Everybody knows what a Rolex looks like, and most people know that given the scarcity of certain models, plenty of them can be unbearably difficult to buy – even if you have the money. What you’re looking at here is the most rarefied tier of timepieces available from The Crown, a class of watch so unique that many people don’t even know it exists: gem-set Rolexes. It’s like if Ferrari made a faster, more exclusive Ferrari and then covered it in diamonds.
Diamond-encrusted watches are almost ubiquitous these days, thanks to jewellery-obsessed celebrities. But most iced-out watches you see are actually the result of aftermarket adornment, run-of-the-mill timepieces that have been “busted-down” by jewellers. Far more special and unique are the watches built by Rolex’s in-house gemologists and gem-setters – a team skilled in the fine art of high jewellery. Just look at the completely seamless gradient on the rainbow-bezel Daytonas, or the diamond-and-ruby pavé dial on the “Presidential” Day-Date. Absolutely nothing out there compares to the quality and clarity of
a gem-set Rolex.
Which is why people will pay $100,000 more for a diamond-pavé Sub. On the wrist, these things are utterly mesmerising. Just don’t expect to walk into your local Rolex retailer and leave with a diamond Sub. If you want one of the most brilliant gem-set models, it helps to be a major client. Waiting lists can stretch years. Many of the watches pictured here are so rare – like, holy grail rare – that they are practically never photographed, and certainly not in a group of this size. (All of the watches here belong to one very determined private collector.)
The limited nature of these watches is as much a practical consideration as anything else: There are only so many stones in the world and only so many makers who can set them like this. But it’s no coincidence that demand for gem-set Rolexes, both new and at auction, spiked last year when Rolex revealed a rainbow-bezel rose-gold Daytona at the Baselworld watch fair. Men these days aren’t afraid to wear what is essentially turbocharged women’s jewellery. If you’re still not convinced that you’re one of them, just keep looking at this photo.