For the history-buff watch aficianados, vintage Rolexes are the pinnacle of collectability. Rolex, a company that has been around over 100 years, has put their mark on history by releasing an extensive amount of distinguished models throughout the last century. In the world of watches, vintage Rolexes showcase the ever-evolving style and aesthetic of the household brand through subtle, nuanced details specific to each model. Here are the top five most interesting vintage Rolex watches:
The bright and bold dial color options of this 1970s’ watch were a change in pace for Rolex, a watch company not known for flashy color choices. The brilliance of the dial combined with a solid gold case made this watch a standout, gaining its nickname “Stella,” Italian for star. If you’re in the market for a vintage Stella, you can expect to pay at minimum $20,000 although you may have to search hard. The hard enamel dial is prone to cracking thus finding a vintage Stella in perfect condition may be challenging.
This 1963 release of the classic Explorer 1016 commemorated Project Mercury and the astronauts aboard Mercury 7 on the United States’ first human spaceflight program. Rolex celebrated the Americans’ victory in the space race by putting out a watch marketed for the flight team’s visit on their press tour to Japan, where they were well-received. The Space Dweller is praised for its simplistic yet elegant design with a rare, sought-after dial variant. Finding a vintage Space Dweller these days may involve a ‘space race’ of your own, as they are incredibly hard to find and those lucky enough to get their hands on one will pay upwards of $40,000.
As the 1950s brought more opportunities to utilize electricity in research work environments, Rolex responded with the 1958 release of the 6541 Milgauss. This watch, the first ever Milgauss, was supported by a Faraday cage mechanism, which provided it with a resistance to electromagnetic forces that could damage its functioning. In addition to its utilitarian use for scientists and medical technicians, the 6541 Milgauss was also praised for its aesthetic flair, complete with a honeycomb-colored dial and lightning bolt seconds hand. You can find it for sale at auctions these days, with an a value of around $150,000.
Back in the 1960s, it was simply known as the 6239 Daytona and Rolex found it to be a very hard sell with Rolex customers deeming it an undesirable chronograph. But when an Italian magazine released a cover with the famous actor and philanthropist Paul Newman wearing the watch, the model went from ‘undesirable’ to explosively popular. This chronograph has since been praised for its distinctive exotic dial with a black and white contrast. Newman’s personal Daytona was sold at auction last fall for $17.75 million but the same vintage model can be found and purchased these days for anywhere around $250,000-400,000.
When Pan Am airlines sought out Rolex to produce a watch that could function in dual time zones, the watch company answered the call with the 1954 release of the GMT Master 6542, which featured a 24-hour hand as well as a rotating bezel that made it easier for pilots to tell time during transatlantic flights. The watch, the first GMT ever and catalyst for time zone change-enabled watches, was also praised for its design including no crown guards and a smaller than average case diameter. The most desired feature of the vintage watch these days is the rare ceramic Bakelite bezel, which was changed two years after its initial release, making the originals a rare and prized vintage find. If you’re on the hunt for the 6542 with Bakelite, you can expect to pay at least $50,000.