What you see are the two versions of the first Rolex Oysterreplica watch, in other words, the world’s first waterproof watch. It was tested on a swimmer’s wrist, and when it was released in 1926 it was quite important. The origin of the Oyster name is rather direct, taken from the marine mollusk of the same name, and has been a hallmark of Rolex ever since. In fact, all the Rolex watches produced today are technically in the Rolex Oyster collection (except the less common Cellini Prince models), sharing the first focus of the Rolex Oyster watch on durability and water resistance.
Rolex was a young brand when the original Rolex Oyster watch was launched, but it was not until later in Rolex’s history that the brand focused almost exclusively on the Rolex Oyster concept. Hans Wilsdorf, born in Germany and resident in London, entered the watch industry in 1905, distributing the watch in Britain and the British Empire. He produced his own watches a few years later, and the name Rolex emerged in 1908. Around 1920 he moved to Bienne, Switzerland to open Montres Rolex S.A., which is when everything really started. Only six years later, the brand’s family of distinctive products would be launched.
One thing is noticeably absent from the 1926 Rolex Oyster watches. The logo of the registered trademark of the crown is missing. A Rolex did not come up with the crown logo until the early 1930s, but you can see that in one of the pieces the name Rolex was presented with the same font and style as today. You will also notice the ribbed bezel, which is also a hallmark of the Rolex design on today’s Datejust and Day-Date models (among others).
This was part of the patented water resistance system used in Rolex Oyster. Hermetically sealed, the Rolex Oyster was innovative not only to be carried to the water, but also to resist the entry of a wide variety of liquids and particles, such as dust. The system was all about bolted elements. The original Rolex Oyster watch was innovative because the back of the case, the bezel and the crown were bolted. The fluted bezel was an important part of this because Rolex developed special tools that allowed them to hermetically seal the suitcases
An additional development that helped increase the safety of the movements was in the Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch. In 1931, Rolex developed a module to adapt to their movements that offered automatic winding, and thus the “Oyster Perpetual” was born. This new term joined Rolex Oyster and today is in the realm of all Rolex watches. This is good to know in case you have ever wondered why “Oyster Perpetual” is in the quadrant of all Rolex watches currently sold. Automatic winding was a benefit for water resistance and other durability issues because the user did not have to unscrew the crown and wind the watch manually, thereby opening a small area of the box. The perpetual rotor (as it was called) allowed to wind the clock simply with its use.
It is also worth mentioning an additional element of the history of the watch that is related to the cushion-shaped box of the original Rolex Oyster. Does it look familiar? Rolex went on to increase the size of the box and develop a diving watch for the Italian instrument company Panerai. The now iconic Panerai case was actually a Rolex creation. If you place a modern Panerai next to this small (less than 30 mm wide) Rolex Oyster, you will see exactly where your design DNA came from. While much of what Rolex is today evolved in the early years of the brand, the traditional style dials and cases of the first Rolex Oyster watches are now a thing of the past. They are quite typical of the clocks of that time. In fact, the wristwatch as a popular consumer good was not even a decade old at that time.