Let’s have a look at three Rolex watches that hardly get attention from enthusiasts. It doesn’t mean these are all easily accessible or even available at all, but they might be an interesting alternative to the Datejust, GMT-Master and Explorer models, for example.
In every price segment, you can find something nice. In a lot of these segments, there are Rolex watches that might fit your taste and budget – either new or pre-owned. Every watch enthusiast probably recognizes the conversation discussing possible next purchases – based on your love for the design, the complications and price – and someone answers: ‘For that money, there are some serious contesters. Ever thought about a Rolex?’. It’s an answer that always makes me smile because often it is the right answer. If you consider the quality, the iconic status and the resale value of a Rolex watch, it is often the best option your money can buy. But it’s not always the answer you would like to hear as there is more to the watch industry than just Rolex. But what if we have the same discussion with only Rolex watches and discuss Rolex models that aren’t necessarily the icons people always mention? Is it easy to replace these icons with something different from the Rolex collection? Or do the not-so-obvious choices have their own unique place within the collection that cannot be replaced by another Rolex icon? Let’s look at three of the current Rolex models and see if these are proper alternatives for the usual suspects.
Rolex introduced the Sky-Dweller in 2012 as its most technically advanced watch in the collection – which it still is to this date. The Sky-Dweller features a dual time zone and an annual calendar operated with the Ring Command Bezel that makes it easy to use the watch daily. Robert-Jan wrote a more in-depth article on the Sky-Dweller where you can find out more about the technical aspects. A GMT-function is not unique to the Sky-Dweller, but the dual time zone as executed on the Sky-Dweller is. Besides that, the annual calendar is a complication that is also unique to the Sky-Dweller. Both complications combined with the Ring Command Bezel are what makes the Sky-Dweller stand out technically in the Rolex collection.
Ever since its introduction, its looks have sparked a lot of discussions. In the beginning, Rolex opted only to introduce the Sky-Dweller in precious metals and combined with the 42mm size, it made it a statement piece. In 2017 Rolex also introduced the steel version of the Sky-Dweller with a white gold bezel and that made it a lot less prominent. Looks-wise the Sky-Dweller takes most of its inspiration from the classic (or iconic) Datejust. If you are a skeptic, you could say it is a slightly bigger Datejust 41 – which also debuted in 2017 – that features a GMT function and an annual calendar. But that’s not giving the Sky-Dweller the recognition it deserves. Overall, there is no other Rolex out there that looks like the Sky-Dweller. It is an acquired taste as the design of the dial is not the usual contemporary ‘easy on the eyes’ design we have come to know from the brand. The biggest eye-catcher that defines the looks is the off-center 24-hour disc to indicate the home time and this is the feature people tend to either love or hate. There is absolutely no way around it so gradually getting used to it seems to be out of the question.
Do you have options for another Rolex that meets all the needs of the Sky-Dweller? Our answer to that question would be ‘no’. Sure, the Sky-Dweller takes inspiration from other Rolex watches, but it is unique in the current Rolex collection. You could go for a Rolex Datejust 41 if you like the looks of the case and bracelet or choose the Rolex GMT-Master II if you want a Rolex with a dual timezone. But all things combined make the Sky-Dweller a unique watch within the Rolex collection. Especially if you consider the €13.250,- list price of the steel version of the Sky-Dweller with the white gold bezel (ref. 326934). For that price, you will get the most technically advanced Rolex there is. The only thing is, you have to love the looks to seriously consider it.
The current Rolex Air-King was introduced at Baselworld 2016, and it’s the latest in a long line of Air King models that date back to 1958. Going one step further, the Air-King is part of the ‘Air’-series of Rolex watches that go back to the 1930s and are Rolex’ line of aviation watches. Because of its rich history, the Air-King has gained a serious following. The latest model Air-King (ref. 116900) however, did make even some of the biggest fans frown when they first laid their eyes on the new design.
Technically speaking, the latest Air-King is genuinely a modern Rolex. The watch uses the same 40mm case as the Rolex Milgaus (ref. 116400GV) and therefore is also protected against magnetic fields. The dial features large 3, 6 and 9 numerals marking the hours and a prominent minute scale for navigational time readings. Other than that, there are no further technical features that make the Air-King stand out compared to other Rolex watches in the current collection.
The design is what makes the Air-King stand out, though. There is a lot to take in when seeing the dial for the first time. The large white gold 3, 6 and 9 numerals are the same as on the current Rolex Explorer (ref. 214270) and combined with the prominent minute scale; they define the overall aesthetic of the watch. Compared to previous models Rolex also decided to move the Air-King name to the lower part of the dial. It increases the number of elements on the dial that need to work together to become one. The last design element to mention that makes the Air-King stand out is the combination of the green Rolex logo, green second hand, and the yellow Rolex coronet. Although the dial is polarising, there are quite a lot of people that love the Air-King for its distinct looks. The bold looks have given the watch its place in the Rolex collection.
Do you have alternatives within the Rolex collection if you’re considering the Air-King? Our answer to that would be ‘yes’. The Air-King does not feature any technical complications that make it unique in the current Rolex collection. Therefore, you need to love the unique design and story of the Air-King. The Milgaus has comparable technical specifications but is not an option when comparing prices. The Air-King list price is €5.700,- whereas the Milgaus retails at €7.550,- which is a significant difference. Therefore the only real option is the current Rolex Explorer I (ref. 214270) that has a list price of €6.000,-. The Explorer also has a remarkable story and is definitely easier on the eyes. The design is less polarizing and that’s also why it is more popular than the Air-King. But that doesn’t mean the Air-King should not have a place in the Rolex collection.
The story of the Rolex Milgauss is also a polarising one that relates more to what it has become versus its original intent. The current Milgauss is probably the most colorful Rolex watch in the collection and it has attracted groups of both lovers and haters. But let’s start at the beginning and go back to 1956 when the first Milgauss was introduced. The purpose of the watch was to withstand strong magnetic fields up to 1,000 gauss without any affect to its timekeeping abilities. This was achieved thanks to its soft-iron inner case. Rolex developed the watch specifically for scientists. The prototypes of the Milgauss were tested successfully at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. The successful tests ensured the watch could be worn by scientists during their daily work in labs. Rolex only updated the design of the Milgauss once in the 1960s. After that, it was part of the Rolex collection until 1988 when Rolex gave up on the watch as it wasn’t finding its way to customers.
Fast forward to Baselworld 2007 when Rolex introduced the newest version of the Milgauss. The watch still featured the anti-magnetic capabilities of previous models, but Rolex decided that the technical features alone were not enough to make the Milgauss stand out in the collection. That’s where the design of the watch started playing an increasingly important role. Rolex re-introduced the lightning bolt shape for the second hand as on the first model and decided to make it bright orange. The same color was used for the minutes’ track and hour markers to create an even bigger contrast with the available black or white dial. It was the Anniversary model however, that had people talking. This special edition featured a black dial, orange details and a green sapphire crystal that gave the Milgauss a totally new aesthetic. It’s this aesthetic that became specific to the Milgauss.
The current Milgauss (ref. 116400GV) is only available with a green sapphire crystal and you have the choice of two different dials. A ‘standard’ black dial as introduced with the Anniversary Model in 2007 or the Z-Blue dial Rolex introduced in 2014. This blue dial is even more shocking than the black one because it creates a color combination that you can define as quirky and unusual for Rolex standards. Rolex is known to be conservative in updating designs by taking small steps, but the Milgauss is all but conservative. Today there are large groups of Milgauss lovers because it’s one of the few Rolex watches in the collection that is both modern and colorful.
Do you have alternatives if you’re considering the Milgauss? Our answer to that question would be a definite ‘no’. Sure, Rolex offers more watches in their collection that are around the €7.550,- list price of the Milgauss. You could potentially buy a Submariner for less or an Explorer II for around the same price, but neither replace the Milgauss in terms of its unique looks. The Milgauss is not a watch for people that would like to buy a Rolex watch. The Milgauss is a watch for people that want to buy the Rolex Milgauss.
Every watch in the Rolex collection has fans and haters. And it’s always fun to discuss why people love or hate a specific Rolex model. This fun play on ‘do you have alternative Rolex models?’ proves once again that every Rolex watch has its unique place in the collection. It’s this diversity that attracts so many people to the Rolex brand and why we also love to discuss their watches.
Jorg has been working in marketing & communications for 15 years. He is specialised in developing brand strategy, brand portfolio, brand design and brand communications. Besides, he loves watches and the stories that make them worthwhile. He can be spotted... read more