A unique Rolex serial number is recorded on each watch, giving it a unique set of numerals for the purpose of identification and record keeping, much like any other product. Older models consist of only numbers but around 1987, Rolex placed a letter at the beginning of the number that would change about once a year until late 2010, which is now a random set of numbers and letters.
What Do the Serial Letters Mean?
Each letter at the beginning of the serial number denotes a general production year — but actually I’m not even sure that Rolex has officially stated this anywhere. A term that would better serve instead of “year” would be “period”. It is often misunderstood within the Rolex community that a letter will give the exact production date. But any chart or list you may find is a guesstimate at best and can only give you the roundabout date of when it was manufactured at the Rolex factory. They will be close, but it is quite impossible to know for sure with each individual watch. The public’s only clue is the date listed on the papers or card on the day it is purchased from an authorized dealer, but even then that is only the date sold new and not the date of manufacture.
Why Did Rolex Change To Random Serial Numbers?
Rolex subsequently change the serial number system to what are called “Randoms”, or sometimes “Scrambled”. Like anything Rolex does, I believe it was introduced without formal explanation to the public. However, I believe the main reason this was done (as well as a lot of other watch experts and gurus) is because the pressure put upon what serial letter it has is unwarranted, thinking it will give an exact year of manufacture to the purchaser when it doesn’t necessarily matter. Much like jewelry, the condition of a Rolex is much more important in value than the year it is thought to be manufactured, with exceptions of course. Being that a Rolex is such a high-priced item, it can take a while for one to sell from an authorized dealer’s store, especially the more expensive, infrequently-purchased models.
Click here to read more about a Rolex’s condition versus its age in the FAQ section!
Rolex Serial Number Reference Guide
Below is a guide from the 1980s until the present. Instead of pairing one year with one specific letter, I’ve given them in range that Watch Chest over the years has compiled. This will give you a much more accurate idea for most watches, where the all gold and Special Edition Rolex are sometimes on a case by case basis.
The years where the serial number begins with a letter will be followed by a 6-digit number. The Random serial numbers are a mixed combination of 8 numbers and letters with no specific order or reason. Again, I’d like to mention that this chart is only approximate but will help give you a roundabout year to a Rolex’s year of manufacture.