Once you spend a little time looking at Rolex watches and comparing models, one thing you’ll notice is long strings of numbers and letters being thrown around. Submariner 114060; GMT-Master II 126710BLRO; Daytona 6263; W5642301; D246135 and so on. What do these numbers mean? What’s the difference between Rolex serial numbers and Rolex reference numbers? How can I tell what year my Rolex was produced? If you have any of these unanswered questions, then read our handy guide to Rolex serial numbers and Rolex reference numbers.

What is a Rolex Serial Number?

Every Rolex watch that comes out of the factory is designated with its own serial number. As a result, each Rolex serial number is unique (there are exceptions, as we’ll see shortly). So in theory, a Rolex serial number can tell you what year (approximately) the watch was made in. We say in theory, because there have been a few irregularities over the years. For example, Rolex reset the serial numbers in 1954 after they reached #999,999. So a watch from the 1960s can have the same reference number as one from the 1950s. Thankfully, Rolex also furnished the interior of the casebacks with date codes, thus making it easier to differentiate between a pre-1954 serial number and post-1954 one (if you open up the watch).

The bracelet must be removed to see the serial and reference numbers When Rolex reached #9,999,999 in mid-1987, the company began adding a letter followed by six digits. But to confuse matters even more, they did not begin with the letter “A” but instead, the letter “R,” then “L,” then “E,” followed by other non-sequential letters. The biggest change in Rolex serial numbers, however, came about by the end of 2010, when Rolex decided to use random serial numbers. Due to this change, it cannot be determined what year a Rolex was made if it was manufactured post-2010. There are several theories on why Rolex has done this. One is that the company does not want the public to know just how many units they produce a year, while another speculation says that it’s a measure against counterfeiting.

Rolex Serial Number Look Up Chart

Using this Rolex Serial Number Look Up chart, you can approximate what year a Rolex was produced (pre-2011). It’s important to note that Rolex has never released official numbers so these have been approximated, recorded, and categorized by collectors over the years. It is not an exact science.

Where Can I Find the Rolex Serial Number?

If you have the watch’s papers, then the serial number will be on there. However, if you don’t have any documents, then you’ll find it on the Rolex watch itself. On Rolex watches made prior to 2007, the serial number can be found engraved on the case in between the lugs at 6 o’clock. You will have to remove the bracelet to see it.

The Rolex serial number is between the lugs at 6 o'clock. Starting in late 2006, in addition to the case stamping Rolex also included the serial number laser engraved on the rehaut—visible through the sapphire crystal. Finally, starting in the late 2008, Rolex phased out the case engraving entirely and now exclusively displays the serial number on the rehaut.

What is a Rolex Reference Number?

Unlike a unique serial number, Rolex reference numbers (also known as model numbers) are shared across watches. Among other things, the first few numbers tell you what particular collection a Rolex watch belongs to.  

Furthermore, a reference number also includes codes for material and bezel type.

Finally, sometimes there are letters in a Rolex reference number that reveal even more details. 

So if we take these charts and the 116613LB reference number as an example, this will tell you: 1166 – Submariner 1 – Rotating Bezel 3 – Two Tone Stainless Steel and Yellow Gold LB – Blue Bezel .

Where Can I Find the Rolex Reference Number?

Again, if you have the watch’s official papers, then you can easily find the official Rolex reference (model) number there. However, if you don’t have access to the papers, then you can find it on the watch.

The Rolex reference number is engraved between the lugs at 12 o'clock.   The Rolex reference number is also engraved on the watch, but on the opposite side from the serial number position. So you’ll have to remove the bracelet from the 12 o’clock side of the case to see it. 

How to Use Rolex Serial Numbers and Reference Numbers

The most common way a reference number is used is to identify exactly the type of Rolex watch you have (or have your eye on). This is especially important when sourcing your Rolex from the secondary market to ensure that what think you’re buying matches up with what you’re actually buying. Understanding Rolex reference numbers is important if you want to make an informed purchase.

Likewise, a Rolex serial number helps you date a specific watch so that you can understand what era your watch is from. Not only will this will help you to know if the watch in question is actually an honest vintage piece, but also, it will reveal if all the other details of the watch (dial, bezel, bracelet) match up or if they were replacement/service pieces. When buying a pre-owned Rolex watch, the more you understand, the better decisions you’ll make when choosing which one you want to add to your collection.