For better or for worse, the history of wrist watches is generally the history of men’s watches. But no Rolex history series would be complete without looking at those watches produced for the ladies. And not just because Rolex produced ladies watches. Indeed, ladies watches were the first watches Rolex produced, starting in 1905. And the ladies dominated the Rolex catalog until the 1930s.
Now it’s undeniable, ladies dress watches are gorgeous as jewelry. But sadly, are rarely worth more than the weight of the precious metal they contain. Vintage mid-century examples of Rolex Ladies dress watches are no different. Early pieces may be the exception, given their rarity.
While most early ladies models were as much jewelry as timepiece, Rolex introduced the Oyster in 1926 (for both men’s and ladies watches). Starting then, Rolex Ladies watches gradually evolved into Oyster models that echoed their manly brethren – the Date, the Datejust, the Oyster Perpetual, the President, and the Yacht-Master (which we’ll cover later when we look at the men’s Yacht-Master series).
The Corona, the first styled ladies Rolex Oyster was introduced in the early 1930s. By 1936, Rolex had introduced six more Oysters based on that design. Popularity remained low, however, and all were withdrawn by 1940. Men’s watches were beginning to dominate the catalog.
The Men’s Datejust was introduced in 1945, for Rolex’s 40th Jubilee. A Ladies watch, the 4487, was introduced at the same time but it was not an Oyster. That would not come for another nine years.
Rolex introduced the Lady Oyster Perpetual Chronometer at the Basel Watch Fair in 1954. This felt like the true beginning of the modern era of Ladies Rolex Oysters. The Lady Oyster Perpetual was a downsized, feminized version of the men’s Oyster Perpetual, with all the attendant features – screw-down crown, fluted bezel, and bracelet. Chronometer certification did not begin to appear for the ladies line until around 1960.
The Oyster Perpetual eventually spawned the Lady Date, the Lady Datejust, and the Lady President. These four models represented four trim levels and associated price points for four different customers. The Oyster Perpetual (no date function) and the Lady Date were non-chronometer watches. The Lady Datejust and Lady President were certified as chronometers. The Lady President was the Datejust with a ladies version of the President bracelet replacing the Jubilee bracelet.
Variations on these three or four themes remained through the late twentieth century and up to today. Currently, the Ladies line consists of 26mm, 31mm, and 34mm watches, all in the Oyster Perpetual line, all certified chronometers, and all signed Datejust.
It seems Rolex has done quite well in remembering the ladies.
Ever wonder about the backstory of your favorite Rolex? Well, stick with us. This is the ninth in a series of posts featuring histories of significant Rolex models. In all, Rolex has introduced nearly three dozen models since 1950. Over the next several weeks, we’ll touch on each. You’ll find all the reference numbers connected with each model here.