Three of the Most Underrated Rolexes of the Last 30 Years

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The last few years have seen a distinct rise in the hype levels of Rolex sport models, both old and new. Some of it well deserved, some of it, well, is more debatable. This has created a substantial shadow under which more readily available or phased out references are forced to languish. A closer look at these forgotten models reveals some truly underrated references that can be had for relative bargains, and furthermore, may be headed for the limelight themselves in the years to come. Here are three examples of such watches. (Leave a comment below to let us know which watch would be your pick.)

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Rolex Explorer II 16570

When Rolex released the newest Explorer II ref. 216570 in 2011, there was much fanfare around the return of the orange 24-hour hand, itself a nod to the reference 1655 “Freccione” Explorer II of the 1970s. The new Explorer II replaced the outgoing reference 16570, a watch that had the small hour markers, smaller case, no orange 24-hour hand, and a suddenly dated appearance. But, on the wrist, a different story is taking shape. The 16570 may not have much in the way of throwback design, but it does have throwback charm in how it wears, that is to say, slim on the wrist in both diameter (39.5 millimeters) and case thickness (12 millimeters). This is due to the 16750’s long production period, which began in the ‘80s, well before all the “big watch” nonsense took hold in the mid-2000s. Yep, you can even find examples with tritium dials (though, expect to pay a bit more for those).

The white or “Polar” dial is a fan favorite with its contrasting black house surrounds and hands, and happens to look good on pretty much any style of strap you dare throw on it. Best of all, good examples can be found in the neighborhood of $5,000. The newer six-digit Explorer II is still hovering around $7,000. Go try them both on and it’s easy to see which has the better chance of being a future classic.


Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph 116264

There’s no shortage of Datejust configurations to suit just about every taste and preference out there, but there’s one in particular that still raises eyebrows when discussed, and that’s the Turn-O-Graph ref. 116264. To be fair, this is a reissue and resurrection of a name Rolex aficionados will be familiar with, as the Turn-O-Graph is steeped in the brand’s lore. The first such watch, the ref. 6202 was released in 1953 and quickly turned into the watch we now call the Submariner in the ref. 6204. There’s a lot more history there than we’ll dive into here, but if you’re interested in learning a bit more about these watches, give this article by Philipp Stahl a read. The Turn-O-Graph was a reference to the rotating bezel with timing demarcations, making it an ideal tool watch before Rolex really had any tool watches. It was even used by the US Air Force Thunderbirds, accounting for the brand’s first military watches (if you don’t count early Panerai’s with Rolex movements).

The return of the Turn-O-Graph brought this reference 116264 in 2000, featuring white, black, and blue dials with red accents in the seconds hand and date display. These small details, along with the unique bezel set them apart from the usual flavor of Datejust you see in store displays or on the wrist of your boss’s wife. These watches can be found between $5,000 and $6,000.

Rolex Air-King 116900

The Rolex Air-King is an often misunderstood model, but the latest addition to the family, the ref. 116900, is unique in a few ways, and it’s not one that you’ll see splashed across your Instagram feed with regularity. The Air-King has traditionally been the entry-level Rolex, offered in time-only configurations with a chronometer movement and a bit of water resistance thrown in for good measure. It’s basically Rolex hallmarks boiled down to its simplest form.

The new model, ref. 116900, was introduced in 2016 after a two-year hiatus, and it added a big dose of personality to that formula. The watch is jarring at first glance, with large three, six, and nine hour makers and minute markers that count from five to 55 in five-minute increments around the dial. There’s also the green seconds hand and Rolex signage, and the retro “Air-King” label at 6 o’clock—this isn’t your average Rolex. That funky personality may take a while to sink in, but it’s also what makes this a truly unique watch from a brand not known for their progressive nature.

Being a modern Rolex, you’ll find many of the amenities that come with it, such as the 3131 movement inside, the magnetic resistance, Chromalight on the dial—all the usual suspects. Will these ever be future classics? Maybe not, but it’s not a stretch to call them under-appreciated. Plus, they are a great way to stand out in a room full of Subs and Daytonas. The 1169600 can usually be found in the $6,000 range.

Words by Blake Buettner of StockX.

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