The 1960s was a golden age for Rolex and saw the company in full swing, launching a number of its most important and enduring creations—in both the watches themselves and in the movements that powered them.
Of these, the 1500 series of calibers stand out as enduring classics and are still very much revered by collectors and enthusiasts today. The 1570 in particular, one of the last of the series and the engine inside signature watches from the brand such as the Explorer, Submariner and Sea-Dweller, is widely regarded as one of the best mechanical movements ever made.
So its replacement in 1977 had a tough act to follow.
When the Cal. 3035 ended the 12-year run of the 1570, it became the first high-beat caliber Rolex had ever made. By increasing the balance speed from 19,800bph to 28,800bph, the new movement was able to offer an even greater level of accuracy and robustness than the already formidable abilities of its predecessor.
It was this new speed on the 3035, causing the seconds hand to ‘tick’ eight times per second, that introduced the smooth sweep that is so characteristic of Rolex watches.
Along with upping the movement’s frequency, which has since been adopted by every subsequent model Rolex has produced, the Cal. 3035 also led the field in another aspect; it was the first automatic caliber to feature a quickset function.
Known alternatively as the ‘rapid calendar advance’, the quickset function on the 3035 allowed the wearer to change the date on their watch simply by pulling out the winding crown to the second position and turning counter clockwise, needing one and a half rotations to advance each digit. It was the development that eliminated the tedious process of having to wind the hour hand through a 24-hour cycle and was a significant improvement on the previous movements.
Much of the basic architecture of the 1570 was carried over onto the newer 3035, Rolex seeing very little reason to meddle with a well-proven and successful formula. Both calibers use a free sprung balance with Breguet overcoil although, of course, the 3035 has a higher speed.
They both also combine it with Rolex’s Microstella regulating system, an arrangement of four timing screws that act as weights on the balance rim, changing the inertia of the balance itself when moved towards or away from its center. It allows for a much higher level of precision when adjusting the rate than using a regulated balance with a traditional hairspring.
The 3035 also saw Rolex change to a fast rotating barrel, improving the stability of the drive train and upping the power reserve to 50 hours from the previous 42 hours.
Proportionally, there is little difference between the two, with the 3035 measuring a little more than half a millimeter thicker than its forerunner, and it is a 27 jewel movement as opposed to 26.
The Cal. 3035 at Work
Some of the most sought-after vintage models in Rolex’s recent history have housed the Cal. 3035. Below, we’ll take a look two enduringly popular examples.
The Sea-Dweller ref. 16660
An important part of the Sea-Dweller’s continuing saga, the 16660, known as the ‘Triple Six’, was released in 1978 and became the first of the line to contain the new caliber.
Considered a transitional reference, it ran concurrently for a number of years with its predecessor, the ref. 1665, or the ‘Great White’.
Although they shared a model name, there were more than a few differences between the two. Most importantly, the new watch was rated waterproof to 4,000 feet—more than double that of the previous piece. It also boasted a larger Helium Escape Valve to allow gases to release safely during ascents from great depths.
The Triple Six was the first Sea-Dweller to have its dial protected by a sapphire crystal, today something that is customary across the entire Rolex range, and it switched to a bezel that only rotated in one direction. For divers, it was a crucial safety feature that eliminated their chance of underestimating their time underwater.
Inside, the Cal. 3035, with its increased frequency bringing a greater accuracy and resistance to shocks, was a welcome addition for a dive watch designed for professionals working in the harshest environments.
The ref. 16660 was a big step forward for the Sea-Dweller and remains a highly-coveted piece in the vintage collector’s market.
The Datejust 36mm
Rolex’s longest running model, the 36mm version of the Datejust was powered by the Cal. 3035 from its introduction in 1977 until it was replaced by the current movement, the 3135, in 1988.
The company has often used the Datejust to trial their major upgrades, and so was the case here when it became the first in the lineup to feature the new mechanism.
Perhaps the watch that is the most quintessentially Rolex, the Datejust is the epitome of simple, functional design and found the perfect complement in the thoroughly practical and beautifully designed 3035.
Available in dozens of variations of dial, color and material, outwardly the Datejust always has a style to match any occasion. Inside, the caliber ticks away with a faultless reliability that ensures the watch lasts several lifetimes.
The Cal 3035, with its high beat frequency, introduced the smooth tick that has become trademark Rolex. A painstakingly engineered and wholly dependable workhorse, it was a worthy successor to the celebrated 1500 series.