The world around Rolex is changing, and this most unchanging of all Swiss watch firms –famously closed-mouthed, notoriously conservative, which until recently has had all the warmth and openness of an NSA briefing, has gradually become not only less secretive, but positively welcoming.  Thus, this year at BaselWorld, we were able to enjoy an extremely well organized, very cordially presented introduction to the new timepieces on offer from Switzerland’s most storied horological juggernaut –and in a relaxed atmosphere that let us really take the time to formulate clear first impressions of the new timepieces.

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Perhaps the most high profile introduction for Rolex enthusiasts was the re-launch of a legendary Rolex –the Sea-Dweller 4000.  The Sea-Dweller, Rolex’s most professionally oriented diver’s watch, was first introduced in a 2000 feet resistant version in 1967, was upgraded to 4000 feet in 1992, and finally was discontinued in 2008 when the Sea-Dweller DEEPSEA supplanted it, and offered a water resistance rating of 3900 meters, or 12,800 feet.  At 44mm the DEEPSEA was a significantly larger watch than the 40mm Sea-Dweller, and Rolex fans will be pleased to hear that the re-introduced Sea-Dweller 4000 is as chunky-but-wearable as ever, retaining the combination of burly form factor but wrist-friendly size that made it a hit with pro and amateur divers as well as lovers of performance-forward sports watches.  It’s fully updated, with the cal. 3135, Parachrom balance spring, and Cerachrom bezel with Chromalight blue luminous inserts.

The other new sports watch introduction is also an enthusiast’s dream (if not a bargain-hunter’s; more on that in a moment) –Rolex has launched a red-and-blue Cerachrom bezel version of the GMT-Master II.

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It’s a fantastic looking watch and obviously, the return of what even Rolex tyros know is called the “Pepsi” bezel to the GMT line is a happy thing.  The two-color bezel, like that of the black-and-red version of the GMT-Master II, is technically challenging to make (especially getting the demarcation line between the two colors sharp and clean.)  The original’s of course one of the enthusiast community’s favorite Rolexes but for now, this one is going to be easy to love but a little harder to get; it’s being introduced in white gold only (we’re hoping though that maybe next year, we’ll feel the steel.)

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Rolex also gives us a terrific new version of the Milgauss: the latest iteration has an electric blue (Rolex is calling it “Z-Blue”) dial.  We’ve pretty much liked every version of the Milgauss we’ve ever seen and this one is no exception; the combination of the iridescent blue dial and green crystal give it an unmistakable, well, magnetism.

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Interestingly the biggest technical advance from Rolex this year came in lady’s watches –Rolex debuted a new movement, the cal. 2236, with its first silicon balance spring in a very novel configuration (more to come on that soon.)  The “Syloxi” balance spring regulates the COSC certified movement, which is debuting in the gem-set Oyster Perpetual Pearlmaster 34 models.

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There is a Cosmograph Daytona, in 950 platinum, entirely paved in diamonds on the dial and set with baguette-cut diamonds on the bezel.  You know who you are.

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We’re also loving the new versions of the Sky-Dweller, with its wonderful combination of a dual time zone display, annual calendar, and “Ring Command” bezel.  It’s one of the most interesting and useful complications for travelers from any watch company.  We asked if we might be able to get some technical plans of the complication so we could bring you a somewhat more in-depth story on how this rather unusual and interesting complication works, but lest you think Rolex is getting soft, the answer was a brief silence, and then a polite, firm, “no.”

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Oh Oysters, come and walk with me –in 3 sizes (31, 34, and 36mm) with new dials –in some ways the most quintessential Rolex there is.  The new dial colors have rather un-Rolex-y whimsical names –White Grape, Red Grape, Azzuro Blue –but they’re very, very pretty splashes of color on these classic Rolex watches, and it’s great to see a little sprezzatura in the entry level lines, which we really feel aren’t so much entry-level (well, maybe stacked up against that iced-out Daytona) as they are attractively essential.

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And last there are three, count ’em THREE, new families of Cellinis, with a total of 12 new models, which we think are absolutely smashing and which we hope put the Rolex Cellinis back on the map.  Cellini Time is the time-only version; Cellini Date shows the date on a sub-dial, and Cellini Dual-Time is, well, a dual-time Cellini.  It’s the details that make these watches, though –the combination of domed and fluted bezels, the elegantly tapered lugs, the slightly domed, vaguely Bubble-Back-ish back, the beautifully composed dial furniture and hands.  This is the kind of watch design that in some ways is the hardest to do –every element has to hit the bullseye for them to work, and we really feel like Rolex has nailed their target, center of mass (as the guys at the range like to say.)

And that’s the show, gents and ladies –more in-depth info coming throughout the year, but we hope you enjoyed this first live look at one of the biggest and most interesting new years Rolex has had in some time!

For more on the newest version of the Sea-Dweller 4000 check out Adi Soon’s coverage here.