Talking about Rolex white face dials never seems to get old. It’s one of those things that doesn’t really occur to you until you stop and make a mental list of it, but there aren’t that many white dial Rolex watches. That’s relatively speaking of course, when you compare it to all the black dial watches in the portfolio. There are a few (obviously), but more often than not they are confined to the dressier end of the catalog rather than making appearances on Rolex’s tool watches.
There’s no white dial Submariner or Sea-Dweller for instance. Nor currently is there a white dial available on the original Yacht-Master, although the Yacht-Master II does get one. And the closest the GMT-Master II gets to having a white dial is the new meteorite version which is not so much white as, well, meteorite colored.
But it is something the brand seems to be addressing. While black dials will always be quintessential Rolex, the last few years have seen a few of their staples also receive white face options. Used well (and Rolex invariably does), white dials can add a very special quality to design, something that grabs attention but not in an overt way. While it could be argued that white dials are not quite as versatile as their opposite number, the cleanness of them acts as a refreshing blank canvas.
Below we have picked out a few of our favorite white dial Rolex watches from the brand’s contemporary collection.
Rolex Explorer II ref. 216570
Say white dial Rolex and most people will think of the Explorer II. Introduced in the model’s second iteration, the transitional ref. 16550 from 1985, the white (or Polar) dial has remained an immensely popular choice to this day. It produces such a radically contrasting effect from the black-faced variant – the only other option is a very short list – that it is almost like looking at two different models.
Where the black piece is all low-key stealth, with its phantom hands and little pops of color, the Polar version is bright and invigorating – not exactly shouting, but certainly not hiding its light behind a bushel either. The latest generation, the ref. 216570 was launched in 2011 on the 40th anniversary of the Explorer II collection.
Powered by the Cal. 3187, it marked the first time the Explorer II was granted a movement of its own, having shared all previous ones with the GMT-Master series. It also saw the dimensions increase, up to 42mm from 40mm, a move made to broaden its appeal with a younger audience.
One of those perpetual underdogs in the Rolex collection for most of its life, the Explorer II is only now starting to attract real attention. While its more famous tool watch counterparts get less and less tool-like with each passing year, their gold and platinum shells liberally sprinkled in diamonds, the Explorer II remains the essence of Rolex. Bombproof steel cases and not even a whiff of Cerachrom to be found (let alone gemstones), it is what the brand used to be all about and has garnered a steadily growing cult following because of it.
Whether it will stay that way, considering its 50th anniversary is just over the horizon (and with a number of fans crying out for some sort of upgrade), remains to be seen. Could it go the same way as the Sea-Dweller and emerge in a gentrified Rolesor version? Personally I hope not, but there’s just no point trying to second guess these things.
What is certain is that the Polar Explorer II is just about the most iconic white dial Rolex watch you can buy and that they are still available at a surprisingly attainable price.
Rolex Sky-Dweller ref. 326934
Originally released in 2012 as an exclusively precious metal option (sort of like a Day-Date with an annual calendar and dual time function), the Sky-Dweller was perhaps a bit too avant-garde in design (and a lot too expensive), to really capture the imagination. Star wipe to 2017, and Rolex answered the calls of many fans when they launched new additions to the collection; a series of both white and yellow gold Rolesor models, with a range of different dial colors and a vastly reduced asking price.
Of those, a personal favorite is a ref. 326934, a stainless steel case fitted with a white gold bezel and available with either a blue, black, or white face. I was never a big fan of the blue, and the black didn’t really crank my scooter much either, but the white dialed version seemed to get every element just about spot on.
There is a lot happening on the Sky-Dweller’s frontage. Alongside the basics, Rolex had to find a way to display a second-time zone as well as its SAROS calendar. That is a heap of information to cram in, even for a 42mm watch. Sticking to a monochromatic palette helps to keep things legible, making it easier on the eyes, and the white version especially is beautifully readable. The off-centered GMT disc is an ever so slightly different shade to the rest of the dial, and the bright red of the indicator triangle and month markers stands out perfectly.
On top of that, those once challenging looks seem to have matured over the intervening years, now less of an acquired taste and becoming more and more accepted. A mix of unorthodox aesthetics and some truly formidable engineering, the Sky-Dweller is one of a handful of white dial Rolex watches and is a future classic in the making.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual ref. 114300
With all the big hitters in the Rolex fold, the humble Oyster Perpetual can often find itself somewhat overlooked – which is a shame, because the OP collection is really the undiluted essence of what a Rolex watch should be. Three hands to show you the passing hours, minutes and seconds, with typically faultless Rolex accuracy – and that’s it. No dual time shenanigans, no calendar-based nonsense, not even a lowly date function. Just a perfectly practical and achingly stylish time teller.
With very few exceptions (vintage Daytona references, Oysterquartz models, the Cellini series, etc.) almost every Rolex watch since 1931 has technically been an Oyster Perpetual. The two words; ‘Oyster’ for the waterproof casing Rolex devised in the 20s, ‘Perpetual’ – the name for the brand’s self-winding system, have formed the backbone for their output for nearly 90 years. So while we may be more used to seeing them followed by words like Submariner or Datejust, there has been simply the Oyster Perpetual range for much longer than either.
In 2018, Rolex doubled down on the Oyster Perpetual’s basic straightforwardness with the release of a new pair of black and white dial 39mm models joining the existing lineup of red grape, dark rhodium, and blue. Both are exceptional – the black is actually given an understated sunburst effect; however, it is the white version that really impresses.
Beautifully glossy and with a soft warm tone, it doesn’t jump out at you in the same way the Explorer II does, but rather offers something a little more restrained. It is the perfect tenor for such a simple watch, and turns it into a true class act that can be worn as an everyday beater or a special occasion favorite.
But of course the best part of the Oyster Perpetual series has always been its value for money. The entry-level offering from the world’s most successful watchmaker retails for less than $6,000 – a small price to pay for such a versatile piece (and one of the few white dial Rolex watches) that is sure to last several lifetimes.