If you’ve been tracking watch releases for a few seasons, you’ll know that Rolex day (which was usually Day 1 of Baselworld) is big, but it tends to follow almost the same pattern each year. A hero (new) watch in steel, something with stones, a couple of new dials for the Datejust or Oyster Perpetual lines, and of course, a few sneaky introductions that aren’t labelled as ‘New’ but are dug out a day or so later by vigilant eyes.
The increased hype and scrutiny of late have only helped predict these patterns with greater accuracy. For instance, congratulatory gushes by media talk the language of Rolex trademarks, as if they are truisms (“Inside the Rolesor case, the movement now has the Paraflex system and Parachrom hairspring…. and the watch comes on an Oyster bracelet in Oystersteel with an Oysterlock”). The cliches come out in full force too. (Rolex believes in evolution, not revolution. The devil is in the details. They may not look different, but a lot has changed. The biggest improvement is actually on the inside.)
With new Submariners, Oyster Perpetuals, Datejusts and Sky-Dwellers, Rolex’s new 2020 releases played pretty much to the same beat. But whether for reasons of the pandemic or otherwise, it felt palpably lower-key.
Let’s dive in.
The big updates
- The Submariner and Submariner Date are now 41mm across the board (has been 40mm since 1959), with slimmer lugs on a redesigned case and wider bracelet
- Rolex have discontinued the Oyster Perpetual 39 collection. The Oyster Perpetual 41 has been introduced instead. (Imagine how this news felt after reviewing that very watch a week ago)
- The Oyster Perpetual collection has been completely refreshed. The highlight of this refresh is the introduction of a number of colourful, saturated, candy-esque dials that are reminiscent of “Stella” dials from the 1970s.
- Submariner, Oyster Perpetual 36 and Oyster Perpetual 41 watches are now equipped with the Calibre 3230 – Rolex’s latest generation movement incorporating improvements in anti-magnetism, shock resistance, energy efficiency and power reserve.
- All watches in the Oyster Perpetual collection now come with ‘Easylink’ extension in the bracelet, allowing 5mm adjustment on-the-go.
Since reading off spec-sheets and press releases is no fun, it’s worth breaking down some of the key changes, and putting them in context, to see why they matter. So onto things that no one is talking about (the title wasn’t clickbait).
For the purpose of keeping coverage relevant, we’ve restricted commentary to Rolex’s 2020 men’s watches in steel.
1. Nothing has (effectively) changed with the Submariner
We all knew this was coming. We all knew it was a big one. And I don’t think I recall such frenzy in the watch world over 1 humble millimetre. But that’s what comes with being a brand with the Midas touch. Yes, the case is now 41mm, but if you didn’t have the outgoing reference 114060 placed next to it, the difference is fairly imperceptible. But a combination of unwillingness to criticise the crown and the obligation to have a firm, immediate opinion on the matter perhaps explains why there is near-universal agreement that the 124060 ‘wears better’.
The visual fine-tuning done by Rolex in balancing increased case size with slimmer lugs is quite smart, honestly. Maybe even the best way to keep both vintage and modern enthusiasts happy. Do they really keep their ears to the ground? Was it because the market wants even larger watches? We’ll never know.
But for all intents and purposes, the new 124060 Rolex Submariner for 2020 isn’t all that different, no matter how much we try to intellectualise it. At the same time, it loses not an ounce of all the things we’ve come to love it for.
2. Slimmer case profiles are indicative of a larger trend – it’s not just the Sub
The redesigned case of the 2020 Submariner, with slimmer lugs, has been quite consistently well received. What’s interesting is that it may be the beginning of the end for the squarish Super Case, as we’ve come to know it. After being introduced in 2005 in the GMT Master II, the Super Case (or a generally beefier case with thicker lugs) gradually made its way to most collections – Submariner, Explorer, Sea Dweller, GMT Master and even the Oyster Perpetual. They all became more broad-shouldered to varying degrees.
While the spotlight is (understandably) on the Submariner, cases of the new Oyster Perpetual watches seem to have noticeably trimmed down lugs too. This makes their overall silhouette feel more fluid, organic and elegant.
It feels like Rolex may be gradually stepping away from the over-engineered appearance of their sport watches; an aesthetic we’ve come to associate with their contemporary models.
3. Getting used to a 41mm Oyster Perpetual
The trend of an increase in size wasn’t restricted to the Submariner either. There’s a new Oyster Perpetual in town with a 41mm case size. The Oyster Perpetual 39 it replaces was already a watch with substantial presence on the wrist. And let’s not forget that, until 2015, the largest Oyster Perpetual was no larger than 36mm. So retiring the 39 for a 41 does seem puzzling on the face of it.
On the other hand, it is clear that the market is ready for whatever size you throw at it, and there is also precedence for Rolex offering a watch in 36mm and 41mm variants in the form of the Datejust.
The Oyster Perpetual has made its mark as an under the radar Rolex, assuming a certain stately modesty, even with adventurous dials like red grape and olive green. The OP41, at least from images, seems to forgo some of that modesty. Versions with candy / Stella colours only exaggerate that feeling. The colours themselves, though, are really attractive – the yellow and turquoise blue, most notably – and make for a fun, offbeat (albeit fairly conspicuous) watch. Those two, in 36mm, are the real winners of Rolex’s 2020 launches for me.
4. The Oyster Perpetual line has been jazzed up in more ways than one
The coloured ‘Stella’ dials introduced across the Oyster Perpetual collection have taken the heat off the Submariner in delivering something new and exciting. These solid colours and their very evident pop will doubtlessly be all the rage on Instagram.
Bright colours aren’t the only makeover they’ve received. They’ve been spec’d and decked up on other fronts too, with an upgraded movement, Easylink bracelet extension and blue Chromalight lume. A lack of these specifications was earlier used to demonstrate that Rolex may have deliberately stripped its entry-level collection of some features. Not any more.
While I’m still finding it difficult to come to terms with discontinuation of the white dial (it was seriously gorgeous) in the collection, there are three quite discernible categories into which the Oyster Perpetuals seem to be have been slotted:
- The safe / conservative variants: Blue and black (called Bright Blue and Bright Black)
- The colourful ‘Stella’ variants: Candy pink, coral red, yellow, green and turquoise blue (left to right in image below)
- A new subtle-luxury variant: Silver dial with a tinge of champagne, using 18 ct yellow gold for hands and indexes to bring a sense of more overt, yet elegant, luxury to the Oyster Perpetual line.
5. Rolex’s lawsuit with laCalifornienne – just coincidence?
Last year, Rolex sued US company laCalifornienne, who were customising vintage Rolex watches. They painted over the dials in bright, colourful shades, to target a more fashion-oriented audience as opposed to the enthusiast or purist. Rolex won the lawsuit this year, which claimed trademark infringement and deceiving customers on part of laCalifornienne.
Now, some of these laCalifornienne dials are quite similar to the colours introduced by Rolex this year for the refreshed Oyster Perpetuals. Of course, Rolex have their own, storied history with Stella dial Day Date watches, but it’s just quite interesting to think if this is just coincidence. Is there a message being sent? A different kind of watch buyer potentially being tapped? As with all things Rolex, we’ll never know.
6. What the movement upgrade means to consumers
The Submariner and Oyster Perpetual collections have been equipped with their latest-generation 323x series of movements, that incorporate Rolex’s proprietary escapement called Chronergy and have an increased 70 hour power reserve.
It’s great to see these incremental improvements being made, but it is equally worth bearing in mind that these may not be as groundbreaking as many are making it sound.
For a user, improvements in a movement are practically valuable when they are on either of the following parameters: accuracy, reliability or capacity. On the last point, granted the higher 70 hours of power reserve is good to have. However, the 313x and 323x series movements are all rated to +2/-2 seconds per day, have 5 year warranty and a 10 year recommended service interval.
The upgrade in movements is undoubtedly welcome and part of Rolex’s admirable, sustained efforts at challenging their own exceptionally high standards. But they are certainly not “the biggest change”, as far as consumers are concerned.
7. The Submariner and Oyster Perpetuals hadn’t bought their tickets for the hype train, until now
So far, the Submariner (not the Hulk, which is a Submariner Date) and Oyster Perpetual watches were (relatively!) easier to buy from a boutique, compared to selling off houses and newborns for Pepsis and Daytonas on the secondary market.
That will now change. The new Submariner is, well, The New Submariner. Whereas the solid coloured versions of the Oyster Perpetual are as conspicuous as they can get for a Rolex without venturing into precious metals.
So, unfortunately, they may be hopping on to the hype train too. Whether you like it or you don’t.
8. New watches may not change the availability situation
While the announcement of Rolex’s new watches is something that is always met with intense anticipation, speaking about them nowadays without addressing the elephant in the room is only telling half the story.
The fact remains that, for the most part, these watches will not be easily seen in boutique windows, as they once did. On one of the forums, I read someone jokingly mention that “when I visited the Rolex boutique, it seemed like they had been robbed minutes earlier”.
The display cases are empty. The demand is ‘simply too high’.
In the enthusiast community, there is quite a bit of frustration and resentment because of this matter, but no one seems to have a real solution.
With each passing year – and this has been especially apparent since 2015 – the mania surrounding Rolex’s new watch announcements grows exponentially by a factor of 904L. And as far as drum rolls and expectations go, the pandemic did little to temper them. The notable absence of gem-set watches may have been a consequence of the state of the world, though.
Rolex’s teasers had already set the ball rolling by making it known the spotlight would be on the Submariner. And seeing both the Oyster Perpetual and Submariner with slimmer cases was like a wish granted for many fans and followers of the brand. At least within the enthusiast community. I am personally very excited about trying the new Submariner and the 36mm ‘Stella’ Oyster Perpetuals.
My thoughts in this story are just to try and look at the releases through a more objective lens. They take absolutely nothing away from the irreproachable quality of product Rolex make.
With good reason, all the new Oyster Perpetuals in funky colours are already the talk of town. The only thing we still haven’t agreed on is the nickname for the green bezel Submariner Date.
- Ref. 124060 (steel, black bezel): ₹530,200 / $8,100
- Ref. 126610LN (steel, black bezel, date): ₹599,200 / $9,150
- Ref. 126610LV (steel, green bezel, date): ₹626,700 / $9,550
- Ref. 124300 (41 mm): ₹385,800 / $5,900
- Ref. 126000 (36 mm): ₹364,900 / $5,600
- Ref. 124200 (34 mm): ₹344,400 / $5,300
Local pricing shown for India and US in INR and USD, respectively.
You can check out all the new watches on the Rolex website right here.
What’s your personal favourite from the new launches? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments.