Watches

The 10 Best Rolex Watches for Men (That You Can Actually Buy in 2020)

Watchmaking's most famous brand earned that rep by creating some of the world's most iconic timepieces.
IMAGE ROLEX
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Rolex's founder, Hans Wilsdorf, was onto something when he made his company logo a crown—it has remained the king of watch brands for more than a century. Its enormous brand equity is partly because Rolex gives so little away, a key to its mystique. It is frequently ranked first in surveys of super-brands in the UK and is resident in Forbes' list of the world's most powerful brands. Ask 100 people to name a luxury watch and most of them will say Rolex.

But this reputation is not mere marketing—Rolex is Rolex because it makes peerless products. We love the fact that so many of the classic Rolex models were made not just to look good, but for specific, adventurous purposes. The GMT-Master, for example, was created for Pan-Am's pilots, then experiencing a new phenomenon called jet-lag—they wanted a watch that showed two time zones simultaneously. The Submariner was made for divers. The Milgauss was introduced in the Fifties as an anti-magnetic watch for people who worked in power plants, medical facilities, and early nuclear research labs, where strong electromagnetic fields were present.

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Collectors are particularly passionate about Rolex sports models, which have long been associated with explorers, adventures, and athletes. In addition to the famous James Bond Submariner, an early version of the GMT was worn by US flying ace Chuck Yeager as well as several astronauts. Rolexes lend themselves to being dressed up and down more than other luxury watch brands and the company has mastered the art of the design tweak: collectors wax lyrical over a different colored bezel here, or a bigger crown there. All this contributes something to their collectability and value—if you're going to buy a watch to invest in, buy a Rolex. According to Christie's, Rolexes gain value faster and more steadily than any other brand.

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Wilsdorf had a gift for foresight. He bet on the wristwatch very early and each of his major innovations (putting a timepiece on the wrist, making it accurate, making it waterproof and making it automatic) helped create the modern wristwatch as we know it. The downside, some argue, is that Rolex varies its designs even less than other companies: and that's saying something for the watch world, where a 'revolutionary breakthrough' amounts to a new case size or deploying a slightly different type of gold. There is no Rolex tourbillon, or sign of the zodiac complication. A 2019 Submariner resembles one from 50 years ago.

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The counter-argument is that you don't go messing with perfection. Instead of visible whistles and bells, the company concentrates on research and engineering, continually update the technology inside its watches on the quiet.

In this way there is every reason to believe the Rolex crown will remain firmly in place for another hundred years, and beyond.

Rolex GMT-Master II 'Pepsi'

Photo by ROLEX.
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A GMT Rolex is the ultimate globetrotter's watch, even if that concept exists only in theory right now. Introduced in 1955 with the iconic red and white 24-hour scale on the bezel, it earned the nickname 'Pepsi'. (A red and black 'Coke' appeared in 1983). The most recent version in steel adds a state of the art movement and a dressier 'jubilee' bracelet. Other than that, the design has changed little in 60 years—though you can file this under timeless, rather than vintage.

Rolex Explorer 1016

Photo by ROLEX.
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Sitting somewhere between a sports and a dress watch, the Explorer 1016 was in production for almost 30 years before being retired in 1989. As the name suggests it was made for explorers, and comes equipped with Paraflex shock absorbers to give it a higher shock resistance. But it's really all about the handsomely proportioned dial, with its period detail numerals and matte finish. Ian Fleming owned a Ref 1016.

Rolex Submariner Dive Watch Oystersteel M116610LN-001

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The blueprint for the mechanical dive watch that we recognize today. This classic diver features a black dial and a black bezel and is as close to the original Fifties Submariner as it's possible to get. Purists may prefer the 114060 which dispenses with the date window (who needs to check the date when they're diving?) but it's this version that fetches the premium.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39 Oystersteel M114300-0004

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In a line-up defined by headliners—the Daytona, the Submariner, the Explorer—it would be easy to leave out Rolex's simplest offering. But if you wanted one watch that would look right with every outfit and in every situation for the rest of your life, that was distinctive without being flashy, this would be it. Though it has been around for decades, the Oyster Perpetual received an update in 2015 that included a new 39mm case (up from 36mm), an oyster bracelet, and a run of hand-finished dials in blue, grape red and dark rhodium.

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Oystersteel M116500LN

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While you'd certainly be doing well if you stumbled across a vintage Daytona (Paul Newman's 1968 model remains the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction, $17.8m in 2017), if you're looking for the most advanced chronograph Rolex has ever produced then this recent version is a perfect blend of old and new. The hype, the history—everyone loves this watch.

Rolex Submariner Date Oystersteel M116610LV-0002 'Hulk'

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'Oyster Perpetual Submariner Date in Oyster Steel with Green Cerachrom Bezel and a Green Dial with Large Luminescent Hour Markers'. Or, if you prefer: the Rolex Hulk. Introduced in 2010, it immediately fired the imagination of watch fans. The green isn't just eye-catching, it's fluid, going from bright to dark green in different light conditions.

Rolex Day-Date 40 18ct Everose gold 228235-0003

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It's hard to think of a timepiece that makes a more powerful statement of intent—as Rolex say themselves, this model is 'worn by more presidents, leaders and visionaries than any other watch'. The 'presidential' style of bracelet was created especially for this design.

Rolex Datejust 36 Oystersteel M126200-0002

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Probably Rolex's most popular model. Released in 1945 to celebrate the watchmaker's 40th anniversary, it also used the occasion to debut a new kind of bracelet—the now-distinctive 'jubilee'. The first wristwatch ever with a date that changed automatically, the name comes from one of Rolex's trademark neologisms—the date changes just before midnight.

Rolex Yacht-Master 42 18 ct white gold M226659-002

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Rolex introduces new lines with glacial regularity: there have been just two since 1967, the Yacht-Master (1992) and the Sky-Dweller (2012). The Yacht-Master, with its white gold case, simple black dial, matching matte black bezel and Oysterflex rubber strap, is the epitome of stealth luxury.

Rolex Air-King M116900-0001

Photo by ROLEX.

The dial divides the markers between hours and minutes—it also divides opinion. Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf created the Air-King to honor RAF pilots in the Battle of Britain, and it was the last of the Rolex models with 'Air' in the title: Air Lion, Air Tiger, and Air Giant, all appeared in the Thirties and Forties. Rolex introduced this redesigned Air-King in 2016 featuring a larger 40mm size and an anti-magnetic case copped from its Milgauss line. The pop of green on the second hand—Rolex's corporate color—is unique to this watch.

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This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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