The watch that built the Rolex legend
This wasn’t the first Rolex and it certainly isn’t the most expensive - not in standard form, at least. So why is the comparatively simple-looking Oyster Perpetual held in such high regard by people who know about such things?
To find out, let’s go back to the 1920s. Rolex was a great success with its wrist-worn chronometer. Ladies were pleased with its convenience; and men were gradually being won over from their heavy pocket watches to the lighter, yet accurate, Rolex wristwatch.
Then in 1926, Rolex decided to revolutionise the timepiece business by producing a fully waterproof watch. They developed the Oyster case and made even the winder watertight by screwing it down against the body of the watch.
It worked perfectly, as proved by cross-channel swimmers and goldfish bowl displays in dealer windows.
Rolex were delighted – they had produced the first waterproof wrist chronometer – and told the world with ads in all the major journals. Here’s what they said: Rolex introduces for the first time the greatest triumph in watch-making, ROLEX OYSTER – the wonder watch that Defies the Elements. Being hermetically sealed, the Rolex Oyster is proof against changes of climate, dust, water, damp, heat, moisture, cold, sand or grease; it can, in consequence, be worn in the sea or bath without injury, nor would arctic or tropical conditions affect the wonderful precision of its beautifully poised movement. The Rolex Oyster marks a unique development in the forward stride of chronometric science and perfect timekeeping under all conditions is at last a possibility.
Understatement isn’t a Rolex trait, you’ll notice! There was one little problem, however. To wind the watch, you had to unscrew the winder. If you didn’t screw it back in tightly enough when you were done, or if the threads and seals wore a little over time, the watch was no longer properly waterproof. Rolex knew they had to fix this, and they did it in 1931, in a rather unexpected way. Instead of inventing a better, more waterproof winder, they got rid of it altogether and created a self-winding movement that they called ‘perpetual’.
The Oyster Perpetual was born and watches would never be the same again. Inside an Oyster Perpetual is a semi-circular weight that moves whenever the wearer shifts his or her wrist. This movement winds the main spring so the watch never needs manually winding throughout its life.
What happens when you don’t wear it and the weight can’t wind the spring? Nothing, for 50 hours or so, as your watch continues to keep perfect time because there’s an energy reserve to allow for just such eventualities.
If you should leave your watch off for longer than 50 hours, it will stop. But put it back on your wrist and, within seconds, it starts again, filling up its power reserve with every move you make. Rolex knew they had changed the game with the Oyster Perpetual – chronometer accuracy, waterproof case, self-winding movement – so they made these features the standard for every Rolex watch, right up to today.
…and that’s why the Oyster Perpetual is, for many people, the real Rolex, the original Rolex, the proper Rolex.
Happily, it’s also the accessible Rolex. Browse our pre-owned stock of Oyster Perpetuals and you’ll see prices under £2,500 for both gents and ladies models.
You’ll also see a wide range of styles and sizes. You can have your pre-owned Oyster Perpetual in steel, white gold, yellow gold, or a mixture. You can have a small, medium or large sized case with a white or a black dial - and you can even opt for a date window if you like. (Though if you really need to know what day it is, our collection of Rolex Datejust models might be more to your liking.) When you look at our stock, you’ll notice there are two prices against each watch – the selling price and the insurance value. We recommend that you insure your watch for this latter amount as soon as you buy it, because this is what it could cost to replace it new, should it be lost or stolen.
Another point about prices. You’ll see that we have some quite venerable watches in our stock – ones that were built in the 1980s and even back in the 1960s and ‘70s. These watches are all around the £2,000 - £2,500 mark, which is appreciably more than they originally cost to buy new. So is a pre-owned Rolex a good investment? We can’t promise anything, of course, but there is evidence to show that you could expect to break even at least, if you keep your watch for some years before selling or trading in. In effect, you could be wearing and enjoying it for free!
So what kind of person wears an Oyster Perpetual? Well, it’s someone who cares about fine engineering and beautiful things. Someone with a certain, often understated, personal style. Someone who can point to achievements in life, sport or business. And, if they buy pre-owned from Albemarle & Bond, someone who knows good value when they see it.
Someone like Valentino Rossi, Brad Pitt, Phil Mickelson, Elle Macpherson, Matt Damon, Placido Domingo, Cindy Crawford, Ben Affleck and Diego Maradona.