As someone who works in the watch industry, I’m all too familiar with the dreaded question of “if you could only have one watch, what would it be?” – a question that will perpetually remain unanswered. As a collector, narrowing the field down to one watch is impossible; bumping that number to a top 3 or top 5 is a far more palatable proposition.
With five watches, you cover your bases in terms of different activities, environments, and occasions, since there really isn’t a perfect watch to do absolutely everything (contrary to popular belief). One can do it; however, in the process, you’re making compromises. Given how broad the Rolex catalog runs, this list revolves around all things Rolex, narrowing down what five options from the brand I believe would make a good well-rounded collection.
Equal parts dress watch and statement piece, when you’re flushing out a Rolex collection there absolutely has to be a classic 36mm Rolex Datejust in the mix somewhere. The options are endless – stainless steel, two-tone, numerals or baton indices, fluted or polished bezels, etc. – although personally, I would at the very least stick to something with the iconic fluted bezel for no other reason than the fact that it’s just a classic Rolex look that is unmistakably recognizable no matter how little someone knows in watchmaking. Though quite resilient in its modern form, fitted with a screw-down crown and offering 100m of water resistance, there’s still something a bit delicate about the Datejust’s design that keeps me from considering it as a full-on daily beater.
Every watch collection requires a chronograph of some sort, regardless of whether you’re looking at the entry-level or the pinnacle of watchmaking. The Daytona is another obvious Rolex classic and one that’s very capable of being dressed up or dressed down. You’ll never catch me approving the idea of a Submariner or GMT-Master II being paired with a suit; however, the more slender and elegant profile of the Daytona (especially examples not fitted with a Cerachrom ceramic bezel) are easily up to the task. Both modern variants fitted with the Rolex in-house cal. 4130 automatic chronograph movement, as well as the prior Zenith-based cal. 4030 models have proven to be some of the more reliable chronograph calibers out there – all the more reason to consider it as a piece for frequent daily rotation in a smaller collection.
Rolex Explorer II
There obviously had to be a tool watch or three in the mix here, and the Explorer II is just that – with an added layer of practicality thrown in for good measure. Anyone who travels frequently, or who works with offices or contacts based in other time zones will benefit from having a GMT watch in their collection, and given one of our other upcoming selections, the Explorer II also adds a touch of diversity to the collection when compared to the Rolex GMT-Master II. Whether you opt for the more modern and slightly larger 42mm reference 216570 or its predecessor, the smaller 40mm 16570 is mostly just a matter of case size preference. Personally, I’ll always lean more towards the white dial “Polar” variant of the 216570, mostly on account of the return of its oversized orange GMT hand.
Yes, we’ve finally reached the most obvious choice to include on this list. Everyone needs a dive watch in their collection even if you have no interest in spending time underwater, at the beach, or by the pool. The default answer is obviously the classic black-on-black Rolex Submariner, but while some will want to opt for the modern 116610, which adds a glossy Cerachrom ceramic bezel to the equation, others will want to step back to earlier references, whether the 16610, or even the earlier 1680 or 5513 references. Personally, I prefer the examples from the ’80s that offered the best of both worlds – a sapphire crystal for its ability to take some abuse, a matte black dial for increased legibility and a touch of vintage style, and an aluminum bezel insert for its ability to fade with age (like we all do).
With room for five different watches for different occasions, I had to throw something fun into the mix. While I wasn’t short on options (the Rolex catalog contains a surprisingly significant volume of fun and funky dials), it was a combination of its interesting history and obscure design that landed the newer Z-Blue dial Milgauss on my list. Designed as an anti-magnetic watch for those working in research labs, power generation stations, and other areas with significant magnetic field exposure, the Rolex Milgauss is an odd duck that has just gotten weirder over time. In current guise, the combination of a green-tinted sapphire crystal, orange lightning bolt seconds hand, bi-color lume, and an electric blue sunburst dial make the Z-Blue Milgauss a bit of a statement piece, yet one that swaps from business to casual with surprising ease. Rolex has maintained the Milgauss as a tool watch above all else, and accordingly, it can be a go-to for more physical tasks without risk of damage.