Vintage Red Submariner
When purchasing a vintage Rolex, it’s extremely important to thoroughly assess the condition of its dial, as the slightest flaw, blemish, or sign of damage can have a drastic impact on the value of the watch. Though with that said, this rule doesn’t apply in all cases, as not all dial imperfections and defects are necessarily undesirable. Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the various desirable imperfections that can be found in vintage and transitional Rolex references.
Vintage Sub with Patina Markers and Leather Band
After having successfully produced three different GMT-Master references over the course of almost thirty years, Rolex decided in 1983 that it was time for their line of globetrotting watches to receive a major update. This came in the form of the Coke bezel insert bearing Ref. 16760 GMT-Master II, or the “Fat Lady” as it’s known by collectors, for it’s especially thick steel case, with broad crown guards. With this reference, Rolex incorporated their new Cal. 3085 movement, which de-linked the GMT hand from the rest, allowing for a second time zone to be independently set. Additionally, the Ref. 16760 also featured a durable sapphire crystal, and a newly developed, ratcheting bezel.
Rolex GMT Master II Coke Bezel with a gilt dial.
What’s most curious about the Ref. 16760, is that during its five year production span, certain examples were manufactured with a small misprint on the dial, that often goes unnoticed. On such examples, just below the Rolex coronet and text, is another line of text that reads “Oyster Perpetual”. Now, while it would be perfectly normal to see this on a Ref. 5513 Submariner or Ref. 5500 Air King, on Oyster models with a date function, this line of text should read “Oyster Perpetual Date”. In today’s market, this uncommon variant of the Ref. 16760 is still relatively affordable as compared to other similarly rare GMT Master’s, making it a great investment piece.
Vintage Rolex GMT Master II Ref. 16760
Color Change Dials
One of the many joys of collecting vintage Rolex is knowing that no two watches can ever be truly identical, given the unique aging process that goes along with every watch, based upon how it is worn. This is why we see bezel inserts fading to vibrant shades of blue and fuchsia, black dials turning to rich shades of chocolate brown, or “tropical” as they’re known, and so on. Just like a unique tropical dial, a “color change” dial reaches its final state after years of being exposed to strong sunlight and mild humidity, though the results yielded are arguably much more exciting.
Rolex GMT Master II Root Beer Dial
This Rolex phenomenon can be seen in the 18K yellow gold Ref. 1680/8 Submariner, with a blue dial. Over the years, the blue dials on certain examples have faded to a regal tone of purple, which pairs nicely with the yellow tone of the case, and the blue bezel insert. Another example of a color change dial, though on a smaller scale, is the “Patrizzi” dial Ref. 16520 Zenith Daytona, which is characterized by subdial surrounding rings that have aged to a mild shade of brown. This watch is named after Osvaldo Patrizzi, an Italian auctioneer who first discovered these dials while assembling the catalogue for a sale in 2005.
Vintage Rolex Submariner with aged tropical violet dial
As explained in an earlier article, Rolex’s watches went through a transitional period during the mid to late 1980’s, in which the brand experimented with new materials, began using advanced movements, and made minor adjustments to their designs in order to give their watches a more luxurious feel. One such adjustment was the switch from matte to gloss dials in all of the brand’s sports models, and in doing so, Rolex unintentionally created a sub-variant of several of their offerings – the spider dial.
Rolex Submariner Spider Dial. Credit to: Xupes
Essentially, Rolex hadn’t perfected the lacquer finish that is applied to the black surface of the dial, and with time, some examples began to experience cracking that resembled a spider web, or crazing, as it’s referred to by some collectors. Today, these spider dials aren’t necessarily more desirable than dials with standard uniform finishes, though they are certainly a sight to see when the light catches them at the right angle, and are therefore somewhat collectible.