Overview & History of Rolex SA
The Models: Rolex currently produces around a dozen different Oyster Perpetual models. Rolex also has their dress line, the Cellini which we do not cover here. For ladies they make the 24mm Oyster-Perpetual, 26mm Date & Datejust, and 29mm Yacht-Master. In mid-size, you can get the 31mm Datejust or 35mm Yacht-Master (the only sport model offered in a case smaller than 40mm). Lastly there are the gents: 34mm Date & Air-King; 36mm Datejust, Explorer & President; and the 40mm Daytona, Explorer II, GMT-Master-II, Sea-Dweller, Submariner, and Yacht-Master.
Some models like the gents Datejust currently have about 10 model numbers in production... The numbers help differentiate the different metals and bezels used. Dial colors are not included, so that leaves one with dozens of new Datejust choices... The Sea-Dweller in comparison is offered only in steel, only with a black dial, and only as Ref. 16600.
The Case: The standard Rolex case styling is the Oyster case, introduced in 1926. In October 1927, Mercedes Gleitz became the first person to swim the English Channel wearing a watch, a Rolex Oyster. As mentioned in the models summary, the largest Rolex is 40mm. The sport models share the same diameter, but the Sea-Dweller takes the crown as the largest Rolex with a case thickness of 14.6mm. Many brands such as Breitling have increased the overall sizes of their collection, but Rolex has yet to offer an over-sized case.
Minor enhancements and changes have been done to the case over the years, but the overall appearance of this case has remained practically unchanged for over 50 years!
The Bracelet: Rolex currently use three different styles of bracelets on its Oyster watches. The Jubilee, the Oyster, and the President. These bracelets have undergone several changes through the years, but their classic appearances stay as true as they can to the originals developed decades ago.
The Movement: The Perpetual, self-winding movement was introduced by Rolex in 1931. Emile Borer, Rolex's chief technician is credit with inventing the modern rotor system. The vast majority of modern automatic movements today are based on this system; Swiss, Japanese, and Russian. The rotor was first invented in 1770 by Abraham-Louis Perrelet. At that time it could have only been placed in pocket watches which did not develop enough movement to keep them going. Wristwatches were being produced well before 1931, but they were not popular until after the first World War.
The Numbers: Many Rolex dealers can hear the first three digits of a Rolex serial number and know what year Rolex produced it. They can also hear the four or five digit model number and know which model it is, and what metals (i.e. all steel, or 18k gold and steel) it's made from. For those of us who don't know these numbers by heart, the list on the link below tries its best to help you.
The Fakes: They say imitation is the ultimate form of flattery. This makes Rolex a king in that field. From the $20 fakes you can buy on the streets of New York, to the fakes that use actual Rolex components, they're all making money on something not genuine. Many people have heard of looking at the second hands to see if they "tick" or "sweep" to determine if it's fake. This is indeed one way to find out, but there are many other tests one must do to find out if it is indeed authentic.