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Rolex is renowned for making mechanically powered timepieces, but from 1970 through 2001 Rolex also produced a battery powered and quartz regulated wristwatch known as the Oysterquartz. Creating a quartz watch was not necessarily Rolex’s method for keeping up with the Joneses as Rolex had been researching electro-mechanical since 1952 and filed over 21 patents between 1960 and 1990 for electronic and LED/digital watches.
Initially, in their first quartz offering, Rolex utilized a Beta 21 movement that was also used by Omega and Enicar. With only 1000 of these watches out the door, Rolex developed its own in-house quartz movements released in 1977 as the Oysterquartz. Rolex developed two movements, the 5035 for DateJusts, and the 5055 for the Day-Date. These movements utilized 11 jeweled bearings, the most advanced CMOS circuitry, a 32khz vibrator, and thermocompensation that is only found in the upper ranges of swiss quartz watches. Rolex’s in-house quartz movements are certified to COSC’s stricter quartz chronometer standards of ± .07/seconds a day as opposed to the COSC standards for mechanical movements which is -4/+6 seconds day.
In addition to the uber-accurate movement, the Rolex Oysterquartz possessed other refinements later found on the rest of the modern Rolex line. The OysterQuartz was fitted with Rolex’s first synthetic sapphire crystal – a development that took almost 30 years to become a standard feature on all Rolex watches. The OysterQuartz was Rolex first watch to utilize a solid link bracelet. At the time, Rolex used hollow-link bracelets in all of this watches. The durability of the OysterQuartz bracelet is legendary to this day. A stretched or badly worn OysterQuartz is rarer than the watch itself. The OysterQuartz series utilized the same profile and case proportions as their mechanical counterparts, with the only exception of the lugs. OysterQuartz watches did not use end link/lug combination that is found on most other watches (including Rolex mechanicals). The solid link bracelet, combined with a lugless bracelet connection makes the OysterQuartz look like a solid piece of stainless and/or gold. At the time, the lug/bracelet design was compared to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Although they look similar, the Royal Oak and the OysterQuartz are two entirely different watches coming from two different design ethos.
There are estimates that there are fewer than 25,000 OysterQuartz watches produced. The last appearance of the Reference 17000 stainless in a Rolex catalog was 2001, with the two-tone and all gold models staying in the catalog until 2003.
The 1970s was an important time for luxury watches. It was the decade that saw the birth of such icons as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (1972), the Patek Philippe Nautilus (1976), the redesigned IWC Ingenieur (1976), and the Vacheron Constantin 222 (1977). Responsible for the design of the first three watches was none other than famed watch designer, Gerald Genta, while the man behind the 222 was Jorg Hysek—Genta’s apprentice of sorts.
With their oversized cases, strong lines, and integrated bracelets, these sporty watches took on a more casual chic approach to fine watches. Not to be outdone, Rolex also unveiled a similarly styled watch in 1977: the Oysterquartz. While certainly a product of its era flaunting distinct design codes and a very special Rolex caliber, the Rolex Oysterquartz mens two tone ref. 17013 is far from dated. Rather, it’s an interesting piece of Rolex history that’s as joyful to wear today as it was when first released. As a result, let’s celebrate an important time for luxury watches with a closer look at the two tone Oysterquartz Datejust.
Although some important watch designs came out of the seventies, let’s not forget it was also a massively turbulent time for the watch industry. In fact, it’s a period referred to as the “Quartz Crisis” due to the availability of cheap Japanese quartz calibers. These readily available calibers threatened to topple the Swiss watch industry, which had focused almost exclusively on mechanical movements. 20 Swiss watch brands did come together in the early 1960s to develop a Swiss quartz caliber they could all use. The result was the Beta-21 quartz caliber.
Rolex was part of that consortium and the first Rolex quartz watch ref. 5100 ran on the Beta-21. However, the company eventually left the group to make their own in-house quartz caliber and by 1977 they introduced two of them. They are the Cal. 5035 for the Oysterquartz Datejust and the Cal. 5055 for the Oysterquartz Day Date. Remember, before you balk at quartz, these are the most accurate timepiece movements ever made by Rolex. These calibers come equipped with 12 jewels and typical of quartz movements, the Oysterquartz watches tick very loudly!
As a Datejust model, the two tone Oysterquartz ref. 17013 runs on the Caliber 5035 quartz movement. The early releases of the Caliber 5035 were not certified by COSC but after 1979, all Cal. 5035 did receive the official chronometric certification. Therefore, there are two tone Oysterquartz ref. 17013 watches with the “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” designation on the dial and a few without. They only produced the latter watches for a short amount of time, and are, of course, more rare to find.
The two tone Oysterquartz ref. 17013 is about as 1970’s glamorous as they get! From the sharp lines that frame the round 36mm case to the Jubilee style integrated bracelet to the familiar two-tone combination of yellow gold and stainless steel, this is a great looking luxury watch. Although they both have the same 36mm size on paper, because of its shape, the Oysterquartz version of the Datejust wears bigger than the mechanical editions.
The yellow gold accents on the two tone Oysterquartz ref. 17013 include the distinguished fluted bezel, the winding crown, and a duo of links running through the bracelet. Not only is the look of the Oysterquartz unmistakable, but the two-tone version brings some serious style to the table. Depending on the production year, Rolex produced ref. 17013 with 14k yellow gold or 18k yellow gold.
The Datejust ref. 17013 is the only two tone Oysterquartz Rolex ever made. And while it enjoyed a production span of 25 years, Rolex only manufactured less than 1,000 Oysterquartz watches annually. As a result, the two tone Oysterquartz Datejust ref. 17013 is one of the rarest Rolex watches you can get your hands on today.