The crown logo and name conjures
up images of sparkling diamonds, but in the 50’s and 60’s, Rolex watches weren’t luxury. These classics were designed to meet specific needs, from transatlantic travel to diving and professional racing.
Scott Kaplan has always gravitated towards watches. A third generation jeweler, he began selling watches in his parent’s pawnshop. Fast forward to 2015 and he operates one of the most respected stores for vintage Rolexes in the US, H.Q. Milton.
To me it’s a tool. That is what it was built for.
It might seem fitting that Scott and his partner, Jacek, found success with a brand that has become a universal signal of class. But the Rolex brand has evolved quite a bit. “Now it’s very expensive,” Scott begins; “it’s a status symbol like driving a Mercedes or a BMW. But to me it’s a tool. It’s a watch that you wear to go diving. That is what it is meant for and that is what it was built for.” He adds, “it wasn’t terribly expensive. It cost $100 to $300 for a Daytona or a Sub. That same watch today is worth crazy amounts of money, but these guys, they were regular guys. They were in the armed forces. They were workers. They were divers, and they used their watches.”
In 1952, when the Rolex GMT-Master model was introduced, Pan American World Airways became the first airline selling economy class international tickets (New York to London). Air travel was becoming commercial, and with that came unforeseen challenges.
During that period, Pan Am approached Rolex amid problems their pilots were experiencing - keeping track of the clock. A solution to this “jet lag”, presented by Rolex, was a simple complication that allowed the watches bezel, printed with military time, to rotate around the face. Dubbed the GMT-Master (Greenwich Mean Time), pilots could keep time in London and New York with a simple turn of the wrist.
The Submariner, introduced in 1954, appealed to a different man. Guaranteed waterproof up to 330 feet, it went on to become the go-to timepiece of divers and spies like James Bond. The Daytona was developed in 1963 for the racecar drivers setting records on the newly built “Super Speedway” in Florida.
Instead of conveying status like their modern counterparts, a vintage Rolex conjures up stories of sport and classic design. “It’s like a vintage car. Look at the Porsche’s from the 50’s” Scott explains “there is something so cool about a classic 911, and it’s very similar with the watches. They are not as big, not as lavish, but they have a soul, there’s a depth to them.”