Review: The Rolex Oyster Perpetual ref. 1005
Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual series, the longest-established name still in production in the brand’s history, sits comfortably in amongst the Classic Collection.
It shares the space with the likes of the Datejust and Day-Date as something of a crossover; not one of the all-conquering tool watches, but not an out-and-out dress model either, such as you would find in the Cellini range.
Although today the modern Oyster Perpetual is seen as the entry level piece in Rolex’s portfolio, there is no doubt that it is actually the most important group of watches the company has ever built. In fact, they are the bedrock upon which the rest of their output has been based since the 1930s.
It takes its name from the two groundbreaking revolutions for which Rolex were responsible in their formative years; the waterproof Oyster case and the self-winding Perpetual movement. Together, they transformed the image of the wristwatch from a woman’s fragile accessory into a tough and vital addition to any man’s wardrobe.
The initial examples, launched in 1933, became known as the Bubblebacks, with the cases featuring a deeply convex underside to give room for the somewhat rudimentary early calibers. Refinements were quickly made, and the reputation of the watches, and the manufacturer behind them, grew steadily year after year. Soon they were the number one choice for some of the 20th century’s greatest adventurers, with the likes of Sir Malcolm Campbell and test pilot Chuck Yeager trusting on nothing else as they broke successive speed records, both on land and in the air.
Oyster Perpetuals also accompanied Hillary and Tenzing as they conquered Everest, with the result that Rolex would go on to release the Oyster Perpetual Explorer as a celebration of the triumph. That marked the start of the brand splintering their creations into the various families we know today, to cater to different occupations and pastimes. What we now call the Submariner is technically the Oyster Perpetual Submariner, the GMT-Master is actually the Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master, etc. A water resistant housing and automatic movement form the underlying architecture of nearly everything Rolex produces.
But through it all there has always been the basic Oyster Perpetual—a stubbornly simple, minimalistic three-handed everyman of a watch, the ideal model for just about any occasion.
The ref. 100X series started life in 1959 with the introduction of the second generation of Cal. 1500 group of calibers, and would go on right up until the late 80s. Like its Classic Collection partners, the range offered a number of options in makeup to cater to as many tastes as possible, with the ref. 1005 among the most popular.
Below we take a look in a bit more detail.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual ref. 1005 Metals and Bezels
The modern Oyster Perpetual series is available in a total of five sizes, ranging from 26mm (a ladies model and the smallest piece Rolex currently offers), up to a recently introduced 39mm.
However, back in the first days of production, the trend was for far smaller watches, with even 36mm being seen as fairly large in the 1950s.
The ref. 1005 measures 34mm in diameter, dimensions still in use today but seen as very much a unisex watch, the perfect size for both men and women.
Another difference from the modern, more streamlined Rolex we are familiar with comes in their use of reference numbers. These days, the variety of different metals in which the brand forges their watches receive carefully regimented individual designations, but in the past it was less well-ordered.
To that end, you will find the ref. 1005 cast in either stainless steel, Rolex’s own two-tone blend of steel and gold or indeed all-gold, either 14k or 18k.
One component they do all share though is the type of bezel, which is fluted in this case. Among the oldest styles of surround the brand uses, it evolved out of the coin-edged design of earlier models and gives the watch an extra eye-catching element. All fluted bezels are cast in gold, either yellow or, in the case of those fitted to the steel examples, white.
Other watches in the series were specified with assorted reference numbers mainly to separate the different bezel types. The ref. 1002, for example, featured a smooth surround, while the ref. 1003, 1006, 1007, and 1008 all had engine-turned bezels of varying styles.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual ref. 1005 Movements
The initial examples of the ref. 1005 were driven by the Cal. 1560, an upgrade over the Cal. 1530 which had powered previous time-only Rolex watches.
Chronometer-certified and highly reliable, it was a fitting engine for the similarly robust Oyster Perpetual.
Yet it was itself replaced in 1965 with the next iteration in the Cal. 1500 series, the Cal. 1570. The differences between the incoming and outgoing movements were minimal to say the least—the only real distinction being an increase in balance frequency, up from 18,000vph to 19,800vph.
Mechanically simple though it is, the Cal. 1570 and its offshoots (it formed the basis for calibers fitted with date and/or GMT complications to run Rolex’s quickly expanding roster of professional models) is something of a legend in the vintage watch world. It has features still in use in all Rolex’s modern movements, such as the Microstella regulating system and a free sprung hairspring with Breguet overcoil.
In fact, it was so fundamental to the brand’s caliber development that the series’ that superseded it (first the Cal. 303X then the Cal. 313X) are often described merely as high beat Cal. 1570s, in that they retained most of the components but upped the speed again, this time to 28,800vph.
In 1972, the Cal. 1570 was improved on with a hacking function. Now pulling out the crown activated a lever that interrupted the balance wheel, stopping the seconds hand and allowing for a more accurate setting of the time.
An historically vital part of the Rolex story, you will also find the Cal. 1570 inside some truly iconic watches. It powered the ref. 5512 Submariner up to 1978, and was running the show for the Explorer ref. 1016 until the end of the 80s. The date version (the Cal. 1575) was also the movement of choice for the first of the Sea-Dwellers, the ref. 1665 Double Red and Great White.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual ref. 1005 Dials
As perhaps the most unassuming and least complicated series of watches in the Rolex portfolio, the Oyster Perpetual has never been issued with quite the same depth of dial alternatives as, say, the Datejust.
Even though the two are practically identical save the one additional function on the DJ, the Oyster Perpetual hasn’t traditionally enjoyed the same sort of demand, and so its options have usually been more limited.
With the ref. 1005, the colors it has been issued with vary depending on the metals found in its case construction. For those pieces with yellow gold, either solid or in two-tone Rolesor, a champagne face is possibly the most prevalent, matching the tones of the rest of the watch exactly. But even with a golden shine from head to toe, the watch still manages to remain refreshingly understated and tasteful.
Elsewhere, other choices, such as white, black, blue and silver, add their own dynamic.
As for the stainless steel pieces, the neutrality of the metal is often reflected with the use of a plain silver dial, giving a pleasing monotone over the whole thing. Again, you will find a small range of other colors in use, each appealing to different tastes.
With the luminescent material used on hands and hour markers, Rolex didn’t make the switch from radium until the 60s. Therefore, you will still find the earliest examples of the ref. 1005 using the radioactive substance, and those with it have their dials marked with ‘Swiss’ under the six o’clock index. After that it was swapped for tritium, still radioactive but at a much lower and far safer level. These are marked either ‘T Swiss T’ or ‘T Swiss Made T’.
And the protective crystal over the top of the dial during this era was that purist’s favorite, Plexiglass, giving a wonderful vintage feel.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual ref. 1005 Bracelets
Because of its utilitarian nature, the ref. 1005 is more commonly found on that most workmanlike of bracelets, the Oyster. The three flat-link band is widely found across the whole spectrum of Rolex models, on everything from the Submariner, the father of all tool watches, right up to the Datejust.
The metal used for the Oyster will again depend on the case. Steel watches will have steel bracelets, all-gold pieces will have all gold bands. With the Rolesor examples, the outer links will be steel, while the inners are gold.
In addition, the Oyster evolved over the ref. 1005’s tenure. Starting off with hollow riveted links up until around 1967, it then changed to the hollow folded link type.
Other than that, you will occasionally come across some, particularly the solid gold pieces, on the five-link Jubilee, which gives the watch a far greater formality.
Leather straps are also frequently used, as you will see when you scour the preowned market. Even though these will be third-party add-ons, they still work especially well with the unpretentiousness of the piece as a whole.
And finally, all models of the ref. 1005 had lug holes on the case, making swapping and changing bracelets that much easier.
While it may get overshadowed in relation to its contemporary siblings, the Oyster Perpetual is the genesis of modern Rolex. Without it, we wouldn’t have the watches we have today, its pair of radical innovations paving the way for all that followed.
The ref. 1005 remains a remarkably unassuming model, yet stylish and elegant all the same. Best of all, it is almost impossible to find a more accessible price point among vintage Rolex models.
— Featured Photo Credits: BeckerTime’s Archive.