In our collector profile this week (see below), young collector J.J. Owens mentions that her favorite era of watches is fake Rolex in the 1950s.
“From the ref. 6542 [the first GMT-Master] to the 6062 [the triple calendar moonphase in an Oyster case], if you look at the range and capability of what they were able to do, it’s just phenomenal,” she says.
I’d been wanting to write about this era of Rolex because it’s long been the most enchanting to me too. Luckily, a few things came together to make it more relevant than ever.
Recently, collector Edmond Saran, on his blog Le Monde Edmond, did a three-part series (1, 2, 3) on the 1940s-50s era of Rolex, what he terms “sports elegance.” During this era, high quality replica Rolex was the only brand that could deliver a versatile sports watch with a robust waterproof Oyster case and perpetual automatic movement, but in elegant precious metals and dial variations.
Then, at Watches & Wonders Rolex dropped the two-tone Explorer and a lot of people came in with the “a sports watch has to be stainless steel!” take, failing to look back to the 40s-50s era of sports elegance when, well, Rolex made two-tone sports copy watches (or straight-up precious metal sports watches) all the time.
To me, the two-tone gold and steel bracelet replica Rolex Explorer is a clear callback to Rolex’s era of 1940s-50s sports elegance. So often, we hear how Patek Philippe dreads being associated with one watch, and one watch only, that stainless steel time-only one that trades at 3x its retail price. That really, Patek would love to get back to the very serious business of producing complicated watches in precious metals, and please stop asking about the Nautilus, okay?
Have we ever really stopped to think that Rolex might feel the same way? To be sure, cheap copy Rolex is a different beast than Patek, but don’t you think sometimes Rolex looks itself in its rainbow-bezeled mirror at night and says to itself, “I’m so much more than stainless steel sports watches, I just wish everyone else could see it!”
Much the way collecting more broadly seems to be having a sort of identity crisis where everything centers around stainless steel and sports, the big brands are having this same crisis.
The two-tone Rolex Explorer replica with black dial feels like a small reaction against that internal conflict. Injecting a little bit of elegance back into a brand that feels mostly removed from its sports elegance of a bygone era.