While following fashion trends is not what Rolex is known for, they certainly haven’t remained the top luxury watchmaker in the world for decades by ignoring what customers want. Rolex strikes the perfect balance between retaining a signature style while undergoing small modifications to ensure that the watches not only stay relevant but coveted too. The most obvious difference between modern and vintage Rolex watches are the sizes. As current men’s fashion dictates, a bigger watch is often seen as better. Although Rolex hasn’t gotten carried away like some other brands by offering mammoth timepieces, the company has followed the size trend too. Rolex has actually approached the demand for larger watches in several ways. Let’s check out how Rolex watches have evolved over the years to accommodate current styles by comparing sizes of vintage versus modern watches.
In some instances, Rolex has outright discontinued vintage editions that sport smaller cases and replaced them with larger contemporary models. Take the Milgauss for example. Vintage Milgauss watches have a 38mm case, whereas the modern Milgauss ref. 116400 – which first came out in 2007 – has a 40mm case. Furthermore, the 40mm case of the contemporary Air-King ref. 116900 is substantially larger than vintage Air-King models with 34mm cases. The Explorer II, on the other hand, began as a 40mm sports watch in the late 1970s. However, in 2011, Rolex celebrated the 40th anniversary of the watch with a revamped Explorer II ref. 216570 outfitted with an even larger 42mm case. Plus, let’s not forget about the anniversary Sea-Dweller that came out earlier this year at Baselworld 2017. The 50th-anniversary Sea-Dweller ref. 126600 grew to 43mm – noticeably bigger than its 40mm predecessors. Although iconic Rolex sports watches such as the Submariner, GMT-Master, and Daytona adopted the 40mm size a few decades ago, early vintage models were, in fact, smaller. There are vintage Submariner watches that range from 36.5mm to 38mm. Additionally, vintage manual-wind Daytona watches are 38mm in size, as are some vintage GMT-Master models.
The other way that Rolex adheres to clients wanting a larger luxury watch is to provide an additional line with bigger sizes whilst still offering the classic sizes too. For example, the men’s Datejust collection includes Datejust 36, Datejust II, and Datejust 41 lines. As its name suggests, the Datejust 36 keeps the traditional 36mm size of the Oyster case — the original dimension of the inaugural Datejust watch from 1945. The Datejust II, which made its debut in 2009, carries a larger 41mm case complete with chunkier lugs and a bulkier overall look. It’s perfect for men looking for a classic Rolex dress watch but in a more modern style. In 2016, the Datejust 41 replaced the Datejust II collection. While the newer Datejust 41 has the same 41mm Oyster case size, it houses a new caliber, along with a few aesthetic adjustments. The Rolex President watches followed a similar route with the Day-Date 36, Day-Date II, and Day-Date 40 collections.
Rolex introduced the original Day-Date 36 in 1956 paired with the iconic President bracelet. The 36mm Oyster case was the only size available for the Rolex President until the 2008 launch of the Day-Date II. Equipped with the 41mm Oyster case, the Day-Date II was the larger version of the Presidential that so many were waiting for. In 2015, Rolex reduced the size ever so slightly and replaced the Day-Date II with the Day-Date 40. Not only does the new 40mm Oyster case of the current Rolex President house the newest generation caliber, but it also offers some exclusive laser-etched dial designs. Even Rolex’s entry-level timepiece, the Oyster Perpetual, has undergone some size adjustments. Vintage Oyster Perpetual timepieces for men ranged from 34mm to 36mm. Today, there are two main models for men. There’s the smaller Oyster Perpetual 36 ref. 116000 and its larger brother, the Oyster Perpetual 39 ref. 114300.
The three newest collections to join the Rolex catalog are the Yacht-Master II, the Deepsea, and the Sky-Dweller. Rolex unveiled the Yacht-Master II in 2007, the Deepsea in 2008, and the Sky-Dweller in 2012. It’s worth noting that these three watches all have cases larger than Rolex’s favorite 40mm size. Both the Yacht-Master II and the Deepsea boast 44mm Oyster cases. However, the Deepsea wears bigger due to its thicker case size to accommodate the helium escape valve. Moreover, at 42mm, the Sky-Dweller is Rolex’s largest dress watch to date. Compare these sizes to the inaugural models of other Rolex collections. You’ll clearly see that contemporary fashion dictates bigger and broader timepieces for men.
A major appeal of a Rolex watch is that it’s instantly recognisable, no matter where you are in the world. The brand has managed to accomplish this in part by staying true to fundamental design traits. However, modifying sizes of their watches or offering larger models is one way to stay on top of men’s fashion trends. Yet, regardless of style trends, there are plenty of watch enthusiasts who appreciate the more restrained sizes and classic looks of vintage Rolex watches. At the end of the day, forget the fashion rules and opt for a Rolex – whether vintage or modern – that best fits your wrist, wallet, and wardrobe.