From time to time, the world of luxury watches can be quite overwhelming and seem confusing at first glance. The various numerical codes used in the references are intended to provide a little assistance, but it is nearly impossible to make any sense of the often long numbers unless you know the meaning of the individual digits. Let's take a closer look at how Rolex’ reference numbers are structured and how to read them.
How Rolex reference numbers have changed over time
If one looks back on the eventful history of Rolex, the first thing that can be said is that the reference numbers have become larger over time: the initially four-digit numbers became five-digit reference numbers in the mid-1970s, and in 2000 they became the six-digit reference numbers that are still used today. The most recent numbers, however, primarily begin with a "1" in front of the corresponding reference.
A further development was also introduced in the 2000s. The reference number of the model is still engraved on the outside of the case between the lugs at 12 o'clock, but the serial number was repositioned to the rehaut facing inwards toward 6 o'clock. Since 2007, the serial number of the watch has been engraved on the inside, unlike the outer-facing reference number.
ROLEX SUBMARINER 116613LN
What do the numbers in Rolex references mean?
Similar to Breitling, digits in the reference number at Rolex provide information not only about the watch model, but also about the materials used, the calibre and the type and colour of the bezel. Once this code becomes clear, modern reference numbers can be read and understood as quickly as a cheap novel. Moreover, the reference number can be quickly used to find out whether it is an original Rolex or a fake by comparing it with data from trade publications and Rolex catalogues. Being able to read reference numbers can therefore be an enormous help when buying a watch. We would like to offer you a guide to quickly identify the current six-digit Rolex references.
The first digit of the reference numberAs mentioned above, a one was placed before the existing numbers with the introduction of the six-digit reference numbers on most Rolex models. This gives the company more options for future reference numbers. Therefore, you can easily remember the following: almost all Rolex models launched since 2000 start with a "1".
The second digit of the reference numberThe second digit of the reference number indicates the Rolex calibre used. If there is a 1 in the second position of the reference, the latest version of the calibre was not used. This is only the case if the number 2 can be found in the second position of the reference. The second number of the reference has another function, which will be discussed in the next section.
Digits one to four of the reference numberThe first to the fourth numbers of a Rolex reference number indicate the series classification of a model. For example, these Rolex series contain the following number combinations:
Air-King: 55, 140, 116, 1142
Date: 15, 150, 115
Datejust: 16, 160, 162, 1162
Datejust 40: 1263
Datejust II: 1163
Day-Date: 65, 18, 180, 182, 183, 1182
Day-Date 40: 2282
Day-Date II: 2182
Daytona: 62, 165, 1165
Explorer: 142, 10, 1142, 2142
Explorer II: 16, 165, 2165
GMT-Master: 65, 16, 1675
GMT-Master II: 167, 1167, 1267
Ladies Date: 65, 69, 691, 692
Ladies Datejust: 65, 69, 691, 692
Ladies Oyster Perpetual: 67, 671, 672
Ladies Oyster Perpetual Datejust: 68, 682
Milgauss: 65, 10, 1164
Oyster Perpetual: 10, 140, 142, 114, 115, 1152
Oysterquartz Datejust: 170
Oysterquartz Day-Date: 190
Sea-Dweller: 16, 166, 1166, 1266
Sky-Dweller: 3269, 3261
Submariner: 16, 166, 1166, 1266
Submariner (no date): 55, 140, 1140
Yacht-Master: 166, 686, 696
Yacht-Master II: 1166
The fifth digit of the reference numberThe fifth and second to last number on some models provide information about the make of the bezel. That is not all the reference number tells you about the bezel, but you will learn more about this later. The number in fifth place may have the following meaning:
0: Flat or domed bezel
1: Rotating bezel
2: Engraved bezel
3: Ribbed bezel
4: Fluted bezel or bezel set with precious stones
7: Different shapes (such as on the Explorer II)
Take note – the numbers 5, 8 and 9 are missing from the list. That's no mistake, because these numbers are currently not in use by Rolex. The 5 originally stood for the since discontinued pyramid bezel, while 8 is reserved for speciality bezels and the 9 remains unused.
ROLEX DATEJUST 126333
The sixth and last digit of the reference numberThe reference's last number indicates which materialien were used for the case and bracelet. The initial four-digit Rolex reference numbers have the number for the material located after a slash following the actual reference. In the case of the four-digit reference numbers, the last number of the reference only offers details about the material of the bracelet, provided that it is made of metal and not leather or rubber. For four-digit references, the last number of the number refers to the case material. These are the numbers from 0 to 9 and the corresponding to the material of a Rolex used:
1: Yellow gold
2: White gold or steel with platinum
3: Rolesor made of steel and 18K yellow gold
4: Rolesor made of steel and 18K white gold
5: Gold-plated or 18K Everose gold (a proprietary rose gold)
7: 14K yellow gold
8: 18K yellow gold
9: 18K white gold
22: Steel and platinum
The letters at the end of the referenceIt is also interesting to note that some reference numbers are not only made up of numbers, but have a series of letters that follow the digits of the reference number. These letters, like the fifth reference number, refer to the watch's bezel. However, they do not describe the composition of the watch, but rather provide information about the colour that inspired certain nick names of the Rolex models and the gemstones used. The letter abbreviations are derived from French.
BLNR: Bleu / Noir (blue-black bezel)
BLRO: Bleu / Rouge (blue-red bezel)
CHNR: Chocolat noir (black-brown bezel)
GV: Glace verte (green crystal, as used in the Milgauss series, for example)
LB: Lunette bleue (blue bezel)
LN: Lunette noire (black bezel)
LV: Lunette verte (green bezel)
RNBW: Rainbow (indicates a bezel set with multicoloured gems)
SA: Indicates a bezel set with sapphires
SANR: Indicates a bezel set with baguette-cut black sapphires and diamonds
SARU: Indicates a bezel set with sapphires and rubies
ROLEX GMT-MASTER II 126710BLNR | ROLEX SUBMARINER 116610LV
Test yourself: Can you read Rolex reference numbers?
If you are interested, test your knowledge on what you just learned. You should be able to identify which Rolex models based on the following reference numbers: 116334, 126200 and 116500LN .
If it isn't immediately clear which of the watches are behind these references, then feel free to take our guide and use it as a reference. That way deciphering reference numbers will no longer pose a problem, but in a pinch, a quick Internet search can also often answer any questions about a particular reference number. Either way, this will save you time, nerves and possibly even the cost of a trip to a jeweller or concessionaire.