If I give you five seconds to think of a model from Rolex, what would it be? Most likely, you thought of a modern Submariner, Daytona, or Explorer. Perhaps you thought of a vintage model like the Paul Newman Daytona or the Explorer 1 ref. 1016. As someone who has been into the world of watches for many years, I have spent quite an extensive amount of time (too much to be honest) researching and reading about Rolex. Although it would be easy for me to make as many negative comments as positive ones about the brand, well, let’s face this reality: we love talking about Rolex. What I find the most fascinating, and something many don't realize, is the fact that Rolex has a deep history of strange models that hardly feel like “Rolex" at all. However, they made sense given when they were released. This is the case of rectangular Rolex models: watches that we’re going to take a look at today. Source: www.ebay.fr
In my recent article on the Alpina Alpiner Heritage Carrée 140 Years, I mentioned that one of Alpina’s best accomplishments was making (a long time ago) rectangular movements found inside models from other popular Swiss brands. One such brand was Rolex: back when they used to make dressy, rectangular wristwatches. So, I thought I would investigate a little more. Let’s face it, we don’t often hear of vintage Rolexes with rectangular and square cases. However, it does make sense that this was the case (pun intended?) during the late 1910s-early 1930s when many models had rectangular or square cases. The Alpiner, Cartier Tank, and Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso were born during that time period that we refer to as “Art Deco.”
Some would argue that the very first watch showcasing the name “Rolex” on the dial was rectangular. This topic is a huge grey area as Rolex used to claim awards for accuracy when using Aegler calibers as if they had anything to do with it. Looking at the first Oyster from 1926 (see picture below), we can see visual remnants of the art deco style in the case design. Although it was a cushion case, it was extraordinarily rectangular. However, and to keep things relatively simple here, we can see that Rolex used rectangular and square cases in three of its elegant collections: Cellini, Prince, and Princess (the latter two being closely related to one another and sometimes being part of the Cellini line).
The Rolex Cellini
For those of you who are interested in non sport watches from Rolex, then you might know about the Cellini. Now discontinued, this was Rolex’s oldest line of elegant dress watches which, some would claim, goes back as far as the 1920s. However, the name “Cellini” was not used by Rolex until the 1960s, a period during which—and this is true through the 1990s—many Cellini models were actually rectangular. Although Rolex used calibers from several manufacturers including Alpina and Aegler, the brand never manufactured its own rectangular movements. This could explain why Rolex eventually stopped selling rectangular Cellini’s once he had acquired Aegler. Surprisingly (at least to me), the Swiss brand made many of these models like the 4014 pictured below (circa 1970s) which was made of 18K white gold. When I see this watch, my mind immediately goes to a Seiko Dolce or a rare Zenith dress watch.
The Rolex Prince & Princess
When I mentioned that the first Rolex watches stamped with the brand’s name might have been rectangular, it’s worth taking a look at the Prince collection, debuted in the 1930s. As its name indicates, these watches were made for men and came in a multitude of designs, complications, and levels of refinement. The early Prince models seem to have been amongst the first watches showing the word “Chronomètre” next to the word “Rolex” on a dial, something that is noteworthy as the Swiss brand has been advertising chronometer grade movements since the very beginning of its inception. Although I do not intend to write an encyclopedia about vintage rectangular Rolexes, it should be noted that there was also the “Curvex” case design in which the lugs dramatically hugged the wrist.
Rolex also made wristlets or ladies watches in the Princess line. These seem to have debuted at the same time as the Prince collection. Princess watches were smaller and simpler (at least mechanically) than the Prince models, and the earliest models were equipped with bracelets or straps that resembled jewelry as opposed to a watch. Looking at the pictures below of the tiny rectangular movements that went into these models, one can see the brand name stamped on the plates. It seems that Hans Wilsdorf somehow managed to convince Aegler to stamp the name of his young brand (officially formed in 1908) on their movements. I must say, Wilsdorf wasn’t afraid of anything.
Although Rolex hasn’t made square or rectangular watches in more than three decades, it’s a little baffling that the brand did make them for so many years. Rarely do we read about this type of watch as most of what we hear about now are Rolex sports models. Even the new 1908, released in early 2023, didn’t make the news as much as any other Rolex models. But you know what? It does make sense that Rolex made square and rectangular watches. After all, the Swiss giant has been around since the early 1900s and had to follow the trends of the time in order to thrive.Featured image: www.rolexmagazine.com