Over the last couple of years, we have seen a spectacular rise in popularity and, therefore, prices of Rolex watches. We have previously written about all the different models available and the best Rolex watches to invest in, but what have been the best-performing Rolex models over the last few years? In this article, we take a closer look at the numbers and reveal the 3 top-performing Rolex models of the past five years.
Before we get to the list, take a minute to consider the three Rolex watches that you think have performed best financially in recent times. By “best performing,” we mean the models that have gone up most in value in terms of percentage. It will be interesting to see whether the watches you come up with actually make the list. I can tell you that I was surprised to see at least one of these models in the top three.
1. Rolex Daytona: 77%
The absolute number one on this list is the iconic Rolex Daytona. Prices for Rolex’s sports chronograph have risen by roughly 77% over the last five years. Despite this significant growth, it’s not even in the five top-performing watches overall, but that’s a topic for a different article. It’s really no surprise that the Rolex Daytona sits atop this list. It has been among the most popular Rolex watches ever since “The Crown” became the most important brand in the resurrection of the Swiss watch industry in the mid-1980s.
If we zoom in on the different Rolex Daytonas out there, it’s essential to distinguish between two eras. First, there are the manual-winding models that were in production from
Daytona’s introduction in 1963 until 1988. For decades, these watches have been much sought-after by collectors, with prices rising steadily over time. However, over the past couple of years, the market value of these models has gone through the roof. The Rolex Daytona “Paul Newman,” in particular, has become almost unaffordable, with asking prices easily surpassing the $200,000 mark. Listing prices for a regular manual-winding stainless steel Daytona, such as the refs. 6262 and 6265, start at roughly $60,000.
The second era is that of the automatic Rolex Daytona. It consists of three different stainless-steel references, the first two being the ref. 16520 “Zenith Daytona” and the ref. 116520, the first Daytona to feature an in-house automatic chronograph movement. Asking prices for both models start at roughly $30,000, with the “Zenith Daytona” being slightly more expensive. The last is the current Rolex Daytona ref. 116500LN with a black ceramic bezel. You should expect to pay a minimum of around $35,000 for this watch. Obviously, there are also iconic gold and platinum references that have enjoyed an incredible rise in popularity – just think of the yellow gold Daytona ref. 116508 with a green dial (also known as the “John Mayer Daytona”) or the current platinum version with its ice blue dial and brown bezel. If there is a certain model or group of models that lag behind the overall appreciation of the Rolex Daytona, it’s the two-tone gold and steel editions. Does owning one of those make you less of a boss? Quite the opposite, if you ask me! A two-tone Rolex Daytona ref. 16523 with a black dial will up your boss levels to legendary proportions for roughly $20,000.
2. Rolex Explorer: 70%
The second watch on our list doesn’t come as a big surprise either. The Rolex Explorer has been a great entry-level watch for years now. It is a legendary model first introduced in 1953, and it paved the way for a whole new generation of sports watches. The best thing about the Explorer is that the current Rolex Explorer ref. 124270 from earlier this year still resembles the first Explorer from the 1950s. Its most characteristic feature is obviously its dial with the iconic 3-6-9 layout, which has become known as the “Explorer dial.” The layout makes it a tad bit sportier and more exciting than the Rolex Oyster Perpetual and the Datejust, and it is one reason why so many people prefer it as an entry-level Rolex.
There are quite a few different versions of the Rolex Explorer that have become sought-after for a string of reasons. The Rolex Explorer ref. 1016 is famous as the Explorer reference with the longest production run, and many see it as the quintessential Explorer. Its asking prices currently range from $20,000 to $30,000, which is a lot of money for such a simple watch, but its iconic status more than makes up for it. The second is the 39-mm ref. 214270 that was discontinued in 2021. By increasing the size from 36 mm to 39 mm in 2010, Rolex catered to a broad audience who loves their watches bigger than the classic 36-mm size. So, when Rolex announced that they would return to 36 mm with the current Rolex Explorer ref. 124270, the bigger 39-mm model became immensely popular on Chrono24. Prices are currently between $10,000 and $15,000.
As always, whenever a new Rolex model is introduced, the hype surrounding it causes big price increases. That also happened with the current generation Rolex Explorer ref. 124270. While the list price may be under 7,000 USD, on Chrono24, asking prices are between 10,000 and 13,000 USD. These are just three of the many different options you have with the Rolex Explorer. Whatever your preferred reference is, a Rolex Explorer will always look good on the wrist and remains the perfect entry-level Rolex.
3. Rolex Explorer II – 70%
The last watch on this list is the most remarkable. If you had asked me what the number three would be, I would have guessed the Rolex Submariner, and maybe the Rolex GMT-Master II after that, but it’s neither. The Rolex Explorer II has appreciated in value over the last five years by a staggering 70%. I was so surprised to see it pop up because for a long time, it was nowhere near as popular as the Rolex Daytona, Submariner, or GMT-Master. The Rolex Explorer II was introduced as a watch for professional cave explorers, which immediately makes it an oddball to begin with. As such, it has a 24-hour hand and display on the bezel so explorers always know whether it’s day or night in a dark cave. Seeing as only a small number of people explore caves, most wearers use the 24-hour functionality of this watch to indicate the time in a second time zone.
This has made the Rolex Explorer II a more affordable alternative to the Rolex GMT-Master II, although they are fundamentally different watches in terms of aesthetics. The Rolex Explorer II is a very straight-forward looking watch that is only available with a white or black dial, and both feature a hint of color in the form of an orange 24-hour hand. At 42 mm, the watch is bigger than the Rolex Submariner, GMT-Master II, and Daytona, making it the right watch for people who love their Rolexes slightly bigger. The increase in size came about with the previous Rolex Explorer II ref. 216570 that was introduced in 2011. This is now one of the most sought-after models with asking prices ranging from just under 10,000 to 15,000 USD, making it one of the more affordable Rolex models currently available.
Before the ref. 216570, the Explorer II was equipped with a 40-mm case just like other iconic Rolex models. The new ref. 226570 that debuted in April 2021, is a minor update from the previous generation, its new movement being the biggest change. The current list price for one of these watches is about $8,500; however, good luck getting one at an authorized dealer. Asking prices on Chrono24 are currently between $13,000 and $16,000, but older models are very popular. Two popular vintage references include the Rolex Explorer II ref. 16550 “Cream Dial” and the iconic first-generation Explorer II ref. 1655. Overall, the Explorer II has carved out its own prominent place in the Rolex universe with plenty of fans. With the ref. 1655 as my favorite vintage Rolex and the 40-mm ref. 16570 as a future buy, I am certainly one of them.
That concludes our list of the 3 top-performing Rolex models over the last five years. Did you guess all three models? If so, I salute you. Rolex is the undisputed king of watches in terms of popularity and corresponding prices. So many of us seem to want one, which leaves me nothing left to say but happy hunting!