When you pick up a Rolex watch, you are holding a mark of horological history. The codes that adorn each piece unlock the unique story behind each Rolex.
It may appear to be a random set of digits and letters, but Rolex reference numbers are the key to understanding the origins, craftsmanship, and collector’s appeal of each of the world’s finest timepieces.
Every Rolex is denoted with a serial number and a model (or reference) number. Each serial number is technically unique (though there are exceptions) while each model number is shared across Rolex collections.
Every Rolex that is created is given a unique serial number. From the serial number, we can tell the approximate year that the watch was manufactured. However, this is somewhat complicated by the fact that Rolex introduced random serial numbers in 2010, most likely in a bid to thwart counterfeiters.
The only time the number is not unique is as a result of Rolex adjusting the codes used at certain points in history. For example, having reached #999,999 in 1954, Rolex reset the serial numbers in use. That means you might find a model from the 1960s with a serial number similar to one from a decade earlier.
Nowadays, all Rolex watch serial numbers begin with a letter followed by six digits. The letters don’t follow an alphabetical sequence. Rolex began with “R” then moved on to “L” for example. Rolex watches are also stamped with a model number. The model number is usually the same for timepieces in a certain collection.
This is located on the side of the watch between the lugs at 12 o’clock. You will usually have to remove the bracelet to find the model number on the watch case. You can also find the model number on the certificate that will come with an authentic Rolex.
Generally, a Rolex serial number will be on the inner bezel ring (the “rehaut”)found at the 6 o’clock. For new watches, Rolex moved the serial number inwards towards the actual 6 o’clock section of the rehault meaning you should not have to take the bracelet off.
On older models, you will need to remove the bracelet at 6 o’clock to identify the serial number.
The model reference is a collection of numbers identifying what the watch is, what is made of and the type of bezel.
The first two or three digits denote the type of watch, such as Non-Date Submariner (140) or Daytona (1165). Here are some of the other reference numbers for Rolex categories:
The second to last number references the bezel type, and the final number indicates the material used to make the watch.
If we take an example of a Rolex model number of 16610. 166 refers to the fact the watch is a Submariner with a date. The 1 means it has an engine-turned bezel and the final 0 indicates that the watch is of stainless steel.
The following digits denote the bezel type for Rolex dress watches:
Likewise, the following numbers indicate the material of manufacture:
Sometimes, when you gaze at an older Rolex, it is intriguing to ponder where the watch has been before, the circumstances in which it has been used, and the tales it could tell as it kept pace with time.
If you have invested in a newer Rolex, you can’t help but marvel at the heritage of the world’s most prestigious watchmaker and the engineering that goes into making such beautiful timepieces.
By being able to decode the reference numbers on a Rolex, you can accurately confirm the authenticity of a model and what range it is from, when it was made, and the material used in its construction. It is also the start of the journey to estimate the value of each piece. In horology, Rolex reference codes truly are more than just a number.