Jewelry & Watches

Why Rolex Watches Have Been on Holiday Wish Lists Since 1926

Precision and protection are the hallmarks of the 91-year-old archetype of modern watches.
IMAGE COURTESY ROLEX
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Can you believe that the Rolex Oyster is 91 years old? When the nonagenarian was introduced in 1926, it was considered a revolution for timekeeping as the first completely hermetic and waterproof wristwatch. At the time, Rolex, under the guidance of founder Hans Wilsdorf, had already established itself as a serious watchmaker. It had received chronometer certifications, including one reserved for marine chronometers, helping transform the wristwatch from just a fancy accessory to a considerable device for timekeeping.


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What the Oyster has offered is protection, or, in Wilsdorf’s words, it guaranteed “against damage caused by dust, perspiration, water, heat, and cold.” By barring all impurities, its patented system of a screw-down bezel, case back, and twinlock winding crown has allowed the watch to maintain perfect time. It can thus be worn anywhere and always, from washing your hands to exploring the depths of the sea. “You just keep your Oyster on your wrist whatever happens and it will never fail you,” he said. With precision and protection achieved, Wilsdorf set off to conquer one last hurdle: figuring out how to wind the watch without compromising its hermetic seal. In 1931, he was able to create the self-winding mechanism we all know today as Perpetual.


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But what of that other name, the Oyster? “The fact that, like an oyster, it can remain an unlimited time underwater without detriment to its parts, gave me the idea of christening it the ‘Rolex Oyster,’” said Wilsdorf in 1945. Look at any watch today and you’re sure to find the influence of the Oyster Perpetual, whether it is in their water- resistance or self-winding ability.

Wilsdorf reportedly once said, “I prophesy that the Oyster will popularize the wearing of wristwatches with men more than anything else has done.” Nine decades after its introduction, his prediction remains true. 

Iconic Rolex Styles with the Oyster Case

Datejust 41


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The Datejust is the precursor to the other timeless oyster perpetual models such as the Day-Date and Sky-Dweller, and this solid gold and steel combination remains a Rolex icon.

Lady-Datejust 28


The Oyster Perpetual has catered to women since the ’50s. This year’s Lady-Datejust is available for the first time in a blush-colored dial.

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Submariner 904L


The Submariner represents the class of Oyster Perpetuals that put function over form. With reinforced waterproofness and a rotatable graduated bezel, this steel model conceived for deep-sea diving is as masculine as it gets.

Bonifacio High Street Central, 556.9824; rolex.com.

This story was originally published in the December 2017 - January 2018 issue of Town&Country.

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About The Author
Clifford Olanday
Senior Fashion Editor, Esquire Philippines
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