When someone thinks about watchmaking, one of the first brands that come to mind is Rolex. Famed for their rugged tool watches, few brands have been able to capture the imagination for as long as the Genevan Giants.
Over their 115+ year history, Rolex has produced some incredibly iconic timepieces, but the four decades between the 1950s and the 1980s are often looked at with an unparalleled sense of nostalgia thanks to the timepieces that have gone on to epitomize Rolex and everything it stands for.
So, what are the best Rolex watches from each of those decades? It's a tough list to make, but let's explore that idea.
The 50s – Submariner
Starting things strong, we have arguably the most famous dive watch of all time, the Rolex Submariner. Released in 1953 and launched to the public in 1954, the Rolex Submariner has gone on to symbolize pretty much everything Rolex has grown to value.
With its rugged construction, timeless design, rich history, and iconic place as one of watchmaking's best-known watches, it has to go down as the brand's most iconic timepiece from the 1950s.
While the decade was stacked with watches that equally deserve a place on this list, like the GMT-Master, Milgauss and Explorer, the Submariner's ability to define the entire dive watch industry and become the blueprint that every other watchmaker would follow has earned its place as Rolex's most iconic watch from the 1950s.
Offered in a wide range of metals, various gem-set designs, and different bezel materials, the Submariner is a diverse watch with a long, storied past that collectors love and the public immediately recognize.
The 60s – Daytona
Moving from under the sea to the racetrack, another one of Rolex's most iconic timepieces is the Daytona. Launched in 1963 and named after the Daytona International Speedway, the Daytona got off to a slow start as it failed to make ground in one of the most competitive niches within watchmaking since the birth of commercial dive watches the decade before.
As brands like Tag Heuer, Breitling, and others had beaten Rolex to the punch with their chronograph models, they enjoyed far greater success until the late 60s. Since then, the Daytona has found its footing 100 times over and grown into the quintessential chronograph.
With Paul Newman slingshotting the model to fame in the 1980s and his own ref. 6239 timepiece selling for $17.75m in 2017, the Daytona has gone from a rags to riches story that has earned it its place as Rolex's most iconic watch of the 1960s.
To this day, collectors are shelling out hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars for a wide variety of Daytona variants, with everything from vintage gem-encrusted constructions to modern plain stainless steel executions, all enjoying the spotlight.
The 70s – Oysterquartz
The only watch on our list to no longer be in production, the Rolex Oysterquartz is among Rolex's most quirky timepieces, but it has gone on to symbolize an entire era, the Quartz Crisis. During the onslaught of the Japanese-led Quartz Crisis of the 70s and '80s, Swiss watchmakers were forced to adapt their timepieces in order to remain competitive in the market.
To deal with the Quartz Crisis, Rolex decided to release their own quartz timepiece in 1977, the Oysterquartz. In 1970, Rolex released the Oysterquartz's precursor, the Quartz Date 5100, powered by the Beta 21 movement, which was created by a large-scale Swiss watchmaker-led collaboration.
While the Oysterquartz was loosely based on the ref. 5100, the Oysterquartz' movement was in a league of its own. With 11 jewels, the latest in CMOS circuitry, a 32000-hertz oscillator, and analog thermocompensation to regulate the quartz crystal, the Oysterquartz's movement was held to just as high a standard as Rolex's more traditional mechanical movements.
Besides its incredibly technical movement, the Oysterquartz also features a unique construction. With an integrated Rolex bracelet attaching to a tonneau-shaped case, the Oyzterquartz's aesthetic was immediately set aside from its classically-styled Rolex siblings which aided its adoptions even further.
The 80s – Two-Tone Datejust
Last but not least, we have the only watch not to have been released during its corresponding decade, the two-tone Rolex Datejust. Originally launched in 1945 to celebrate Rolex's 40th anniversary, the Datejust is often considered to be the archetypal Rolex model, with its cyclops lens, Jubilee bracelet, and fluted bezel all important pieces of its iconic aesthetic. However, during the 1980s and a large portion of the 1990s, the two-tone Rolex Datejust became closely linked with Wall St. and quickly became the watch to symbolize one's sense of accomplishment.
This could be in the form of a present from parents for graduating college, a gift from your workplace after you retired, or the watch you wore into your well-paid white-collar job much like the rest of your work colleagues. It really was the watch to have and, as such, has remained as one of the most iconic watches from the 1980s and even throughout the 1990s.
Throughout their history, Rolex has produced a litany of incredible watches. Still, these four are some of the most decade-defining that have ever come out of Rolex's hallowed halls. As such, they deserve the admiration that watch collectors have for them, and here at Horus, we cherish every instance when we see these iconic timepieces on our premium rubber straps for Rolex.