Rolex Kermit Submariner shown laid down
Gifts for Men

Top 10 Most Iconic Rolex Watches 

Monday, November 6th, 2023

When it comes to luxury timepieces, few brands resonate as profoundly as Rolex. With a legacy spanning over a century, Rolex has crafted watches that are not just instruments of precision but symbols of status, adventure, and elegance. From the depths of the ocean to the soaring heights of aviation, from the glamour of Hollywood to the precision of the racetrack, Rolex watches have etched their mark in diverse realms. In this exploration, we delve into the stories behind some of the most iconic Rolex watches that have transcended time, becoming legends in their own right.

  1. Rolex Daytona “Paul Newman”

Iconic Actor and Philanthropist, Paul Newman, dons his famously-worn, Rolex Daytona.

History of Rolex Daytona “Paul Newman”:  

The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona carries the name of the iconic Florida racetrack where triumphant careers are born. This automatic chronograph was created in 1963 to meet the demands of professional racing drivers. Early models like the reference 6239 established the slick tonneau case, tachymetric bezel, and contrasting sub-dial design that came to define the Daytona. 

But it was a particularly exotic dial variant that transformed the Daytona into a cult classic. Known as the “Paul Newman” Daytona after the legendary actor who popularized it, this special edition debuted around the late 1960s. Its defining trait was the artful sub-dial markers with hash marks in an inverse contrasting color from the main dial. Newman famously wore his own 6239 model from the early days of the Cosmograph until his death. 

While Paul Newman models featured the same mechanics as other references, their unique dial aesthetics linked them inextricably to the actor in the minds of collectors. Prices skyrocketed, especially for actual examples owned by Newman himself. The Paul Newman Daytona had secured its place in watchmaking lore, with his celebrity catapulting the watch into stardom beyond just its racing heritage. This rare variant remains coveted today as the watch that captured an icon and an era. 


  1. Rolex Submariner Ref. 6538 in James Bond

007 James Bond actor, Sean Connery, shown wearing his Rolex Submariner in 1962's Dr. No.

History of “Bond” Rolex Submariner: 

The Rolex Submariner cemented its place in both horological and cinematic history thanks to its enduring association with the James Bond film franchise, which began when Sean Connery first donned a reference 6538 Submariner in 1962’s Dr. No. The watch perfectly complemented the suave yet gritty spy with its dashing yet functional design. Its prominence on the country’s most famous secret agent made the Submariner an instant sensation. 

This watch then reappeared on Bond’s wrist in several subsequent films as the ideal accessory for aquatic action and high-stakes espionage. Its rotating timing bezel and 300-meter depth rating meant this dive watch wasn’t just handsome but also a precise professional tool for the job. Its stylish versatility reflected Bond’s balance of grit, sophistication, and independence. 

By becoming 007’s watch of choice, the Submariner gained recognition and credibility on a global scale overnight. The watch reached icon status and became integral to the Bond image. At the same time, Bond propelled the Submariner into mainstream pop culture and immortalized it as the ultimate gentleman’s watch. Their powerful symbiotic relationship forever intertwined Rolex with cinema and cemented the Submariner as the spy watch. This strategic product placement demonstrates the cultural impact the right cinematic alignment can have on a luxury brand. 

The Presidential Rolex 

Former president Lyndon B. Johnson wearing the Day-Date Rolex, of which would garner the name "Presidential Rolex".

History of “Presidential” Rolex Day-Date:  

The luxury Rolex Day-Date watch has earned the distinctive nicknames “President” and “Presidential Rolex” thanks to its popularity among global leaders, especially US Presidents. Its signature design features the day of the week spelled out at 12 o’clock and a date window under a Cyclops magnification lens. This polished aesthetic of authority first caught President Lyndon B. Johnson’s eye in the 1960s, prompting him to wear a gold Day-Date. 

Seeing the prestigious watch on the wrist of the leader of the free world cemented its reputation as the “President’s watch.” Subsequently, other presidents like Ronald Reagan and Dwight D. Eisenhower also favored the Day-Date as their choice timepiece for its powerful image. Beyond the Oval Office, international heads of state and leaders have also selected the Day-Date as a mark of distinction. 

The Day-Date’s noble vibe stems from details like its integrated bracelet design, known as the “Presidential” bracelet, and construction primarily in valuable gold. The watch projects luxury, influence and sophistication befitting world leaders. While members of the Rolex family, the Day-Date’s distinctive day and date displays help it stand apart as the definitive watch of presidents and visionaries. Its prominent owners have forever linked the Day-Date to authority and taste.

  1. Sea-Dweller “Great White” 1665

The Rolex 1665 Great White, or rather the Sea-Dweller, is shown with a black bezel and dial, with all white lettering, hence the name.

History of “Great White” Rolex Sea-Dweller:  

The Sea-Dweller was inspired by Rolex’s dedication to innovation. Rolex responded to the requirement for a watch that could endure deep-sea diving. Water resistance of up to 2,000 feet was unmatched when the original Sea-Dweller was introduced in the late 1960s – before then the staple Rolex diving watch could only withstand up to 200 meters (about 656.17 ft). This doubled in later variants, with recent versions resistant to 4,000 feet. 

The “Great White” watch’s all-white dial distinguishes it from prior variants with red writing. Besides its looks, the Sea-Dweller revolutionized helium buildup for deep-sea divers. As divers spent time in decompression chambers, breathing gas helium would pierce the watch. To avoid watch damage, this gas had to escape during decompression. Rolex invented the helium escape valve to securely evacuate gas, making the Sea-Dweller essential for saturation diving. 

The Sea-Dweller has been refined over the years, but it still represents Rolex’s inventive spirit and commitment to making clocks that are both beautiful and functional. 


  1. Rolex “Pepsi”

The Rolex GMT - "Pepsi" - is shown with its classic half blue, half red bezel, and black face, with the date to the right of the face.

History of “Pepsi” Rolex GMT Master:  

The Rolex GMT Master, fondly referred to as the “Pepsi” due to its distinctive red and blue bezel, is more than just a watch – it’s a tale of aviation history and global travel. This iconic timepiece made its debut in the mid-20th century, born out of a collaboration between Rolex and Pan American World Airways. As transcontinental flights became more frequent in the 1950s, Pan Am pilots needed a reliable instrument to track multiple time zones simultaneously. Enter the GMT Master. 

Its instantly recognizable bezel, reminiscent of Pepsi-Cola’s classic logo, is not merely an aesthetic marvel. This bi-colored ring serves a critical function, allowing pilots (and today’s global travelers) to distinguish between daytime and nighttime hours in a secondary time zone. The watch’s 24-hour hand, in conjunction with the rotating bezel, ensures accurate time tracking across the globe. 

Beyond the skies, the GMT Master’s “Pepsi” became synonymous with sophistication and cosmopolitan flair. It wasn’t just a tool for aviators; it was a statement piece for the worldly, the adventurous, and those with an insatiable wanderlust. Today, this timepiece remains a testament to Rolex’s commitment to innovation, bridging the gap between style and utility with unmatched elegance. 

  1. Rolex Oyster Perpetual 

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual (1926), highlighted in this newsclipping of which swimmer Mercedes Gleitze would popularize this timepiece, after successfully swimming across the English Channel, wearing the Rolex.

History of Rolex Oyster Perpetual:  

The release of the pioneering Rolex Oyster Perpetual in 1926 marked a turning point in horology. It was the world’s first waterproof and dustproof wristwatch, engineered with an innovative sealed and screwed down case dubbed the “Oyster.” This revolutionary oyster-like shell realized Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf’s vision for a watch unaffected by the elements. 

The Oyster gained fame in 1927 when Mercedes Gleitze wore one during her English Channel swim, emerging with the watch intact. The “Perpetual” name followed in 1931, referring to Rolex’s self-winding movement technology that eliminated manual winding. This made the Oyster Perpetual the first self-winding waterproof watch. 

This trailblazing timepiece merged revolutionary waterproofing, dust protection, and self-winding capabilities at a time when watches were still fragile. The Oyster Perpetual’s groundbreaking engineering and resilient performance in extreme tests made it an icon of 20th century innovation that redefined what a wristwatch could achieve. 

Today, the Oyster Perpetual collection retains its heritage of blending breakthrough Rolex technology with timeless elegance. Its name is a living homage to the boundary-pushing vision that resulted in the world’s first truly modern wristwatch.

  1. Rolex Air-King

A vintage ad for the Air-King which is Rolex's line of Oyster Perpetuals dedicated to aviation, with pilots all around the world having it as their go-to.

History of Rolex Air-King:  

The Rolex Air-King‘s inception is deeply intertwined with the annals of aviation history. Launched in the 1940s, this iconic timepiece captures the spirit and excitement of an era where crossing the Atlantic by air was an adventure reserved for the brave and the bold. As the name suggests, the “Air-King” was a tribute to the indomitable British Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots of World War II. These aviators, facing unparalleled challenges, often turned to Rolex to accompany them on their daring missions. 

The allure of the Air-King lies in its understated elegance and unyielding reliability. Its design, characterized by simplicity and precision, was crafted to withstand the rigors of flight. Over the subsequent decades, while the watch saw aesthetic and technical evolutions, its soul remained unchanged. It was, and remains, a beacon of the aviation world, symbolizing resilience and pioneering spirit. 

In recent years, models like the 2016 Air-King have paid tribute to this legacy, blending modern watchmaking prowess with nods to its storied past. The result is a watch that resonates with not only aviation enthusiasts but also those who appreciate the confluence of history, design, and craftsmanship. The Air-King is more than just a watch; it’s a chronicle of man’s quest to conquer the skies.

  1. Rolex “Kermit”

Rolex Kermit is shown here with its silver bracelet, black dial, and green bezel.

History of “Kermit” Rolex Submariner:  

The Rolex Submariner, with its deep roots in diving and oceanic exploration, has witnessed numerous evolutions since its inception. Yet, among its diverse iterations, the “Kermit” holds a special place. Unveiled to commemorate the Submariner’s 50th anniversary, the “Kermit” is instantly recognizable with its striking green bezel, a departure from the traditional black. This vivid hue not only symbolizes the watch’s rich heritage but also infuses it with a fresh, modern appeal. 

While the “Kermit” embraces the quintessential features of a Submariner, from its robust water resistance to its functional date display, its standout color palette resonates particularly well with a younger generation of Rolex aficionados. It’s a perfect blend of tradition and trend, encapsulating five decades of horological excellence while also looking forward to the future. The “Kermit” isn’t just a watch; it’s a statement, embodying the timeless allure of Rolex in a contemporary world.

  1. Rolex “Steve McQueen”

King of Cool, Steve McQueen, is shown here wearing his famililarized Submariner, of which is featured in some of the films he stars in.

History of “Steve McQueen” Rolex Submariner:   

In the galaxy of Hollywood legends, Steve McQueen shines brightly as the “King of Cool.” Known for his magnetic screen presence and effortless style, McQueen had a particular fondness for one accessory: the Rolex Submariner. This wasn’t just a watch on his wrist; it was a statement of his rugged charisma and love for adventure. The Submariner’s robust design, impressive water resistance, and impeccable movement mirrored McQueen’s own ethos of living life on the edge. 

While McQueen never officially became a brand ambassador for Rolex, his unspoken endorsement was far more powerful. His choice to consistently wear the Submariner, both on and off the set, intertwined the watch’s narrative with his own legendary story. Candid snapshots capturing McQueen sporting the Submariner further fueled its popularity, transforming it from a mere diving watch into a symbol of unadulterated style and masculinity. Today, the Submariner isn’t just celebrated for its technical prowess but also as an icon of timeless elegance, thanks in no small part to the legacy of Steve McQueen.

  1. Rolex “Polar”

The Explorer II "Polar" is shown with a black backdrop. This watch is all white, save for the Rolex logo and name.

History of “Polar” Rolex Explorer II:  

The Rolex Explorer II acquired the nickname “Polar” thanks to the eye-catching white dial that distinguishes this variant. Introduced in 1971, the Explorer II was engineered as a sturdy companion for intense expeditions with its additional 24-hour hand complication. This orange-tipped 24-hour hand revolves the dial once per day rather than the usual 12 hours, enabling users to easily distinguish between night and day during long adventures. 

The clean white dial provides flawless legibility even in the harshest environments of ice and snow. Its paramount readability and robust caliber testify to Rolex’s prowess in melding refined aesthetics with uncompromising function. While originally intended for speleologists exploring deep caverns, the “Polar” Explorer II’s administration of time across multiple time zones made it appreciated by globetrotting adventurers and aviators alike. 

The striking monochrome white colorway gave this classic sports-watch its endearing Polar name and personality. Yet its capabilities prove this Rolex is made for much more than just arctic exploits. With its blend of legible timekeeping, rugged build, and sophisticated design, the Polar shows Rolex’s commitment to performing beautifully wherever the journey may lead.