Many of the watches in Rolex‘s lineup have existed for multiple decades, and they are regarded as true icons of the luxury watch industry. Virtually all collectors and enthusiasts are familiar with the brand‘s core catalog, and many Rolex models are household names that exist as fixtures within the greater vernacular of popular culture. However, while Rolex’s contemporary catalog is about as consistent and well-known as you are likely to find in the watch industry, the brand’s archives are littered with short-lived models that many people don’t know even exist — and below we take a quick look at 3 of our favorites.
Rolex Zerographe ref. 3346
The Rolex Zerographe is one of those mythical vintage Rolex models that is so old and rare that it is virtually impossible to distinguish whether it was an actual model that Rolex briefly produced or if it was more of a glorified prototype. Produced way back in 1937, it is estimated that between seven and twelve examples of the Zerographe reference 3346 were created, and there is no official mention of it anywhere in Rolex’s present-day marketing materials. Granted, the amount of surviving records from 1937 are limited in general, let alone records about a watch that was produced for less than a year in a batch of no more than a dozen units.
What makes the Rolex Zerographe ref. 3346 so special is that rather than using a Valjoux-based movement like the brand’s other chronograph watches from the early days of its history, the Zerographe is powered by a manual-wind Rolex movement that has been modified to feature a primitive monopusher flyback chronograph function. Additionally, the reference 3346 also technically holds the title of being the first Rolex watch to feature a rotating bezel. However, since the Zerographe doesn’t appear to be a model that was formally offered to the public, that honor gets passed along to the Rolex Turn-O-Graph, which appeared considerably later during the early 1950s. Only a couple examples of the Rolex Zerographe 3346 have ever surfaced at auction, and since only a handful were ever originally produced, rarely is it a model that comes up in discussion but it is easily one of the most unusual tool watches that Rolex has ever created.
Rolex Transcontinental ref. 6602
While it is no longer in production, the Turn-O-Graph is a well-known model from Rolex’s past catalog and one that can offer a surprising amount of diversity. The very earliest iterations from 1953 looked incredibly similar to the inaugural Rolex Submariner models that appeared later that same year, and while many of later variations largely resemble regular Datejust models fitted with gold rotating timing bezels, there are a few oddball models from the Turn-O-Graph’s archives such as the Transcontinental reference 6602.
At its core, the Rolex Transcontinental is a reference 6609 Turn-O-Graph, except for the fact that it features a dial with the ‘Transcontinental’ name, along with a unique 12-hour rotating bezel. However, the actual reference number engraving inscribed on the case reads 6602, which results in the model frequently being labeled as a reference 6609/6602 whenever one happens to surface at an auction or on the various forums. The Rolex Transcontinental ref. 6602 was only produced for a single year in 1957 and it is estimated that less than half a dozen examples exist in total. Little information about the Rolex Transcontinental exists, and while it would be easy to dismiss the unusual 12-hour bezels as possible customizations or frankenwatches, the fact that the ‘Transcontinental’ name appears on the dial itself and the watch was produced as the reference 6602 (rather than the ref. 6609) suggests that the Rolex Transcontinental is its own unique variant of the Datejust Turn-O-Graph.
Rolex Commando ref. 6429
While it may look a lot like a Rolex Explorer, the Commando is its own unique model and one that is significantly less common to encounter out in the wild. Exclusively produced during the very end of the 1960s and early 1970s and only available through either U.S. military bases or Abercrombie & Fitch retail stores, the Rolex Commando ref. 6429 was created to be a budget-friendly alternative to the Explorer, which is immediately clear when looking at its black dial that features the same 3-6-9 design that characterizes its Explorer-branded sibling.
However, that is largely where the similarities end. Rather than measuring 36mm like the Rolex Explorer and being powered by a self-winding movement, the Rolex Commando reference 6429 features a 34mm case and was powered by the manual-wind Caliber 1225, which lacked chronometer-certification. Due to the fact that its movement was neither self-winding nor COSC-rated, the dial text on the Rolex Commando lacks the word “Perpetual” and also does not feature the chronometer-certification text like its larger Explorer sibling. Instead, the lower half of the dial simply reads ‘Commando’ and there are even some examples that were sold on military bases that do not have the ‘Commando’ name printed upon them at all. Additionally, rather than featuring Mercedes-style hands like the Explorer, the Rolex Commando is fitted with simple tritium-filled batons, while the caseback has a flatter profile since it does not need to accommodate the rotor of a self-winding movement.