While their sister-company, Tudor has garnered a strong following with their vintage-inspired heritage watches, Rolex is notorious for only moving forward with their designs, and never re-creating (or re-releasing) vintage Rolex inspired watches from the past. However, despite not manufacturing any outright heritage watches, Rolex does implement a few subtle, vintage-inspired design traits into the otherwise very modern watches that they manufacture today.
Vintage Design Inspiration in Modern Rolex Watches
Most obvious among the various vintage design elements is the red line of text on the dial of the new Rolex Sea-Dweller reference 126600. An obvious throwback to Rolex’s early Submariner and Sea-Dweller watches which had their respective names printed in red letters on the surfaces of their matte black dials, the red line of text on the dial of the new Sea-Dweller 126600 is an unmistakably vintage-inspired design element, which Rolex has recycled and reintroduced on an otherwise very modern and technologically-advanced, luxury dive watch.
Much like the red line of text on the dial of the latest Sea-Dweller, the bright orange, arrow-shaped 24-hour hand on the latest incarnation of the Rolex Explorer II is a design element directly borrowed from the very first version of the watch from 1971. For a number of decades, this style of 24-hour hand was entirely absent from the Rolex watch catalog, during which time, the Explorer II shared a 24-hour hand design with Rolex’s GMT-Master II line of watches.
However, in 2011 for its 40th anniversary, the Explorer II line received a complete makeover, both inside and out. Although the vast majority of the new reference 216570 Explorer II was completely different from the original version and classifies it as an undisputedly modern timepiece, the large, orange-colored, arrow-shaped, 24-hour hand is aesthetically almost identical to the one on the original version of the Explorer II from the early 1970s.
A significant part of the allure of the Rolex GMT-Master II 126710BLRO is rooted in its vintage-inspired design elements, such as its red and blue, “Pepsi” bezel insert and its Jubilee-style bracelet. The very first Rolex GMT-Master watches from the mid-1950s were made from stainless steel and fitted with half-red, half-blue bezel inserts; however, ever since the introduction of Cerachrom (ceramic) bezels, half-red, half-blue “Pepsi” bezel inserts were only available on the 18k white gold version of Rolex’s GMT-Master II. The reference 126710 GMT-Master II marked the return of a stainless steel “Pepsi” GMT, as well as the return of the Jubilee bracelet to the GMT-Master line.
One of the hottest and most sought-after releases in recent years was the reference 116500 Daytona in stainless steel with black Cerachrom bezel. With the exception of its bezel, the new Daytona 116500 was virtually identical to almost any other modern, stainless steel Daytona. However, the aesthetic impact of the black Cerachrom bezel is significant, and the presence of a solid black ring around the face of the watch completely changes the overall appearance of the new ref. 116500 Daytona.
Additionally, the new black Cerachrom bezel is more than a little reminiscent of the black acrylic bezels that were fitted to several vintage Daytona chronograph references manufactured during the 1960s and 1970s, such as the reference 6241 and the reference 6263. Although the two materials are significantly different in a multitude of different ways, the black Cerachrom bezel on the new 116500 Daytona is very much the contemporary equivalent of the black acrylic bezel that can be found on a number of highly-desirable, vintage Rolex Daytona references.
For the most part, Rolex only moves forward with their designs as they continuously work to refine and improve their watches. However, they have been known to occasionally borrow small design elements from some of their early watches, and implement them into the latest incarnations of their ever-evolving timepieces. Sometimes these design elements get re-imagined or modernized to reflect advancements and improvements in available materials and technologies (like the Cerachrom bezel on the Daytona). Other times, like in the instance of the 24-hour hand on the new Explorer II, these vintage-inspired, design traits get pulled right off a page from a 1970s Rolex catalog and get placed on a watch currently in production.