Rolex watch models can be easily identified by examining the model number on the outside of the case. This should be a relief to collectors who are often baffled by the privately-held Rolex company's separate serial numbering system that helps identify the timepiece's year of manufacture. However, model numbers have been relatively simple to follow. The Rolex Air-King, Date, Datejust, Ladies Date/Datejust, Explorer, Explorer II, Oyster Perpetual, Submariner, Sea-Dweller, GMT-Master and Daytona/Chronograph all have specific model numbers.
Remove the bracelet or leather using a link pin and screwdriver at the 12 o'clock lugs. Use a polishing cloth to wipe away dirt, grime or residue between the lugs. (See References 1-3)
Examine the model number between the lugs. The numbers should range from four to six numbers. Rolex watches manufactured after 2000 will have an additional "1" placed before the model number. (See Resources 1 & 2) Early Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches have four digits, such as "1002" or "1003." Later Oyster Perpetuals may have a letter following the number, such as "14203M." (See Resources 1)
Note that the first two or three digits identify the type of watch. The fourth number in five-digit model numbers identifies the bezel. Since the 1980s, a three-digit number identifies the country where the watch was first sold, such as "010 for Switzerland, "110" for France or "529" for Saudi Arabia. (See References 3)
Use a loupe to examine the clasp on the steel bracelet. To the right of the Rolex logo is a three-digit code: two letters followed by a number. Although Rolex has made no official announcement, Rolex dealers say this is a manufacturing date for the bracelet. For example, "DE5" identifies the bracelet as manufactured in May 2001. (See References 3)
Look at the dial, which is the easiest way to tell the model of a Rolex watch. The models are identified below the name "Rolex" on the dial. Many early vintage Rolexes, however, simply have "Rolex" on the dial and no other identifiers. One popular model garnered the nickname "Bubbleback" because the auto-wind mechanism appears to be bolted to the existing movement making the case back rounded. Bubblebacks were produced form 1933 to the mid-1960s and found on various models. (See Resources 5)
Avoid opening the case back to examine the movement or inside of the case back to prevent damage. The exterior model and serial numbers, matched with an authorised Rolex identification chart, provide all the information needed for the casual owner.
Sloppily or rough stamped model and serial numbers on the case are evidence the Rolex may be a fake.