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Standing Out From The Crowd: Customizing Your Rolex

Paul Altieri

For some, a Rolex is a Rolex—bought as is, many of the designs in the catalog represent the end result of sometimes decades or even generations of relentless tweaking, refining and fine-tuning.  For others, the watch they buy either new from the store or an example from a pre-owned marketplace acts as merely a starting point; a blank canvas onto which they will add their own unique character. 

Personalizing your Rolex is sometimes seen as the ultimate statement, a way to separate yourself even further from an already somewhat exclusive crowd.

It can be done in a number of ways, some more extreme than others. The simple practice of swapping a metal bracelet for a leather or rubber strap has a massive effect on the overall aesthetic of a watch. At the other end of the scale, there are entities out there who will take your brand new model and reshape it to look like a sought-after vintage grail piece.

Below, we’ll take a look at some of the options available to make your custom Rolex distinctly your own.

The Bracelet

Rolex’s range of metal bracelets are justifiably famous and have been subjected to a similar regime of constant improvements as the watches themselves over the years. Those fitted to the more contemporary range have benefitted from all solid links, making them heavier and more robust, addressing a niggling gripe many customers had about the relative flimsiness of the older examples.

The metal trio, the Oyster, Jubilee and President, are fixed to the majority of Rolex’s offerings, with leather straps reserved mainly for the ultra dressy Cellini line and the brand only recently making their very first rubber bracelet, the Oysterflex, which you’ll find on certain versions of the Daytona and Yacht-Master.

custom rolex
A NATO strap is an easy way to add a different dimension to your watch

However, there is nothing to say a Submariner, for instance, traditionally supplied with that most utilitarian of options, the Oyster bracelet, has to stay on an Oyster bracelet. The world’s favorite diver on a leather strap is immediately transformed into a far more formal looking affair, making the versatile tool watch an even more perfect complement to a business suit.

Replacing it with a rubber or silicon strap ups the sportiness of the whole thing and gives the ubiquitous Sub a fresh aesthetic you won’t encounter too many of in the day to day.

The Oysterflex bracelet is a sportier customization you can choose to use
A Daytona with Oysterflex bracelet.

And it crosses over beyond the professional range as well. The Datejust and Day-Date also take on a new life just with the simple act of substituting their metal bracelets—although with the range of options in which the pair are already available from Rolex themselves, there’s an argument for saying they are pretty much infinitely customizable anyway, straight off the shop floor.  

For an easy and inexpensive way to shake up the look of your favorite watch, check out the range of Italian leather straps we have in our store here at Bob’s, alongside some rubber watchbands from Everest, one of the top choices in third party manufacturers.

The Dial and Bezel

Where changing the bracelet is a quick and easily reversed way to get a custom Rolex, and one that doesn’t affect the resale value of the watch if you decide to sell it on (so long as you keep the original), changing the dial or bezel most definitely will.

However, there are legions of firms out there ready and willing to give your dial a facelift, with everything from a new, unofficial color to a fully blinged-out visage swamped in diamonds and other gems.  

A custom Rolex Daytona encrusted with diamonds
A custom Rolex Daytona encrusted with diamonds

You will also find examples where the dials themselves are made from semiprecious stone, such as opal or onyx, and even pieces of meteorite, ensuring an absolute one-of-a-kind nature.

It is a move that certainly sets your watch apart from the mainstream, and you can take your choice of having the manufacturer send you the dial or bezel directly so you can fit it yourself (and best of luck with that!) or you can parcel your watch off to them to swap the pieces in their workshop.

There is a downside here though, and it is not just the cost of buying an iced out dial dripping in jewels. Rolex notoriously have zero sense of humor with people messing with their products, so anything added after the fact makes your watch, in their eyes at least, a counterfeit.

As such, the brand won’t want anything to do with it should you send it in for servicing or repair, and you will have to make alternative arrangements. While that may be a pain, for most it is a small price to pay for wearing such a unique specimen on their wrist.

The Whole Hog

Have you seen those companies that take your classic E-Type Jag or Aston Martin DB5 and fit them with modern cooling systems so they don’t overheat, uprated suspension so they actually go round corners, and decent brakes so you don’t end your journey up a tree? They are still, technically, a vintage car, just…better.

There is a company doing a similar sort of thing for Rolex watches, just in reverse.

Tempus Machina have made it their business to reimagine some of the most lusted-after pieces in the Rolex archives, taking their modern day equivalents and modifying them to echo the look of yesteryear.

The Tempus Machina Ref. 216A - A custom Rolex
The Tempus Machina Ref. 216A – A custom Rolex

Already in the books is their ref. 216A Submariner, a standard off the shelf no-date ref. 114060 which has been customized to bear an uncanny likeness to the ultra-rare ref. 6538.

It involves nothing less than stripping the watch to its constituent parts and taking power tools to them; shaving the contemporary Maxi case down to size, removing the crown guards, bevelling and drilling the lugs, fitting an original 8mm Brevet crown and a dozen other alterations.

The result is the absolute best of both worlds. A thoroughly modern watch that looks like one of the all-time greats.

Custom Rolex 711Z by Tempus Machina - based on the Rolex 6542
Custom Rolex 711Z by Tempus Machina – based on the Rolex 6542

More recently they have worked their magic on the GMT-Master II ref. 116710 which, after a trip down memory lane, emerges as the one that started it all, the ref. 6542, complete with Bakelite bezel.

The detailing is extraordinary, even down to the small arrow GMT hand and the re-profiled coin edging on that iconic Pepsi surround.

The details on this watch are mind-blowing
The details on this custom Rolex are mind-blowing

And the best part of all is that they are incredibly cheap. Actually sorry, no that’s not quite true. The GMT-Master, rechristened the ref. 711Z, will run you about $35,000. The Sub goes for around $25,000.

Expensive, yes. But as custom Rolex watches go, they represent just about the classiest options out there.

Paul Altieri
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