Believe any rumourmonger you like who says they know a man on the inside at Rolex who has revealed precisely what is going to be launched in 2020; they are lying. But there are experts with experience ranging from historians to retailers to collectors that have successfully identified trends over decades that provide clues to the future. Tom Mulraney has been running a rule over the fanciful and the fantastical, added a dose of common sense, and come up with these predictions for Rolex in 2020.
Trying to predict what Rolex will introduce at Baselworld each year has become something of a sport for watch lovers.
Those with the necessary skills even go so far as to mock-up professional renders of what new models might look like.
But should new releases be top of the priority list for Rolex this year? The ongoing supply shortage of the brand’s popular steel models is putting immense strain on its authorised dealer network. Not to mention driving a culture of “watch flipping” and grey market profiteering that some think is doing more harm than good.
On the face of things, it seems Rolex may have begun to take steps to combat this. Last year’s streamlining of the GMT-Master II series (including discontinuing four references) gave the first indicator that Rolex might be freeing up production capacity for more desirable models.
At the same time though, that collection was arguably the least cohesive, so the move could just as easily be been as Rolex taking the opportunity to do some necessary housekeeping. Of course, there are others that could use a bit of a tidy up too, raising a number of questions about what the brand might choose to discontinue this year.
For example, is there still room for the Sea-Dweller and the Deep Sea to co-exist? Do we need two different dial colours on the Milgauss? How many Daytona variations are too many?
It seems the collection everyone is focused on for 2020 though, is the Rolex Submariner. There was wide-spread speculation last year that, at the very least, Rolex would update the self-winding 3135 calibre inside the Submariner Date to the self-winding 3235 calibre, which features a longer power reserve and improved performance.
The latter is now found in watches in the Yacht-Master, Sea-Dweller and GMT-Master II collections, while the former – unquestionably still a solid workhorse – was introduced in 1988. Meaning it’s no exaggeration to say the Submariner Date is long overdue an update.
Whether this will happen or not remains to be seen. Traditionally speaking though, Rolex usually introduces new developments in precious metal cases first before rolling them out in two-tone and steel editions in later years.
It’s also unknown whether Rolex will simply introduce the new movement into the existing case, possibly with a few minor tweaks, or if it will debut an entirely new case as well. The online chatter is that the brand might be tempted to make it larger, say 42mm instead of the traditional 40mm.
Opinion seems to be divided on whether this would be a good thing or not. Some say the lugs are too chunky and so a larger case would fix that, while others suggest that a return to the slimmer lug profile whilst retaining the 40mm dimensions would be ideal. Whether any of this comes to fruition remain to be seen.
There is also of course the question of the Submariner without a date. Will Rolex introduce an entirely new movement, or is there the possibility – however remote – that this less popular sibling will be dropped altogether?
After all, technically speaking the Submariner Date is arguably the most functional version, as well as the more popular of the two. And it’s pretty well-established by now that if Rolex believes that making changes to a watch will make it functionally better, those changes will be made.
Regardless of feedback from the market. Even still, the very first Submariner – ref 6204 – was not equipped with a date function. Indeed, a date wouldn’t be added until some 12 years after the inaugural model. So, it seems a bit of a stretch to suggest Rolex will shut the door on such a significant piece of its history.
There is a Rolex Submariner Date model, however, which many suggest will be discontinued this year, and that’s the popular Ref 116610LV, better known as the Hulk. Introduced in 2010 as an evolution of sorts of the 50th anniversary 16610LV (nicknamed the “Kermit), the Hulk pairs a green dial with a green ceramic bezel.
With the 70th anniversary of the Submariner approaching in 2023 though, and the brand’s proclivity for using the colour green to mark such occasions, it seems now might be a prime time to retire this sought-after model. This would also allow Rolex to focus its efforts on increasing production of the Ref 116610LN.
Another possible contender for retirement is the Rolex Submariner Date Ref 116619LB. This model has always been something of an outlier in the Submariner collection.
Although at first glance you might mistake it for a steel sports watch, it is in fact crafted from solid 18ct white gold. Making it the only Rolex Submariner offered in this metal and earning it the nickname “Smurf”. (The fictitious characters are blue and white after all.)
Its blue on blue colour scheme is not unique in the Submariner collection of course, but unlike the yellow gold and yellow Rolesor versions, it has a matte blue dial as opposed to the sunburst style found on the other two.
It’s probably fair to say the Smurf is not the greatest seller for Rolex. A quick search reveals several unworn examples for sale on the secondary market for below retail.
There’s no denying the build quality of the Smurf but the use of solid 18ct white gold means there’s a substantial price difference between it and the steel models.
But does that mean the Crown would consider making a steel version? And if it did, would it discontinue the white gold version?
It’s no secret that steel sports watches with blue dials are wildly popular (cue the Patek Philippe Nautilus, Audermars Piguet Royal Oak, and so on). But so far Rolex has resisted the urge to jump on this band wagon with its flagship dive watch.
If they did go this route, I would be confident in saying the new steel Smurf would instantly become one of the most desirable steel sports models in the Rolex catalogue.
Particularly if they discontinue the Hulk. Does it seem likely though? I would say probably not. At least not in 2020. Rolex is already unable to keep up with demand for steel sports models. Introducing an ultra-desirable model that will only feed the “flipper” frenzy plaguing this part of the industry and further frustrate genuine buyers (and authorized retailers) will probably not be viewed favourably.
The other thing to keep in mind, of course, is that while the brand’s steel sports models are responsible for generating all the hype in market, it’s the classic models that drive a large percentage of sales. Think the DateJust, the Oyster Perpetual, the Day-Date, Cellini, and so on.
Expect to see more dial variations introduced into these ranges, particularly the Datejust and Day-Date 40, which were largely overlooked last year. A Cellini model in steel seems highly unlikely, although maybe it’s time for a yellow gold version?
Speaking of yellow gold, and you will have to forgive this brief digression back to sports watches, but don’t be surprised if a full yellow-gold Sea-Dweller makes its debut this year. The success of 2019’s unexpected bi-colour (or yellow Rolesor) Ref 126603 had made that much more of a possibility than one would have thought 12 months ago.
Ultimately, we will have to wait until Baselworld to see what Rolex has in store for us this year.
It’s fair to say that expectations are high, particularly given that last year was quite underwhelming by all accounts, with only one new model making its debut. (The Yacht-Master 42 Ref 226659 in white gold.)
The question on everyone’s mind though is how soon new stock will be in store and in what sort of quantities. After all, even the most voracious appetite, if left unsated long enough will eventually lose its intensity.
Hopefully Rolex understands by now that its retail partners don’t just want to be officially authorized to sell the world’s hottest watches. They actually want the real opportunity to do so.
Here’s hoping 2020 will give them that chance once again.
About the author: Tom Mulraney is a 10-year veteran of the watch industry. He is the publisher and editor of The Watch Lounge, a digital magazine with a unique take on the world of luxury watches. www.thewatchlounge.com