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05/27/2022
 5 minutes

3 Rare Rolex Watches You’ve Never Seen Before!

By Donato Andrioli
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Rolex is probably the most well-known and popular brand in the world of luxury watches. But are there models that are so rare or unpopular that even watch enthusiasts don’t have them on their radar? I went looking, and what I found were some very interesting Rolex models. They’re extremely unpopular but have interesting and sometimes remarkable histories. I’ll tell you all about three of the rarest and most unpopular Rolex watches of all time. Do you know any of these obscure Rolex icons? 

Do you recognize these Rolexes?
Do you recognize these Rolexes?

1. A Real Gérald Genta Rolex: The Rolex King Midas

Gérald Genta is by far the most famous watch designer of all time. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus are some of his most well-known masterpieces. But long before these two icons saw the light of day, Genta designed a truly odd watch in the early 1960s: the Rolex King Midas. The design takes its cues from the legend of King Midas, in which the Greek king turns everything he touches to gold. Accordingly, both the case and integrated bracelet are made of 18-karat gold. The watch doesn’t have a second hand, and it’s one of the first Rolex watches with sapphire crystal. The most unique thing about the 27-28 mm case is its unusual pentagon shape, which is inspired by ancient Greek high culture. 

This lends the Genta Rolex a truly unusual and mystical feel, which captures the zeitgeist perfectly. The watch had a number of famous owners at the time. John Wayne had a Rolex King Midas, and the watch can be seen on the wrist of the villain Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun. But the most famous wearer of the golden Genta Rolex was the King himself, Elvis Presley. The 1960s are now long over, but the Rolex King Midas still makes an appearance in pop culture every now and again. Rihanna wears the rare gold Rolex in her private life. And my favorite artist, the R&B singer The Weeknd, skillfully uses the watch as a prop in the dystopian music video for his hit song “Heartless.” The Rolex watch is clearly visible on his wrist in the video, a choice that is surely intentional. Even though the Rolex King Midas is just a small detail, it emphasizes the mystical aura of the singer and the video as a whole. The watch used here is a later reference of the Rolex King Midas that was part of the Cellini line. The current market price for this rare gold watch is over $20,000; versions with a leather strap are significantly less expensive. The Rolex King Midas is a truly unique and unusual watch that is out of character for Rolex. Should the brand consider a remake? 

Gérald Genta's Rolex: the King Midas
Gérald Genta’s Rolex: the King Midas

2. A Rolex in Honor of the First Astronauts: Rolex Space-Dweller

If you’ve never heard of the Rolex Space-Dweller, that’s no surprise. The watch is extremely rare, and only a very few people have ever seen the watch in real life. The watch’s origin story is extremely interesting, but oddly enough, it’s not officially documented anywhere at length. I had hoped to at least find one listing for it on Chrono24 and naively went looking for it. However, I couldn’t find a single watch for sale anywhere. The good news is I can at least share a few interesting details about this rare watch with you. If you’re thinking the Rolex Space-Dweller is like the Sky-Dweller, I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you.  

Strictly speaking, the Rolex Space-Dweller isn’t actually a proper model with its own reference. This unknown watch is actually just a Rolex Explorer ref. 1016, but with “Space-Dweller” written on the dial instead of “Explorer.” This special variant of the Explorer was meant to serve as a kind of test case. In the early 1960s, space travel was still in its very early days. The seven NASA astronauts in the Mercury program were true pioneers in outer space and were treated like superheroes at the time. And when the famous astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth three times in 1962, they also became worldwide superstars. Glenn, in particular, was cast as an idol by NASA: He was even ordered not to take other flights, so as not to put his life in danger. Since the astronauts around Glenn were so revered on their tour of Asia, especially in Japan, Rolex decided to take the chance to promote its Explorer with the help of the famous astronaut. Thus, the Rolex Explorer ref. 1016 became a Rolex Space-Dweller. Rolex wanted to pay tribute to the Mercury astronauts as well as potentially boost their sales in Asia. The astronaut’s Explorer came out exclusively on the Japanese market in 1963 in very limited numbers. Every now and then, one of the few Rolex Space-Dwellers will surface at an auction. The last piece went for over $135,000 USD. You can get the Space-Dweller’s predecessor for significantly less: There are Rolex Explorers with ref. 1016 out there for under $20,000. That’s still a lot for a vintage watch, but at least this watch can still be found, unlike its cosmic variant. 

The Rolex Explorer ref. 1016: it's not a space watch, but at least you can still buy it
The Rolex Explorer ref. 1016: it’s not a space watch, but at least you can still buy it

3. An Oysterquartz With an Automatic Movement: Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Ref. 1530

Watch collectors love the Rolex Oysterquartz. The watch is reminiscent of Genta greats like the Patek Philippe Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, thanks to its 1970s design and integrated bracelet. But it’s also very much its own watch, and the cyclops lens makes it immediately recognizable. What watch collectors hate, though, is a quartz watch: They just don’t carry the same fascination as their mechanical counterparts. And it’s a quartz movement that ticks inside the Rolex Oysterquartz—a loud one at that! Are you open to quartz? Or do you also stick your nose up at the ticking second hand like other watch enthusiasts? If you can’t be convinced by quartz watches but love the design of the Oysterquartz, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date ref. 1530 might be just the thing for you. 

The 36-mm Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date looks just as interesting as the Rolex Oysterquartz but has an automatic movement. This unknown Rolex was produced in the 1970s in just 1,500 pieces, making it very rare. That’s also reflected in the price: The watch currently goes for around $20,000 on the open market. This is significantly more than its famous quartz counterpart. Do you like two-tone watches? Then you might like the Rolex Datejust ref. 1630. There are also very few of these watches available, but the current market price for the steel and gold ref. 1630 is half as much as the steel Oysterquartz. The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date ref. 1530 and Datejust 1630 don’t have nearly as interesting stories behind them as the Rolex King Midas or the Rolex Space-Dweller, but they’re still interesting rarities. I didn’t know about them until I started researching this article. Did you know about these “Oysterquartz”-esque watches with automatic movements? 

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual 1530: it looks like an Oysterquartz but has an automatic movement
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual 1530: it looks like an Oysterquartz but has an automatic movement

About the Author

Donato Andrioli

With the purchase of my Tudor Black Bay 41, I discovered a passion for mechanical watches. I am particularly drawn to iconic watches with long and exciting histories.

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