November 11th is our annual opportunity to give thanks to the brave men and women who serve in the United States Armed Forces.
Veterans Day has been observed in this country since 1918, celebrating the end of hostilities in World War I. Originally named Armistice Day, the 11th day of the 11th month sees a host of countries around the world pay tribute to their military, with many marking the start of the 11th hour with a traditional minute of silence.
Renamed Veterans Day in America in 1954, we use it as a chance to honor all serving personnel who defend our country.
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Rolex and the Military
The link between used Rolex watches and the armed forces goes back generations. The rugged tool watches created by the Swiss brand have long been sought for their legendary toughness and unwavering reliability—the two most important attributes for any military equipment.
Here at Bob’s, we’re commemorating this Veterans Day with a very special photo shoot featuring some of Rolex’s most battle-ready creations. Whether on land, sea or air, these are the watches fit for heroes.
Explorer ref. 214270
A watch born at the top of the world, in the airless subzero temperatures of Everest’s summit, is a watch resilient enough to survive anything.
Released in 1953, after the prototype had accompanied Messrs.’ Hillary and Tenzing to the highest peak on earth, the Rolex Explorer has gone on to become a favorite of global military forces for the last 60 years.
With its no-nonsense, utilitarian style and with a dial that remains one of the crown’s most legible, all shrouded in a case that, until just recently, had never succumbed to the allure of precious metals, the Explorer does everything you could ever need of it and nothing more.
The Rolex Explorer ref. 214270 we have at Bob’s represents one of the only major changes Rolex has seen fit to subject the watch to over the last six decades, increasing its size from the standard 36mm to a more contemporary 39mm. In one go, it modernizes the age-old design as well as improving its readability, giving it a fresh appeal whether it’s used as a daily civilian wear or as the highly capable professional tool it is.
Inside, the Cal. 3132 works away with the sort of steadfast tenaciousness that lasts for several lifetimes, protected by a 904L steel case that laughs off the worst the world can throw at it, no matter what you do for a living.
The Rolex Explorer has, depending on your point of view, either suffered or benefitted from being the dark horse Rolex from its very first introduction. As simple as a watch can possibly be, it is the perfect companion to life in the military.
GMT-Master ref. 1675
Although it was originally conceived for Pan Am, as a way to help their civilian airline crews tell day from night as they crossed time zones, the sheer toughness of the GMT-Master, coupled with its at-a-glance convenience, has seen the watch find an appreciative audience among air force pilots and even NASA astronauts.
The GMT-Master ref. 1675 is perhaps the archetypal reference in a series that can trace its roots back to the mid-fifties. Not the first iteration, but the one that brought a number of vital innovations to the fore, important advances that set the GMT on its way to becoming both a beautiful timepiece and a sturdy, workmanlike implement.
It was the 1675 that introduced crown guards to the design, the earliest examples being pointed (nicknamed El Cornino, from the Italian for horn), and also replaced the fragile Bakelite bezel insert of the original with a hardwearing aluminum one. Over its near 20-year lifespan, the crown guards became more rounded, the glossy gilt dial was substituted for a matte one and that iconic surround was released in a number of different two-tone color schemes.
Our ref. 1675 is from the old school. Sporting the tiny arrowhead on the GMT hand that was phased out in favor of a much bigger replacement after the first few years in production, it also has the sharp crown guards that identify it as one of the first-run models. Framing its black dial, with its timeworn cream indexes, the blue and red Pepsi bezel tells its own story; elegantly faded after a lifetime of active service.
The GMT-Master is an obvious choice for military personnel, and those serving in the air force particularly. For a watch that came about at the request of civilian aviators, it has proved itself more than equal to the challenge of life on the frontline.
Submariner ref. 1680/8
There’s a saying shared among Special Forces regiments around the world when it comes to choosing equipment for missions; “If it’s shiny, I’ll have it.”
Whether that extends to the watches they place their trust in is unknown, but for a timepiece that gleams brightly enough for any parade ground, the Rolex Submariner ref. 1680/8 is a drill sergeant’s dream.
Released in the late 1960s, the yellow gold Sub is much more likely to adorn the wrists of five-star generals than the rank and file, a weighty precious metal showpiece edition of the world’s favorite dive watch. But, although it may be too eye-catching (and pricey) to risk in combat, it is still one of the most inherently strong models in the archive and a product of Rolex’s typically relentless improvements.
The 1680/8 was not only the first gold Sub in the series, it was also the first to feature a date function, and included a Cyclops lens magnifying the window at three o’clock for increased legibility.
The new complication required a new caliber, so the standard Cal. 1570 was replaced with the 1575, from the first all in-house family of movements Rolex ever created. Identical save for the date, the 1575 had a balance speed of 19,800 VPH and a free sprung Nivarox hairspring with Breguet overcoil, and proved itself an ultra reliable engine inside not only the Submariner range but also found homes in the Datejust, Explorer and Sea-Dweller until as recently as 1989.
The 1680 marked the start of the Submariner range moving from being an out-and-out dive watch to accepting its position as a statement piece, worn as an outward display of enviable success. It is a watch to wear both as an everyday expression and on special occasions, as polished and impressive as a row of medals.
Air-King ref. 126900
Rolex released the Air-King in 1945 as a member of their “Air” series of watches, including the Air-Lion, Air-Tiger, Air-Giant, and Air-King. The Air-King is the only model that remains in production today. It’s more than worthy of our list, with military roots dating to the end of World War II. It’s widely believed that the Air-King was inspired by British Royal Air Force pilots who often wore their own Rolex Oyster watches over their military-issued timepieces.
Initially, the watch featured a practical design to meet any service member’s budget, featuring a stainless steel finish, smooth bezel, 34mm case, and time-only movement. Early models of the Air-King relied on a hand-wound movement, adding even further to its affordability. However, by 1953 Rolex had upgraded the collection to their trusty Perpetual movement with automatic winding.
The Air-King stayed true to its original design blueprint for many years, which was more akin to a traditional Rolex dress watch. That is, until 2016 when Rolex gave the collection a serious overall after shelving it for about two years. Inspired by the instruments developed by Rolex for the Bloodhound Supersonic Car, ref. 116900 was more reminiscent of a true Rolex sports watch. The case grew to 40mm, and Rolex swapped the dressier hands for their iconic Mercedes-style hands. The dial also features luminescent Arabic hour markers and bright green accents.
A new edition of the series just came to market in 2022, featuring a similar design set and a few notable upgrades. The case now features crown guards, making the Air-King look even more like a traditional tool watch. Looking closely at the dial, you’ll also notice that the 5-hour marker now reads “05” instead of “5,” and the previously silvered 3/6/9 markers are now filled with Chromalight. Although seemingly minor, these tweaks create better balance on the dial. Lastly, ref. 126900 sports Rolex’s next-generation time-only movement, the caliber 3230, with a longer 70-hour power reserve. A trusty, no-frills luxury watch suitable for any hero’s wrist.
Rolex’s lifelong philosophy of form very much following function has made them the preferred choice for military personnel the world over. The brand’s constant pursuit of excellence is something those who serve in our armed forces can relate to and all of us here at Bob’s Watches give our very special thanks.