In today’s edition of our Then and Now series where we compare the first edition of a specific Rolex model with its most recent version, we’re highlighting a very special watch—the Oyster Perpetual. While these days, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual is considered as one of the brand’s simplest and least expensive watches, that was not the case when it was launched. In fact, simply stated, the Oyster Perpetual watch paved the way for future Rolex success. Let’s find out more.
The First Rolex Oyster Perpetual
Rolex debuted the first Oyster Perpetual watch in 1931. Just looking at the name of this particular model tells us so much. Oyster refers to the iconic waterproof case that Rolex invented in 1926. On the other hand, Perpetual refers to the movement powering the watch, whereby the movement will continue to run perpetually as long as it is worn thanks to a rotor that winds the watch. This is also known as a self-winding or automatic movement.
So, the inaugural Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch from 1931 was not only the company’s first automatic watch but the Rolex patented invention of the self-winding mechanism with a free rotor also laid the groundwork for how most modern self-winding watches are made.
The first self-winding Rolex caliber powering the Oyster Perpetual was the Caliber 620. Looking at the dial of the original Oyster Perpetual, you’ll notice the running seconds subdial at 6 o’clock rather than a center sweep seconds hand. Another striking design component on the dial is the mix of Arabic numerals (3, 9, and 12 o’clock) with stick indexes. This certainly reminds us of the now-iconic Explorer-style dial, which will show up in Rolex’s catalog years later. Finally, note the lack of the Rolex coronet on the dial. This famous Rolex crown would start appearing on the face of the watches in the following years.
Housing the dial is a yellow gold case, measuring approximately 32mm in diameter—a standard size for men’s watches during that era. The bezel is smooth and the winding crown sits on the case without any crown guards.
The Newest Rolex Oyster Perpetual
It’s hard to believe, but the Oyster Perpetual is now over 85 years old. As you can imagine, the Oyster Perpetual underwent plenty of changes over the last eight decades including new materials, new movements, new sizes, new bracelets, new crystal materials, new dial styles, and so on. However, the Oyster Perpetual’s two fundamental elements have remained—a self-winding “perpetual” movement and a water-resistant “Oyster” case.
The newest version to join the Rolex catalog is the Oyster Perpetual ref. 114300, launched in 2015. Exclusively available in stainless steel, the Oyster Perpetual ref. 114300 features a 39mm Oyster case fitted with an Oyster bracelet. The case is water resistant to 100 meters (330 feet), which is the minimum depth rating you’ll find in modern Rolex watches.
Like the original, the Oyster Perpetual 39 is a time-only model, but of course, it includes a center sweep seconds hand rather than one on a subdial. Early examples of the Oyster Perpetual ref. 114300 came with a choice of colorful dials. Yet, just this year, Rolex introduced a black dial option and a white dial option.
The in-house automatic movement at the heart of the new Oyster Perpetual ref. 114300 is the Caliber 3132 with a power reserve of 48 hours and an accuracy rating of -2/+2 seconds per day.
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Evolution, Then and Now
So important and impactful was the Oyster Perpetual label that Rolex eventually adopted the name to refer to all of their waterproof automatic watches. However, the Oyster Perpetual watch has stayed true to its initial offering as being a time-only waterproof automatic watch.
It’s interesting to highlight that the first Oyster Perpetual was offered in gold, followed by steel and two-tone offerings. In contrast, the most current versions of the Oyster Perpetual watches are only available in steel, signaling its more accessible price point compared to other Rolex models.
A timepiece that brought so much to the table for Rolex and the watchmaking world at large, the Oyster Perpetual is unquestionably the grandfather of all Rolex watches that came after it.