06.06.2022 - Rolex

Guide: The Meaning of Rolex Reference Numbers

Rolex’s watches have two key numbers associated with them. These numbers are etched directly into the metal of the watch case and can tell you a great deal about your watch. 

The two numbers are:

The serial number: a unique identifier that is different for every single watch and can be used to determine the production date of that watch. 

The reference number: which is sometimes known as the model number. 

Check your Rolex reference numbers with our guide below.

How to find the serial and reference number

The reference number is always found on the 12 o’clock side of the watch case.

The location of the serial number varies depending on the age of the watch:

  • Pre-2006, serial numbers were only found on the opposite side of the watch case to the reference number, on the 6 o’clock side. 
  • Between 2006 and 2008, serials numbers were found both on the outside of the watch case and on the rehaut (the inside circumference of the case under the glass)
  • Post-2010 to present, the serial number is only found on the rehaut. 

The Rolex reference number explained

The reference number is packed with meaning.

The first digits tell you the model of the Rolex, or what collection it belongs to. For example, the luxurious Day Date models, often worn by wealthy characters in movies, will start with 182.

However, the rules can get a little confusing. Some watch models have multiple numbers assigned to them. For instance, newer Day Date watches will use 282 instead of 182. 

You should refer to a full table to understand a reference number. There isn’t an official guide, but this is the most complete list we can gather:

Model NameStart of Reference Number
Air-King55, 140, 116
Date15, 150, 115
Datejust16, 162, 1162
Datejust II1163
Datejust 401263
Day-Date65, 18, 180, 182, 183, 1182
Day-Date II2182
Day-Date 402282
Daytona62, 162, 1165
Explorer142, 10, 1142, 2142
Explorer II16, 165, 2165
Oyster Perpetual10, 140, 142, 114
Milgauss65, 10, 1164
Sea-Dweller16, 166, 1166, 1266
Submariner55, 140, 1140
Submariner (no date)16, 166, 168, 1166
GMT-Master65, 16, 1675
GMT-Master II167, 1167, 1267
Oysterquartz170, 190
Yacht-Master166, 686, 696, 1686, 1696, 1166
Yacht-Master II1166

You see Rolex ranges with examples on this page: Buy Rolex Watches.

The next digit describes the bezel type

Smooth / Domed / Polished0
Engine Turned1
Bark / Hand-Crafted4
Various (e.g. Explorer II)7

Finally, there is a number that describes the material:

Materials UsedRolex DescriptionNumber
Stainless Steel0
Stainless Steel and Everose GoldEverose Rolesor1
Stainless steel and PlatinumRolesium2
Stainless Steel and 18k Yellow goldYellow Rolesor3
Stainless Steel and 18k White goldWhite Rolesor4
18k Yellow gold8
18k White gold9

Why are reference numbers different lengths?

The first part determines the total length of the reference number. Older watches uses just two numbers to describe the model, size and type of movement, leading to a four-digit reference number. More recently, the first part of the reference number has expanded to four digits itself, making the total length of the reference is six digits. 

The Rolex serial number explained

For over ten years (since 2009), Rolex serial numbers have been entirely randomly generated. Though a Rolex dealership will be able to tell from the serial number what year your watch was manufactured in, owners can no longer tell from the serial number alone. 

These Days, the serial number is simply a unique identifier that doesn’t tell you anything further about the watch.

For older models, we can gleam more from the serial number. For example, codes that started with a G were for watches made in 2009. Here are some examples:

First Letter of Serial NumberManufacture Date
F2004 and 2003

For a full list of Rolex Serial numbers and the dates they relate to, click here.

There is one interesting historical exception to the idea that a serial number is a totally unique identifier. In 1954, Rolex ran out of serial numbers! Until this point, the serial number was a count (the watch with the serial number 750000 was followed by a watch with 750001). When they reached 999999, they started counting from 010000 again. For this reason, it is possible for two old Rolex watches to have the same serial number. 

What is the number on my Rolex clasp?

Well spotted. As well as the two numbers on the watch face, Rolex’s also have a code on the back of the bracelet clasp, known as a clasp code or bracelet code. This indicates the year and month that the clasp was created. It is not unusual for the year of the clasp to differ from the year of the watch, so don’t worry if that’s what you find. However, it is true that if the clasp has been replaced it can affect the value of the watch, so that is something to keep in mind. 

Looking for a Rolex To call your own?

Luxe Watches has a spectacular collection of pre-owned Rolexes, from Submariners and Explorers to GMT-Masters and Day-Dates. 

If you want help buying or selling a watch, click here for more information

FAQ Summary

How do I find my Rolex reference number?

The serial number is on the inner ring under the glass/crystal by the 6 o’clock position. The reference number is on the outside of the case in the 12 o’clock position. Both are listed on the Rolex “papers” (paper or plastic).

What does the serial number mean?

Every Rolex is a unique treasure, and the serial number is a unique identifier. It doesn’t tell you anything special, though for older watches the serial number might tell you the year of manufacture.

What does the reference number mean?

The reference number is based on the watch model, material, bezel type, and possibly other information about the watch. For example, a watch with a reference number starting 140 is a Rolex Submariner.