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Rolex Is Finally Acting Like Rolex Again—and We Couldn’t Be Happier

After a wildly innovative early phase (roughly 1908 into the mid 1950s), Rolex settled into an iterative annual rhythm and quickly became the world’s most beloved mass producer of watches. Rolex never swayed with trends or tried to chase down the latest fad. Since its founder, Hans Wilsdorf, passed in 1960, The Crown has been stubbornly slow to change, deeply loyal to its legacy, unwaveringly committed to its established designs. Aside from some avant-garde releases from the dress-watch department during the disco era, we could trust Rolex to always just be Rolex.

Until recently, that is.

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Rolex 2023 Day Date 36 Puzzle
Rolex 2023 Day Date 36 Puzzle

Over the past few years, Rolex stopped acting like the Rolex we knew. The Day-Date—a serious watch associated with multiple U.S. presidents—morphed into a pastel puzzle with hippy-dippy messages in place of the weekdays and emoticons in place of the date. Upon that release last year, I noted on Instagram that “Switzerland was, after all, the birthplace of LSD.” I expect trippy watches from the subversive conceptual minds at Moser or the goofy folks at Konstantin Chaykin, but what are we to make of Rolex getting all groovy? It reminded me of the time my tweed-and-khakis father came home in a pair of boot-cut Levi’s and a shearling pilot’s jacket. “What’s going on with Dad?” we wondered.

Rolex “Bubble” Oyster Perpetual of 2023 and Left-Handed GMT-Master II “Sprite” from 2022.
Rolex “Bubble” Oyster Perpetual of 2023 and Left-Handed GMT-Master II “Sprite” from 2022.

There are other examples of Rolex not being Rolex recently, such as the bubbly pastel Oyster Perpetual, or odd-ball left-handed GMT Master II “Sprite,” or the just discontinued retro-styled Daytona LeMans that saw the shortest production run of any Rolex in recent history—practically a limited edition at just under 10 months, and an homage of all things. I’d even argue that 2023’s titanium Yachtmaster was a deviation too far, and Rolex just discontinued the Yachtmaster II. None of this was normal Rolex behavior.

Rolex Daytona Ref. 126529LN
Rolex looked backward with the Daytona LeMans in June 2023. Now that watch is gone.

I’m glad to report that for 2024, the confident, steady, conservative Rolex that never had to beg for our attention is back in action—or perhaps I should say back in slow motion. This year’s releases remind me of the old Rolex. They may be a little boring compared to recent releases, but of all the Swiss watch brands in the world, The Crown does not need a hype watch.

Rolexes from Watches & Wonders 2024
Nothing too crazy from Rolex for 2024.

Now that Rolex is back to being good old Rolex, we can get excited about the little iterations again. What a joy to watch Rolex’s fan base get all worked up over a slightly narrower lug on the Submariner, or the inclusion of a minuscule movement upgrade in the Oyster Perpetual, or—OMG!—a Jubilee bracelet on a six-digit GMT Master II.

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This year’s steel GMT Master II with the black and gray Cerachrom bezel and green accents embodies Rolex’s return to normalcy. It’s not a flashy watch. It’s not causing anyone to scratch their head. It’s not forcing us writers to make outlandish claims like, “This one is probably already being lined up at auction houses.” The new GMT Master II is just one of the best tool watches on the market, offered here in a classic colorway with a touch of Rolex green—in other words, it’s perfect.

Rolex GMT Master II 2024
The 2024 GMT Master II in steel is an understated classic.

And if that’s not enough Rolex normalcy for you, it’s been said that you can now also order either the steel Jubilee or Oyster bracelet directly from your local authorized dealer—just like in the good ol’ days. We don’t need LSD-infused dials or crowns on the wrong side; just give us boring options like choosing a 3- or 5-link bracelet on a gray and black tool watch, and we will swoon in adulation.

Rolex Day-Date 2024
2024 Day-Dates are not blowing minds, but they’re great.

Consider the updates to the Day-Date this year. Nothing here blows us out of the water, but each iteration looks great. We see the ombré dial in the rose gold 40 mm for the first time, which is lovely. The other 40 mm Day-Date rocks a mother-of-pearl dial with diamond markers, and it looks fantastic without screaming its uniqueness across the room. The two 36s look inevitable.

Are this year’s Sky-Dwellers even new? Oh, I suppose they are, if I really think about it. Now that’s Rolex.

Rolex Sky-Dweller 2024
Rolex Sky-Dwellers for 2024.

The Submariner didn’t get an update or a new colorway, just as it shouldn’t. And the Deepsea (now no longer coupled to the Sea-Dweller moniker) is offered in a seen-it-before yellow gold and blue combo. The big news there is that the Ringlock’s compression ring is now in ceramic and thus less prone to extreme temperature changes. Again, that’s Rolex.

The 2024 editions of the Deepsea in gold and the 1908 in platinum.
The 2024 editions of the Deepsea in gold and the 1908 in platinum.

Meanwhile, Rolex plays a little bit with its dress watches, just as it always has—though certainly not to the extent that it did during the 1970s. The new 1908 in platinum with that icy blue dial is pure class, its guilloché engraving utterly traditional, its visible movement impressive. The Daytona got a very cool mother-of-pearl treatment we’re playfully nicknaming the “Pearl Panda.” While original, it’s not like we’ve never seen a diamond bezel on a Daytona before. And that’s just about as playful as we need Rolex to be.

Rolex Daytona 2024
Rolex Daytona 2024

As my colleague Paige Reddinger put it, Rolex seems to enjoy giving us something unexpected every year. All the talk among Rolex fans of a Coke GMT Master II, or another trippy Day-Date, or another retro-styled Daytona appears to have set Rolex up perfectly to drop these relatively reserved releases that have caused a shrug heard around the world. Did we expect this of Rolex? No, not at all—so, we must admit this release was very well played.

Thankfully my father’s jeans-and-leather phase was very short, and I’m relieved to say that Rolex’s hippy phase appears to have passed just as quickly. Welcome back, Rolex. We missed you!

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