Over the past ten years, important collectors hailing from all corners of the globe have realized that there is truly nothing quite like a great vintage Rolex timepieces, and the continually rising prices for desirable examples certainly reflect this. With that said, some collectors of modern watches find the mechanical quirks and various antiquated aspects of vintage watch ownership to be a slight bother at times, and this is perfectly understandable. Luckily, if you’re on the hunt for a timepiece that combines a unique vintage aesthetic with convenient and practical modern touches, the Rolex back catalog has you covered with a host of interesting transitional references.
So What Exactly Is A Transitional References?
Essentially, traditional references were references that filled the gap between full production references, which allowed Rolex to use up the remaining parts from previous references while experimenting with new technologies and materials. This was a logical way of advancing the collection, as once Rolex had established an iconic and timeless design language through the release of references like the Ref. 1675 GMT Master, Ref. 1601/1603 Datejust, and the date wheel-equipped Ref. 1680 Submariner, they could leave the overall appearance of subsequent references largely unchanged, while putting a greater focus on refining certain mechanical and structural details.
For example, take the non-transitional Ref. 1675. Inside most examples of this celebrated reference you’ll find the tried and true, in-house Cal. 1575 movement, that unfortunately does not feature the greatly useful quickset date function. What this means is that if your watch has gone unworn for some time, and you now wish to correct the date, you’ll have to manually advance the hands forward through the days, instead of being able to simply scroll through the date wheel by way of a dedicated crown position.
The New Kid On The Block – Rolex 16750
Following the Ref. 1675 was the transitional Ref. 16750 of 1980, which boasted a number of welcome internal updates while appearing to be virtually identical to its predecessor. This means that although the watch may have advanced mechanically, it still made use of a matte dial and painted hour markers — two details that vintage Rolex aficionados celebrate. With the introduction of this reference came the Cal. 3075 – a new, high beat movement, that featured a quickset date function. This helped the GMT Master transition into the modern era of watchmaking, without abandoning it’s renowned design.
A More Durable Model
Another exceptional transitional reference that some might argue is still relatively undervalued in today’s market, is the Ref. 16800 Submariner. Much like the aforementioned GMT Master reference, Rolex continued to use the same design of the Ref. 1680 in the Ref. 16800 for the most part, but in addition the new Cal. 3035 movement (also featuring a high beat rate and quickset date), they also made the watch significantly more durable.
This was accomplished by making use of a sapphire crystal, which made the watch both better suited for everyday use, and more capable of performing in professional diving applications. Furthermore, the use of a sapphire crystal eliminated the need for occasional polishing, given the material’s highly scratch-resistant properties. It should also be noted that the Ref. 16800 happens to be the last Rolex to be worn in the James Bond franchise. Upon looking closely, you’ll notice that Timothy Dalton can be seen wearing one in the 1989 film Licence to Kill.
Ultimately, what these transitional references offer, is the best of both worlds, so to speak. By combining a vintage look with the durability and ease of use of a modern watch, you truly have a recipe for horological success that can’t be beaten, and with a wide range of transitional references produced over the years, there’s something out there to satisfy the needs of just about every collector.