Easy Guide On How To Set The Time On A Rolex Watch
Ignatius Quiaoit16 October 2023 | 10 min read
I. Introduction to Rolex
Known as one of, if not the most, ubiquitous brands in the watch world, Rolex has become a household name for anyone who is or is not deep into the world of watches.
Captivating the world with their wide array of high-quality timepieces, Rolex’s watches are known for being easy-to-use, robust wristwatches.
From their simple three-handers to their more complicated GMT watches, the brand has a collection for all watch collectors. Even for the newly converted watch enthusiast, the brand is sure to have a design that will fit your everyday needs.
Yet, with this wide selection, one may be confused with how to set the exact time on their new—or vintage—Rolex.
In this article, we will guide you with the correct ways on how to set the time on a Rolex.
A. A Brief History of Rolex
Now, let’s go back in time. A time when the grey market did not entirely exist. A time when you were able to walk to a Rolex authorized dealer and find the watch you wanted in stock and at a reasonable price.
A time when the focus of the brand was to create high-quality and robust timepieces without the investment in precious metals.
The year is 1905 and Hans Wildorf and his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis, started the brand Rolex in their London shop.
They started their watchmaking company by importing Hermann Aegler’s quality watch movements and placing them in watch cases made by Dennison.
The duo sent their watches to dealers around the city, with most of the watches bearing their stamped “W&D” on the inside of the caseback.
In 1908, Wildorf registered the name “Rolex” as a trademark. They then opened their first Switzerland office in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
In 1910, one of Rolex’s wristwatches was given the first independently ratified certificate of chronometric performance.
After several years of creating new case designs and selling their watches, Rolex introduced the ever-famous Rolex Oyster watch case in 1926.
Touted as the world’s first waterproof watch (they would then change the word proof to resistant), the new case boasted a newly designed fluted bezel with a case back designed to be opened with proprietary tools.
This meant that only certified watchmakers could open Rolex Oyster cases.
In the years following the Second World War, Rolex’s collection was thoroughly expanded. In collaboration with the pilots of Pan American Airways, Rolex designed the GMT Master.
Acting as a companion to pilots crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the watch sported a 24-hour bezel divided into day and night with separate colours, blue for night and red for day.
By setting the bezel accordingly, pilots could track a second time zone while on the way to their destination.
Realizing the success of their watch, Rolex decided to update the Rolex GMT-Master with the Rolex GMT-Master II.
Rolex now included the iconic independent changing hour hand. With this, the movement of the hour hand can work independently of the minute hands, making the changing of the local time zone as quick and easy as possible.
Not to be a slouch, Rolex then developed the Rolex Cosmograph, or in other words, the Daytona. Inspired by several race car drivers, one being actor-turned-driver Paul Newman.
This collection has become one of the most known Rolex watches, with one of them fetching the highest auction price of any wristwatch as of 2020.
The Daytona exemplifies the ubiquitous design and engineering that is present within Rolex.
In 1959, Rolex developed the Milgauss, a watch designed for engineers who are constantly near a high amount of electromagnetic energy with one of our past articles covering 10 Fun Rolex Milgauss Facts You Need To Know.
Designed to withstand a high amount of energy, the movement is encased within a shroud made of ferromagnetic alloys. Not only that, but the movement is also built with paramagnetic materials. Sadly, the Milgauss was discontinued in 2023.
Worn on the wrist of the first James Bond, Sir Sean Connery, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner is as iconic as Bond’s introduction.
First showcased to the public in 1954 at the Basel Watch Fair, it was the first watch touted to feature 100m of water resistance.
Of course, being known as one of the, if not the most recognisable, Rolex out there, the Submariner has spawned various homage watches within other Swiss heritage brands.
This shows the ubiquity of the Rolex Submariner and its design.
Another famous iteration of the Submariner is the Rolex Sea Dweller. An upgraded version of the classic Submariner, the Sea-Dweller is the stronger brother of the Submariner.
When first introduced, it extended the depth rating of the stock Submariner to 300m (though this is now the common water resistance rating for all dive watches).
However, the Sea-Dweller is also the watch to have joined James Cameron on his dives to the deepest areas of the Earth’s oceans.
Exploring the depths was done by the Rolex Submariner. Exploring the high skies was done by the GMT-Master. Exploring the highest mountain tops, however, was done by the Rolex Explorer.
In May 1953, Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary became the first people to conquer the highest peak in the world.
With them, they had two watches: a Smiths watch and a Rolex watch. The history of which watch was the first to grace the peak of Everest is a tried and true debate, but one cannot deny the importance of the Rolex watch that made it up that peak.
To commemorate this achievement, Rolex re-designed the watch that went up with Sir Hillary to contain the text “Explorer” on the dial. Thus, the Rolex Explorer was born.
II. Mechanics of Each Collection and How To Set the Correct and Precise Time
Before doing anything to your current Rolex watch at hand, it is best to know which model of watch you are currently handling.
With their vast collection, it would be important to know whether you were holding a complex watch at hand or a simple three-hander. The good news, each of these watches is pretty easy to set.
A. Simple Three-Handers
Starting with the simple movements, we have the simple three-handers like the Oyster Perpetual, Explorer 1, Cellini, Air King, no-date Submariner, and the Milgauss.
The majority of these Rolex models have no-date options, making them simple to set.
Located at the 3 o’clock position of every Rolex is the signed Rolex winding crown. Since the majority of Rolex watches use the Oyster case, it is safe to assume that the first action needed is to unscrew the crown.
A screw-down crown provides the watch’s water resistance it needs from water splashes and dives. By unscrewing the crown, you negate the water-resistant nature of the watch, so make sure that the watch is in a safe area away from any liquids.
The first step is unscrewing the crown. Unscrewing the crown brings us to position 1. Position 0 is when the crown is still screwed in. Here, you may start winding the crown clockwise. This winds the watch. Aside from the automatic movement within, all Rolex watches are capable of manual winding.
Pulling out the crown a second time brings us to position 2. Here, you can start moving the crown in a clockwise direction or counterclockwise direction, depending on where you want the hands to go. This movement gives us the setting of the time function.
That’s all you need to know for the time-only Rolex collection.
When using a Rolex with a date feature, like the Rolex Datejust, pulling out the crown to the second position lets you access to changing the correct date changes. Turning the crown counterclockwise will turn the date wheel change back and vice versa.
Remember that in months with no 31st date, you must change the correct date yourself on every 30th of the month to avoid being left by a day.
On the Rolex day-date watches, pulling out the crown to the last position, the position to change the position of the hands, will give you access to changing the day.
Note that changing the day does take time since you need a full 24-hour adjustment of the hands to change the day of the week. Do this continuously until you are on the correct day.
B. GMT Movements
Changing the time on Rolex GMT watches is pretty easy. It’s just like changing the time on the simple three-hander Rolex watches.
Pulling out the crown to the third position gives you access to the hands of the watch. Turning the crown will adjust the hands on the dial accordingly. Moving the hands will also move the 24-hour GMT hand. This makes for easy setting of the GMT, whether that would be local or international.
To change the date window, moving the crown to the second position will bring you to the date window. This works just like the three-handed Rolexes with dates. Note again that you would need to change the date yourself on months without a 31st date.
C. Sky-Dweller Movements
The Rolex Sky-Dweller is an interesting watch in the sense that pulling out the crown does nothing to the watch unless you set another thing first, which we’ll get to that in a second.
Unscrewing the crown puts you in the first position. Here, you can start winding the calibre movement within, but pulling it out to the second position will yield you nothing.
For the Sky Dweller line of watches, Rolex developed the Rolex Caliber 9001. This movement makes use of the Rolex ring command bezel, a movable bezel that lets you change several functions of the watch with a simple turn of the bezel.
To set the GMT function, date complication, and hands of the Sky-Dweller, you need to turn the ring command bezel on the watch. Turning the Sky-Dweller bezel counterclockwise gives you access to the date and month function of the watch.
After turning the bezel counterclockwise, you then unscrew and pull out the crown. You have now activated the functions with the crown. Turning the crown clockwise or counterclockwise will let you change the correct date accordingly.
To set the new month, you first set the ring command bezel to the first position—the first setting counterclockwise—and unscrew and pull out the crown to position 2.
There we cycle the dates for a whole month, by the 30th or 31st, we then see the red marker above the hour markers move. This indicates the chosen month. Moving the dates past the 30th or 31st date will always change the month marker.
To change the reference or international time, you first need to turn the bezel to the farthest counterclockwise position.
From there, you unscrew the crown and pull it out. Turning the crown will then let you set the reference time. The disc with the 24-hour numerals on the watch dial will then turn according to the movement of the crown. This acts as the watch’s GMT hand and reference.
Remember that changing the local time must always be done AFTER changing the reference time. Forgetting to do this will have you changing the time on the Sky-Dweller for an infinite amount of times.
To set the local time, you turn the bezel to the second position counterclockwise. Unscrewing the crown will let you set the hour hand only. This is the interesting thing with Rolex watches with GMT functions, the quickset hour dial.
This lets you change the local time quickly and easily without having to go through the long process of fixing the minute hands. Make sure to note that going past midnight in this position will also change the current date.
D. Chronograph Movements
Just like the time-only watches, setting the time on your Rolex chronograph is simple. At position 0, the crown is screwed in.
This gives you the water resistance you need to withstand any water-borne activities. Unscrewing the crown gets you to the first position. This allows you to wind the chronograph movement inside.
Pulling out the crown to the second position, you can now hack the second hand and can set the hours and minute hands.
Hacking the seconds means that the second-hand stops ticking when the crown is out at the second position. This gives you the chance to set the time to an accurate degree.
E. Yacht-Master I and II Regatta
Rolex’s history with sports is as vast and old as its collection. From the PGA to Formula 1, the watch brand has set its hand on a variety of sports and athletes throughout the years.
One of these sports is regatta racing.
To include the sport in their lineup, Rolex released the Yacht-Master Regatta I and II. What differentiates these watches from the normal Yacht-Master is the inclusion of a 10-minute countdown timer and bezel to help in the timing of regattas.
To use the regatta timer on the Yacht-Master Regatta, you first need to turn the bezel counterclockwise to the farthest position. This activates the regatta timer.
From there, you depress the bottom pusher, then unscrew the crown and move it to the farthest position. You then turn the crown according to the amount of minutes you want to set the timer to. This could range from 1 minute to 10 minutes.
After setting the timer, you then move the bezel back clockwise to its original position. This also resets the bottom pusher.
There, you then start the timer with the top pusher, and it will start the countdown. To reset the timer, you first stop the timer with the top pusher and then depress the bottom pusher to reset the timer to the set minute.