easier to get your chosen watch on the secondary market, but in line with the law of supply and demand, you will have to reckon with a high mark-up.
This phenomenon is reflected in the price of the stainless steel Submariner Date ref. 116610LN. In April 2023, this reference was selling on Chrono24 for close to 15,000 USD – that's over 6,000 USD more than its original retail price. Expect an even larger investment if you're interested in a Daytona model with a white dial like the ref. 116500LN or the stainless steel version of the GMT-Master II ref. 126710BLRO. At close to 37,000 and 22,500 USD respectively, these Rolexes demand almost twice as much as the manufacturer's MSRP.
There are also more affordable options available. Vintage models from the 1930s and 40s, such as the Precision Super Balance ref. 4211 or the Oyster Sport Aqua ref. 3136 can be had for under 1,200 USD in good condition.
Rolex watches are so much more than a statement of power, prestige, and luxury – most also make fantastic investments. If you ever decide to sell your Rolex, you can generally assume you will get your money back. In fact, watches in good condition often sell for a profit. While the market has settled down somewhat recently, many Rolex watches nevertheless increased in value by between 5% and 15% from April 2021 to April 2023. Certain models like the Milgauss (discontinued in 2023) even recorded a value appreciation of over 35%. Rolex watches evidently still have the potential to be lucrative investments.
Listings for Rolex watches on Chrono24 start from around 1,000 USD. You will mostly find less popular vintage models in this price range, such as the square Precision models from the 1940s and 50s. These watches are mainly collector's items, and don't stand much chance of significantly appreciating in value.
The most affordable Rolex models that hold their value start between 4,200 and 5,500 USD. Two great examples are the Rolex Precision ref. 4498 and the Rolex Cellini ref. 4112, both of which are vintage models.
If you are interested in watches from the current lineup that won't break the bank, take a look at the unisex Oyster Perpetual 36 ref. 126000. In spring 2023, Rolex was listing this timepiece for 6,150 USD. However, due to limited supply for numerous reasons, this reference runs between 9,000 and 18,000 USD on the secondary market, depending on its dial color.
The most expensive Rolex watch ever sold is the Cosmograph Daytona ref. 6239 once owned by the Hollywood legend himself, Paul Newman. In 2017, Phillips auction house sold this timepiece for a staggering 17.75 million USD after just 12 minutes. The watch features a rare "exotic dial." These dials have at least two colors, a contrasting minute track, and Art-Deco-style numerals on the subdials. Another remarkable detail on this watch is the small squares topping the indices on the subdials.
The auction had a knock-on effect: a run on Daytona models with exotic dials. Particularly popular models include the references 6239, 6241, and 6264. Asking prices for well-maintained timepieces start at around 109,000 USD and soar above 410,000 USD.
But make no mistake, even younger models have been raking in six-figure sums. Search for the platinum ref. 116506 on Chrono24 and you'll be greeted with prices floating around the 145,000 USD mark. When it comes to the pavé editions under ref. 116576TBR, the dial and bezel of which are completely studded with diamonds, you'll need to part with around 470,000 USD. The current Daytona Rainbow 116595RBOW demands almost 600,000 USD. This gold watch's main attraction is the rainbow of baguette-cut sapphires that adorn its bezel. The pavé version can even push 800,000 USD.
The Submariner is a staple in Rolex's portfolio. Although its history stretches back as far as 1953, the Submariner's design has barely changed over the decades. The watch's diving bezel; streamlined dial with round, glow-in-the-dark indices; triangle at 12 o'clock; and luminous Mercedes hands are still key features confirming the Submariner's DNA to this day.
The current editions of the Submariner in stainless steel can be found under the reference numbers 124060 (no date) and 126610LN (with date). Both timepieces measure 41 mm across, are water-resistant to 300 m (30 bar, 984 ft), and feature a black dial and black bezel inlay. Rolex also produces these references in white gold, yellow gold, or a two-tone combination of gold and steel.
The Submariner collection is home to a number of collector's items, such as the green Submariner editions, better known as the "Hulk" and "Kermit." The blue version also has a devoted fan base, who christened the timepiece the "Smurf." Special editions like the Submariner Comex, created in cooperation with COMEX, a French company specializing in underwater exploration technology, are rare and thus highly sought after.
You can buy the current Submariner "No Date" on Chrono24 for around 13,500 USD in mint condition, whereas the Submariner Date demands closer to 15,500 USD. Two-tone designs are more expensive at approximately 18,500 USD.
Special editions like the Submariner Hulk and Smurf require much higher investments, at around 25,500 and 45,500 USD, respectively. If you're interested in a Comex model in good condition, be prepared to spend around 114,000 USD.
Fans of vintage watches have plenty to choose from in the Submariner collection. Depending on the timepiece's production period and condition, prices can come in anywhere between 15,000 and 105,000 USD.
The Cosmograph Daytona is one of Rolex's most popular watches and is fittingly named after the famous car racing track in Daytona Beach, Florida. As we've come to expect from Rolex, the manufacturer has only tweaked the Daytona's design slightly in the years since the watch's introduction in 1963. The Daytona's most recognizable feature is the three subdial layout at 3, 6, and 9 o'clock. The time is indicated with the help of applied, tapered bar indices and baton hands, and since both the hour markers and hands are luminous, you'll have no trouble telling the time in low lighting conditions.
Thanks to the interplay of the screw-down crown and push-pieces with the watch's Oyster case, the Daytona has a depth rating of 100 m (10 bar, 328 ft). What's more, you have the choice of models in stainless steel, gold, platinum, and numerous two-tone designs.
The fixed bezel complete with tachymeter scale are two other fundamentals of the Daytona. However, Rolex did use an array of materials for the bezel inlay over the years; so, depending on when the timepiece was produced, the inlay can be made of stainless steel, acrylic crystal, aluminum, gold, or the manufacturer's proprietary ceramic blend, Cerachrom.
In celebration of the Daytona's 60th anniversary in 2023, Rolex gave the collection a few upgrades; although, the visual differences between the new reference 126500 and its predecessor, the ref. 116500, are extremely subtle. For example, the dial now features slightly narrower indices than before, and the case has softer lines, making the watch look slimmer. The diameter of 40 mm, however, remains unchanged.
The most significant update is inside the watch. The previous movement was swapped out for the in-house caliber 4131, which boasts a 72-hour power reserve and Chronergy escapement for increased magnetic resistance.
Another modification was made to the platinum ref. 126506. Rolex awarded this timepiece with a sapphire crystal case back, allowing you to see the finely decorated movement boasting a yellow gold rotor beneath. The current platinum Daytona is thus one of the rare Rolex watches in which the movement is visible through the case back.
Prices for new Rolex Daytona models start at around 27,500 USD, which will get you the two-tone ref. 116503. If you're interested in the stainless steel ref. 116520 from the current generation, expect an investment of about 36,500 USD. Prices for older references such as the ref. 16520 break 60,000 USD. Fans of gold watches will find suitable models for between 38,000 and 50,000 USD, all depending on the timepiece's production period and dial design.
Platinum Daytonas are right at home in the six-figure range, demanding around 145,000 USD apiece. And while that may sound like a lot, when compared to the Daytona Rainbow, which changes hands for over 500,000 USD, you might just change your mind.
As for vintage Daytonas, the Paul Newman Daytona ref. 6241 is a hot commodity. Depending on the exact edition, and of course its condition, this Rolex watch runs between 110,000 and 260,000 USD.
Rolex originally developed the GMT-Master for Pan Am pilots. The GMT-Master and the later version, the GMT-Master II more or less set the standard for watches displaying a second time zone.
At first glance, the GMT-Master is very similar to the Submariner. However, if you take a closer look, you'll see several differentiating factors. The most obvious difference is the 24-hour bezel, which is usually divided into two colors to distinguish between day and night. The most popular color combinations are the red and blue seen on the Rolex Pepsi, black and red on the Rolex Coke, blue and black on the Rolex Batman, brown and black on the Rolex Root Beer, and the green and black seen on the Sprite model introduced in 2022.
Another difference is the additional central GMT hand, which, together with the bezel, displays the time in a second time zone.
In spring 2023, Rolex unveiled two new versions of the GMT-Master II: the yellow gold ref. 126718GRNR and the two-tone ref. 126713GRNR. Like the stainless steel edition, these models are powered by the caliber 3285, have a 40-mm diameter, and offer water resistance to 100 m (10 bar, 328 ft). What is new, however, is the black and gray ceramic bezel inlay.
Rolex lists the two-tone edition for 16,450 USD and the yellow gold version for 38,900 USD. We'll have to wait to see how prices on the secondary market play out; there were no listings for these new Rolex models on Chrono24 at the time of writing in April 2023.
Prices for the Rolex GMT-Master vary greatly by model, namely between 13,000 and 200,000 USD. At the lower end of the spectrum is the Pepsi ref. 16700 and the two-tone ref. 16753, while the most expensive models are those with precious gems adorning their bezel, case, and even dial.
The stainless steel versions in the current GMT-Master II collection run between 20,000 and 28,000 USD. Bear in mind that prices for gold models start at around 47,000 USD.
Expect to spend around 65,000 USD for particularly rare vintage watches like the ref. 6542 or special editions such as the green dial ref. 116718LN.
The Datejust has been a cornerstone of Rolex's catalog since 1945. Ever since the introduction of the 40th-anniversary edition, this timepiece has defined what it means to be a sporty dress watch. Its simple design with a narrow bezel, trim baton hands, and date with Cyclops lens at 3 o'clock has remained nearly untouched since the very first model, the ref. 4467. The Jubilee bracelet, which debuted alongside the Datejust, also remains part of Rolex's portfolio to this day.
The earliest version of the Datejust had a 36-mm case, but Rolex has since expanded the range to also include diameters of 26, 31, 34, and 41 mm. As for materials, you have the choice between stainless steel, white gold, yellow gold, rose gold, and two-tone gold and stainless steel combinations. Customization doesn't end there: There are also a wide range of dial designs to choose from. In fact, the Datejust 36 is even available with dials featuring palm trees or resembling the fluting of the signature Datejust bezel.
Compared to other classic Rolexes, Datejust prices are relatively affordable. For example, you can find current models like the 41-mm ref. 126300 with a blue sunburst dial and smooth bezel for about 11,500 USD on Chrono24. The ref. 126334 with a blue dial, diamond indices, and fluted bezel requires a slightly larger investment of 15,000 USD. Vintage versions from the 1960s and 70s are much less expensive, with many watches demanding only 5,000 USD. However, prices for the very first Datejust (ref. 4467) are significantly higher at 21,000 USD.
In 1956, Rolex made history once again with the release of the Oyster Perpetual Day-Date, aka the Rolex President. It was the first wristwatch capable of displaying both the date and day of the week written out in full. Like the Datejust, its date display sits below a Cyclops lens at 3 o'clock, while its additional day window arcs above the famous Rolex cornet at 12 o'clock. Rolex also created a unique bracelet for the Day-Date, namely the thee-piece link President bracelet.
To this day, the Day-Date has only ever been available in gold or platinum and with a 36 or 40-mm case. Prices range from around 16,000 USD for the 36-mm white gold Day-Date 1803 on a leather strap to just under 90,000 USD for the 40-mm ref. 218206 in platinum.
At Watches and Wonders 2023, Rolex unveiled a whole host of new timepieces, in addition to the revamped Daytona and the new GMT-Master models mentioned above. What's more, the manufacturer also decided to retire some collections.
Rolex followed up the great success of the 36-mm version of the Explorer in 2021, with the introduction of the Explorer 40. As the name reveals, the stainless steel timepiece has a diameter of 40 mm – a first for the Explorer. Inside the case, you'll find the in-house caliber 3230, which can tick away for 70 hours uninterrupted.
You can find this new Rolex watch under the reference number 224270. The MSRP is 7,700 USD.
Rolex expanded the Yacht-Master collection with the Yacht-Master 42 ref. 226627, the second model from the brand to be crafted from RLX titanium, alongside the 2022 Deepsea Challenge. RLX titanium is a special grade 5 titanium alloy that Rolex claims is 30% lighter than conventional titanium, while still offering the same level of durability and corrosion resistance.
The new Yacht-Master's unidirectional bezel features a black ceramic inlay hosting a 60-minute scale. The watch is equipped with the caliber 3235, which is also found in the current Submariner generation.
In April 2023, the titanium Yacht-Master 42 was a rare find on the Chrono24 marketplace, though Rolex lists it for 14,050 USD.
The Sky-Dweller is still Rolex's most complicated timepiece, boasting an annual calendar and second time zone. What makes this watch truly special is its Ring Command bezel, which is used to control the timepiece's functions.
In 2023, the Sky-Dweller caliber 9001 passed the baton to the caliber 9002. This brand-new movement offers a modern Chronergy escapement, Paraflex shock protection, and an optimized ball-bearing rotor.
The new Sky-Dweller is available in white, yellow, or rose gold, as well as two-tone designs combining steel and gold. There are many dial colors on offer, including black, white, blue, gray, brown, and green. As for the band, you can choose between the Oyster, Jubilee, or Oysterflex bracelet.
The official list prices for the 2023 Sky-Dweller range from 15,650 to 50,950 USD, depending on the exact configuration.
Rolex took Watches and Wonders 2023 as an opportunity to give its catalog a spring clean. The manufacturer decided to retire the Milgauss collection, a model which had been in production since the 1950s. Unfortunately, increased magnetic resistance was not enough to gain favor with the masses, and the model was usually only considered by dedicated watch connoisseurs. After the end of the road was announced in March 2023, prices for the Milgauss on the secondary market begun to spike. For example, the ref. 116400GV with green-tinted sapphire crystal and black dial cost about 13,500 USD on Chrono24 in April 2023, whereas two years earlier, you could have bought this watch for just under 10,000 USD. Vintage variants such as the black dial ref. 1019 also saw strong increase in the same two-year period, rising from 30,000 USD in April 2021 to 40,000 USD in April 2023.
The other collection that failed to make the cut is the Cellini. This dress watch is being replaced with the 1908 series. The case of the new 39-mm watch is slim and elegant, and available in your choice of yellow or white gold. The domed sapphire crystal is held in place by a bezel split into two parts, the outer edge of which is fluted and the inner cambered. The sapphire display back treats the wearer to the caliber 7140 at work; Rolex developed this movement especially for the 1908 and embellished it with fine ornamental detailing. Looking again at the front, the dial design exudes class: applied Arabic numerals at 3, 9, and 12 o'clock, with the small seconds nestled in at 6. The remaining hours are marked with trim baton indices, while the outer edge of the dial hosts a railroad minute track. Lastly, a narrow sword hand points to the minutes and a hand decorated with a circle toward its tip points to the hour.
Rolex lists the yellow gold 1908 for 22,000 USD and the white gold version for 23,300 USD.
Rolex's history begins back in 1905, when German entrepreneurs Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis founded the watch wholesaler Wilsdorf & Davis in London. Davis oversaw the production of watch cases, while Wilsdorf obtained the necessary movements from the Swiss company Aegler. In 1908, they trademarked the name Rolex. The catchy name most likely comes from "rolling export," but there is no solid proof of the origin.
The five-point crown became a symbol of the brand in 1925. The story behind the development of the logo remains a secret. Experts suspect that the five-pointed crown stands for the five fingers of a watchmaker or the letters in Rolex. The crown logo and the name Rolex have appeared on every dial, crown, and clasp since 1939.
Revolutionaries Che Guevara and Fidel Castro also recognized and appreciated the qualities of Rolex. It's not known whether the robustness of the watch helped the Cuban Revolution of 1959, but Che and Fidel certainly contributed to the brand's myth. No other watch manufacturer has managed to appeal to such a wide variety of customers, including those in power, the Dalai Lama, and the model Elle Macpherson.
In-house Rolex calibers are considered especially precise. Each watch comes with a certificate from the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (Contrôle officiel suisse des chronomètres, or COSC). In addition to COSC's tests, Rolex reexamines all of their watches in-house once the movement is in its case. Rolex has even stricter requirements that only allow for a maximum deviation of +/- 2 seconds per day.
Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf was already emphasizing the importance of precision back in the early 20th century. In 1910, he sent a watch to a local watchmaking school in Biel for evaluation. The movement was subjected to 14 days of testing, which it passed. At the end of this two-week procedure, the testers issued the world's first wristwatch chronometer certificate and sent it to London.
Whoever buys a Rolex is simultaneously doing a good deed. Wilsdorf never had any children of his own, and after his wife's death, he left all of his Rolex shares to the newly established Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. The foundation belongs to Rolex and receives a large proportion of their annual profits. This money is used to support social initiatives; environmental protection programs; and scientific, artistic, and cultural projects.