For 2023, Rolex has released a slew of compelling new timepieces, as well as a brand new collection name with the 1908 dress watch family. The 1908 collection hearkens back to the first Rolex wristwatches ever made and is a direct replacement of the now-discontinued Cellini collection that Rolex never got to work as well as it should have. Rolex has a long history making dress watches and model families such as Rolex Prince, Rolex Cellini, and Rolex 1908 all attempt to capture that heritage in modern products. Nevertheless, Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual family of watches typically captures most consumer attention thus leaving their dress watches in many cases as undiscovered treats for enthusiasts. What did Rolex try differently with the 1908, and how does it compare with other high-end dress watches on the market from which Rolex would very much like to capture some sales performance?

Not everyone likes the look of Rolex’s new 1908 dials, but I happen to find them quite stunning as a reminder of truly vintage wristwatch dials and what Rolex products used to be more like. The dials hearken back to a time prior to when Rolex engaged in a lot more innovative watch dial style that helps them form the more contemporary looks of the brand today. Whether or not you like the aesthetics of the 1908, the watch itself is objectively very compelling given its size and excellent new movement.

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The 1908 case is similar to the Cellini in many ways, but not the same. It is 39mm-wide, appreciably thinner than an Oyster case, and water-resistant to 50 meters without a screw-down crown. At launch, Rolex will offer the 1908 as the reference 52508 in 18k yellow gold and the 52509 in 18k white gold. Both models can be had with a black or opaline dial, and with a black or brown alligator strap. The high-quality, hand-stitched straps use a smart little deployant clasp developed by Rolex known as Dualclasp. It is an advanced butterfly-style clasp that has a locking internal folding segment in addition to the main locking segment. The purpose of it is to make sure the clasp doesn’t annoyingly open up while you are trying to close it around your wrist. This is a minor thing but one of the many little details that Rolex often does not overlook but that much of the competition often does.

Rolex has experimented with a variety of dress watch dials over the years. Many of them are elegant or fancy in their design, but the 1908 is much soberer, with a slightly sporty personality and a visual focus on legibility. That is much more so on the “intense white” dials that contrast better with the polished metal hands, as there is no luminant on the dial. The polished yellow or white-gold hands on the black dial version of the 1908 are still legible, but not as much in all lighting conditions. Dress watches, by nature, are never going to be quite as legible as sports watches, but ideally, they offer a handsome personality and style to make up for it.

For horology enthusiasts, the new mechanical movement inside the Rolex 1908 family should be quite interesting. It is the in-house caliber 7140 automatic movement, and it is the first time Rolex is offering a silicon (using their Syloxi technology) balance wheel in a men’s watch. Rolex previously introduced Syloxi regulation systems in some exclusive women’s watch models and, finally, Rolex is ready to introduce its silicon parts for men’s watches. Rolex is cautious about introducing silicon balance wheels because of the fear it will cause confusion for the metal Parachrom balance wheels. Performance between the two is similar, but Syloxi beats out Parachrom mainly due to the expanded environmental resistance so that performance remains consistent. Parachrom balance wheels can be “worked on” by a watchmaker while, if Syloxi parts are damaged, they more or less need to be entirely replaced. There are a lot of interesting arguments on both sides of the debate about balance wheels, but suffice it to say that enthusiasts should be very happy that Rolex is still trying to get people excited about this pretty useful watch accuracy and reliability technology.

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The caliber 7140 automatic movement operates at 4Hz with about 66 hours of power reserve and features the time with subsidiary seconds. It is highly accurate and certified as a Rolex Superlative Chronometer. The movement is also visible through the caseback, which is very uncommon for Rolex. The movement finishing is beautiful and makes it clear that even though the 1908 watches are hardly budget-priced, Rolex is punching high with aims to compete with products produced by Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, and Breguet. For many people, it will be a novel experience to turn around a Rolex watch and be able to admire the movement through the caseback.

With minor fits of fluting around the gold bezel the Rolex 1908 certainly fits into the larger brand portfolio but also represents a new face (literally) for modern Rolex timepieces. Rolex will need to put some real marketing oomph behind the 1908 if it does not want this collection to have the same niche status and low-demand fate as the Cellini that came before it. Rolex has the power to do it, but it all depends on how much it wants to promote this product. I really happen to like the 1908, but I also liked the modern Cellini that came before it. I am curious to see how buyers and fans around the world react to the Rolex 1908 when they first put one on. Price for the Rolex 1908 references 52508 in 18k yellow gold is 21,000 Swiss Francs and the references 52509 in 18k white gold are 22,200 Swiss Francs. Learn more at the Rolex website here.

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