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How Rolex Revolutionized the Waterproof Watch

August 15, 2011

BY Paul Altieri



During her swim she had a Rolex Oyster Perpetual which remained in perfect working condition.

Mercedez Gleitze sets a record by swimming the English Chanel.


Mercedes Gleitze

It was October 7, 1927 when Mercedes Gleitze set out to swim the challenging English Channel with the world’s first waterproof wristwatch. For 10 hours straight (beginning at 2:55 a.m.), she boldly swam across the channel as the Rolex Oyster stayed in perfect working order. Gleitze would regularly read the watch in an effort to gauge her progress and couldn’t helped but be awed by the fact that it continued to tick! Following her swim, she said “The Oyster which I carried on my Channel swim proved itself a reliable and accurate timekeeping companion even though it was subjected to complete immersion for hours in sea water at a temp of not more than 58.”

Vintage Rolex Oyster Perpetual is Waterproof

Though it is not the exact watch Mercedes Gleitze wore on her swim, it is a close relative.

Oyster Perpetual

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual model was first conceived in 1908 by Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf. Not waterproof to begin with, it took several years for Wilsdorf to investigate into factors that make most watches unreliable and susceptible to damage. He was soon to discover that dust and moisture were the biggest culprits, as both elements seemed to enter through the winder. To solve the issue, he developed the “Screw Crown.” The watch was then deemed waterproof and made the central focus of a clever advertising campaign in which the watch was featured dangling in a fish tank. The public was amazed by the ads and quickly gained a deeper knowledge the Rolex family of watches. A significant feat for the Submariner model in the future.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual was first introduced in 1908.

The modern Rolex Oyster Perpetual has been built up to this over the years.


Rolex watch lovers were amazed at the fact that the Rolex Oyster Perpetual could be taken to depths of 330 feet. To prove that this was so, Rolex arranged for the watch to be attached to the side of the Trieste Bathyscaphe or “deep boat” that dove to 11,000 meters in the ocean. The Rolex Oyster performed perfectly throughout the entire process and wowed all who participated in the adventure. Later on, Rolex will perform deeper dives into the ocean to continually expand on their technological innovations with the Rolex DeepSea Sea-Dweller proven by James Cameron.

The Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller can go up to 12,800ft

The Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller ref. 116660 is the deepest watch to explore the depths of the oceans.

Waterproof Brothers

Because of its masterful design, the oyster waterproof case was used as the blueprint for today’s leading models including Oyster Perpetual, the Datejust, used Rolex Submariner, GMT, Explorer, Day-Date and more. One can’t help but marvel at the fact that Wilsdorf’s careful design work is just as relevant today as it was in the mid-20s. It is no wonder that watch enthusiasts around the world respect Rolex and its commitment to excellence and innovation! From the details of the screw down crown to the HEV Rolex has come a long way.



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