Rolex Saru
Photo by ablogtowatch.com

In the world of watches, there are an endless number of terms and abbreviations. The same goes for Rolex, a brand that is not only covered by this common terminology but also frequently comes up with, ”invents”, with its own words and abbreviations.

Rolex does this to describe different aspects of its watches, but also to highlight the fact that it is something that is unique and proprietary of Rolex – something that you cannot find in any other watch brand, thus adding to their exclusive nature.

In particular, when it comes to bezel gem-setting, Rolex has a long list of different abbreviations to describe what type of gems have been used. One of those is the abbreviation ”SARU”.

If you have an interest in Rolex watches, chances are, you’ve come across the term before. But what does it mean?

Let’s have a look at Rolex SARU in detail.

Rolex SARU explained

SARU is simply a contraction of SApphire and RUby.

Rolex SARU watches are not for the faint-hearted. Because of the gem-set bezels they have, these watches stand out from the crowd and offer plenty of ”bling”. In addition to this, because Rolex uses only the finest gemstones, cut to perfection, these types of watches also come with a hefty price tag.

Interestingly enough, Rolex watches with SARU bezels have been around for quite some time now, and Rolex is occasionally releasing new references with this bezel. The reference numbers of watches featuring this bezel always end with ”SARU”, except for one exception (which we will discuss further on), for example, 116719SARU.

Despite Rolex’s immense power, and wealthy clientele of customers who can afford pay the hefty price tags at which they are offered, how come we don’t see these watches very often? Well, the answer is actually that it is because of Rolex’s immense power that we don’t see them very often.

You see, the most exclusive gem-set Rolex watches are not part of the official Rolex catalog, and that’s exactly how Rolex wants it to be. The SARU Rolex watches, including many other special gem-set watches, are on-request timepieces only, made to be reserved for premium and VIP customers.

The SARU Rolex watches are watches that you will rarely see displayed in the windows at official retailers. This ensures that the SARU Rolex watches retain their exclusive and exclusive nature because they are certainly not watches that you’ll see frequently on people’s wrists, unlike the Submariner in steel, for example. In addition, since they are generally only ordered on-request, they already have a client waiting for it, thus giving it no chance to ever be displayed.

With that said, if you want to buy a Rolex SARU watch, you need to request it. And depending on what retailer you ask and your previous purchase history at that store, it may or may not be possible to order it.

In addition, most Rolex retailers never even get one of these watches per year simply because they are in a location where they do not have that type of clientele.

Rolex Saru
Photo by ablogtowatch.com

On the other hand, other stores may request several pieces per year, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that Rolex will approve every single request as the brand wants to keep them exclusive and limit the production numbers. Only if the production numbers are low are Rolex able to maintain the watches unique and ”legendary” status. Wearing a Rolex SARU should be something truly special, and only limited to selected few, so Rolex ensures that it remains that way.

The SARU bezel is used on the GMT-Master only, due to the fact that the gems create a bi-colored appearance, which is distinctive for the GMT-Master as it helps the wearer distinguish day from night.

And although the SARU bezel is perhaps focused on craftsmanship and appearance first, it is executed in such a way that It can actually be used together with the GMT-hand to work the way the GMT-Master is meant to be used – keeping track of multiple time-zones. To make this possible, Rolex also uses baguette diamonds for each hour marking on the bezel. The upper part of the bezel (the first 12-hours) is where the blue sapphires are used, and the bottom part of the bezel is where the rubies are used.

Interestingly enough, this also creates a ”Pepsi” color scheme, a color way that is iconic for Rolex.

Why SARU?

Rolex is a brand that is all about form, function, and performance. And whilst the SARU bezel has been executed in a way that it can actually be used, the actual performance of the bezel is not as good as the regular ceramic bezel.

With that said, one might ask why Rolex decides to go this route. The answer is that Rolex wants to show its craftsmanship and the ability to create not only robust sports watches but also fine pieces of craftsmanship that are true works of art. And the fact is that Rolex pays a great deal of attention to its gem-setting.

In Rolex’s own words:

”Whether for diamonds, sapphires, rubies, or emeralds, Rolex masters the art of gem-setting. To adorn its timepieces with the most striking gemstones, the brand has its own in-house gemmologists and gem-setters. Gemmologists are responsible for examining and selecting the gemstones received, retaining only those that meet Rolex’s extremely stringent quality criteria. The stones then pass into the hands of the gem-setters, who are tasked with placing and fixing each stone to best reveal its beauty, colour, and sparkle. Rolex has offered gem-set watches throughout its history. In embellishing its watches with precious stones, the brand endows them with an alternative aesthetic, whilst conserving their identity and all their technical features, such as reliability, robustness, and resistance to magnetic fields and to shocks.”

by rolex.com

For a long time, Rolex has made watches with bold and unique gem-set designs, but these bold gem-sets have primarily been reserved for elegant watches such as the Day-Date which already has an elegant appearance from start. The most interesting part is that Rolex, in the last decade or so, has dared to explore gem-setting for its sports watches, and this tells a lot about the current status of the watch market.

Originally, the GMT-Master was developed for airline pilots, specifically, PANAM pilots when flying across different timezones became a thing, to help pilot’s keep track of multiple timezones simultaneously. In other words, it was made as a tool first. But whilst Rolex still strongly focuses on making its professional watches as tools, and work hard to maintain that image, things have changed, and the truth is that most people who wear the Submariner do not come anywhere near water, and most people who wear the GMT-Master do not pay much attention to the GMT-function. They buy the watch because of their iconic and appealing design, their prestige, and what they represent.

In other words, luxury watches have more and more become fashion objects and statements pieces, not tools that are crucial for the performance of the wearer.

With this in mind, Rolex has dared to compromise function for form in these instances, including for the SARU GMT-Master.

Rolex SARU models

As mentioned, Rolex has, over the years, released a number of different SARU GMT-Masters. But since they are not part of the standard catalog, it can be rather tricky to keep track of the different models and when new ones are being released.

So let’s have a look at all of the SARU watches that Rolex has released. Worth having in mind is that Rolex has released several versions where it’s not only the bezel is gem-set but also parts of the case, with diamonds, to make it even more exclusive.

The first Rolex SARU watch was released in the middle of 1980. This was released under the reference 16758, but note however that unlike today, it was sold under the same reference as the non-gem set model. The watch of course features the distinct SARU bezel, but Rolex also made a number of additional changes to the model, including changing the color of the GMT-hand to gold, presenting it with a diamond-paved dial, as well as giving it blue sapphire hour markers. Last but not least, the watch was also presented on a President bracelet, set with 12 brilliant-cut diamonds on each center link.

Rolex SARU
Photo by phillips.com

When it comes to SARU, this was Rolex’s first demonstration of its capacity of making not only sports watches but also watches with incredible attention to detail that are true works of art. The watch was no longer just a sports watch, it was a masterpiece. Because of this watch’s nature, it is extremely rare and only produced in highly limited numbers. In November 2019, Phillips auctioned one of these timepieces which sold for a cool CHF256,250 plus buyer’s premium.

Moving further in the history of SARU, it would take until 2006, more than 20 years after the first watch was released, that Rolex released another GMT-Master watch with a SARU bezel. And consi dering the timing, the watch on which Rolex would present this was the new maxi-case GMT-Master II with ceramic bezel.

The new generation GMT-Master II was released in 2005, and the year after, Rolex presented a SARU version of it. This was released under the reference 116758SARU, a GMT-Master II in yellow gold, topped off with beautiful gemstones. If you are familiar with the Rolex reference number system, you may have thought that Rolex would name it 11678SARU, but the ”5” is used to indicate the use of gem-stones.

Rolex SARu
Photo by christies.com

Of course, for obvious reasons, the SARU bezel is only made on full gold watches, either rose gold, yellow gold, or white gold. Because of its exclusive and luxurious nature, stainless steel is not exclusive enough for a special watch like this.

The new GMT-Master SARU has 18 trapeze-cut rubies and 18 trapeze-cut sapphires on the bezel, and 11 trapeze-cut diamonds for the hour markers.

Rolex SARU watches

  • Rolex GMT-Master 16758 – Presented in the mid-1980s, pave diamond dial, sapphire hour markers, SARU bezel, gold GMT hand, President bracelet with diamond-set middle links.
  • Rolex GMT-Master II 116758SARU – Presented in 2006,  yellow gold case, sapphire and ruby bezel, diamond-set case, available both with a black or champagne diamond pave dial.
  • Rolex GMT-Master II 116759SARU  – Presented in 2007, white gold case, diamond-set case, sapphire and ruby, SARU bezel, available both with a black or pave diamond dial.
  • Rolex GMT-Master II 126755SARU – Presented in early 2020, rose gold case, diamond-set case, SARU bezel – available both with a black or pave diamond dial.

It’s crucial to have in mind that there is a huge difference between factory SARU watches and watches equipped with aftermarket SARU bezels. This is why it is extremely important to do your due diligence if you are ever considering buying this type of watch and make sure that the reference number does in fact include SARU, and if it is the later references, that they also have a ”5” instead of ”1” in its reference number.

This is more difficult when it comes to the first SARU watch, as mentioned since the reference is the same with or without the SARU bezel.

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