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What Do The Numbers Mean...
Rolex model numbers currently are either four or five digits. The first two or three describes the type of watch. On five digit model number the second from the last describes the type of bezel (some exceptions) and the last describes the material that the watch is made from.
 
Type of Watch
Oyster Perp Date - 15 & 150 Oyster Perpetual - 10 & 140
Oyster PD (Older) - 65 & 66 Oyster Perpetual Chronometer -142
Oyster Prep Date Chronometer - 15 & 150 Oyster Prep Datejust - 16 & 160
Oyster quartz Datejust - 170 Oyster PD - 18,180, 182 & 183
Oyster Quartz Date - 190 Midsize Oyster Prep DJ - 682
Sea Dweller - 16 & 166 Lady Oyster Perpetual - 67 & 671
Submariner OP - 55 & 140 & 6538 Lady OP Datejust - 65, 69, 691 & 692
Thunderbird Bezel DJ - 16 & 162 Lady OP Date - 65, 69, 691 & 692
Submariner - 16, 166 & 168 Airking - 55 & 140
Daytona Manual Wind - 62 Yacht Master - 166, 686 & 696
Daytona Cosmography - 165 Explorer - 165
GMT Master - 167  

Type of Bezel on case 4th

0 Polished/Smooth 3 Fluted 5 Pyramid
1 Finely Engine Turned 4 Hand-Crafted 6 Rotating Bezel
2 Engine Turned    

Type of Material of case 5th

0 Stainless 4 Stainless/White Gold 7 14k Yellow Gold
1 Yellow Gold Filled 5 Gold Shell 8 18k Yellow Gold
2 White Gold Filled 6 Platinum 9 18k White Gold
3 Stainless & Yellow Gold    
 
**For example on a four digit model number**
1601 Datejust is all steel or steel and gold or all Gold.
All three datejusts are the same model number (1601)
**for example on a five digit model number**
16200 all steel, smooth bezel.
16220 is an all steel engine turned bezel
16234 is an all steel white gold fluted bezel.
16203 is a to tone 18k yellow gold smooth bezel.
16233 is a to tone 18kyellow gold fluted bezel.

Production Dates By Serial Number...

28,000- 1926 413,200 -1946 1,792,000 -1965 8,338,000- 1984
30,430- 1927 478,300- 1947 1,871,000- 1966 8,814,000- 1985
32,960 -1928 543,400- 1948 2,163,900 -1967 9,290,000 -1986
35,390 -1929 608,500- 1949 2,426,800- 1968 9,766,000- 1987
37,820 -1930 673,600- 1950 2,689,700- 1969 9,999,999- 1987
40,250 -1931 738,700- 1951 2,952,600- 1970 R000,000 -1987
42,680 -1932 803,800- 1952 3,215,500- 1971 L000,001- 1989
45,000 -1934 950,000- 1953 3,478,400- 1972 E000,001- 1990
63,000 -1935 999,999- 1954 3,741,300- 1973 X000,001- 1991
81,000 -1936 200,000- 1955 4,004,200- 1974 N000,001- 1991
99,000 -1937 400,000- 1956 4,267,100- 1975 C000,001 -1992
117,000- 1938 600,000- 1957 4,539,000- 1976 S000,001- 1993
135,000 -1939 800,000- 1958 5,006,000- 1977 W000,001 -1995
164,600 -1940 1,100,000- 1959 5,482,000- 1978 T000,001- 1995
194,200 -1941 1,402,000- 1960 5,482,000- 1979 U000,001- 1997
223,800 -1942 1,480,000- 1961 5,958,000- 1980 A000,001- 1999
253,400 -1943 1,558,000- 1962 6,910,000- 1981 P000,001   2000
283,000 -1944 1,636,000 -1963 7,386,000- 1982 K000.001  2001-2002
348,100- 1945 1,714,000 -1964 7,862,000- 1983 Y000,001  2002 3/4
      F000,001  2003 3/4
In early 1999, Rolex began using the A prefix...A000,001

* When Rolex reached the 999,999 production serial in the early 1950's...they restarted the production serial at 100,000 rather than begin a 7 digit number at 1,000,000. During this period Rolex was also putting the date code on the inside of the case backs...so confusing production serials can sometimes have their production date determined. Look for the Roman number I, II, III or IV for the quarter & two Arabic digits for the year.

In the late 1950's, Rolex again reached the 999,999 production serial & they started their 7 digit numeric numbering system at 1,000,000 for production serials, this continued until the 1990's until production serials reached 9,999,999.

Rather than begin an 8 digit production serial, Rolex instead began their serials with a letter prefix such as R, then L, E & X. (ROLEX without the O) N, C, & S came out during the early to mid 1990's, W, T & U a little later. The latest letter prefixes are all running concurrently...as Rolex wishes! Only Rolex knows the exact date that any watch was actually produced.
 

ROLEX OYSTER CASE PRODUCTION DATES BY SERIAL NUMBER

PLEASE NOTE: In mid 1954 Rolex went back to 100,000. Not to 1,100,000 on case numbers for the Oyster watch

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