Within Rolex collecting circles, there exists some common terminology that is important to comprehend in order to gain a better understanding of the vintage market. One of the more commonly referenced terms, which you are almost certainly likely to encounter at some point or another is Rolex “Mark Dials” – most frequently in reference to their various sport/professional collections like the Rolex Submariner and Explorer. Today we’ll be exploring the definition of Rolex Mark Dials and why they are important to watch collectors and enthusiasts.
Rolex Mark Dials Defined
The term “Mark” (frequently abbreviated as MK) is used to differentiate between different dial styles within the same Rolex reference family. It is always followed by a number (often Roman numerals but sometimes Arabic numerals) like Mark I, Mark II, Mark III, and so on (or MK1, MK2, and MK3).
With some watch models, Rolex kept the same reference number but made notable changes to the dial over the years. These changes can include font styles, water resistance depth rating placements (meters first or feet first), colors, text, hour markers, and Rolex crown shapes. With such variation, the Mark system allows Rolex collectors to distinguish between dial designs since some are more collectible than others. Often, these details may seem small to those outside of the vintage watch market, yet to collectors, different Mark dials can translate to thousands of dollars in value.
It’s important to note that the Mark system is in no way an official Rolex one; rather, it is one devised by Rolex scholars and collectors. As such, not only can Rolex Mark Dial charts differ slightly across different sources, they can also evolve with the discovery of previously unknown design details.
Examples of Vintage Rolex Mark Dials
Some examples of vintage Rolex references that feature different Mark Dials include the Sea-Dweller 1665, the Submariner 1680, and the Explorer II 1655. The Mark designation is especially important with the two dive models because there are also the so-called “Red” versions of both the Sea-Dweller 1665 and the Submariner 1680, nicknamed so for the red text on the dial.
The “Double Red” Sea-Dweller 1665 (aka DRSD) dial versions are typically classified from Mark 0 to Mark VII while the “Great White” Sea-Dweller 1665 dial versions are categorized from Mark 0 to Mark IV.
Similarly, the Red Submariner 1680 has several different dials, labeled Mark I to Mark VI, followed by the white version of the Submariner ref. 1680, also sorted into different Mark dials.
The Explorer II ref. 1655 is yet another vintage Rolex watch with varying dial designs, normally grouped from Mark I to Mark V.
Examples of Modern Rolex Mark Dials
Although the Mark dial system is habitually used to refer to vintage Rolex watches, there are some examples found in modern Rolex watches too.
For instance, in 2016, Rolex updated the Explorer 214270 to include better-proportioned hands and the addition of luminescence in the trio numerals on the dial. However, the watch kept the same reference number that first accompanied it when it was introduced in 2010. Therefore, as a means to differentiate between these two versions, many have taken to calling the newer 2016 reference as the Explorer 214270 MKII.
Additionally in 2017, Rolex also updated the Yacht-Master II, replacing the previous straight hands with Mercedes-style hands, and fitting it with a new dial that had different hour markers at the 12 and 6 o’clock locations (an inverted triangle and a rectangle in place of two squares). Despite the new hands and dials, the Yacht-Master II retained the same 1166xx reference numbers. Therefore, the Mark system frequently gets applied to these too, and the newer version (in steel) is often called the Yacht-Master II ref. 116680 MK2.
As always, it’s the small details that seem to matter the most when collecting vintage Rolex watches. And since no other component is as important to the value of a vintage watches than the dial, it pays to understand Rolex Mark Dials.