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The Symbol of Water Resistance: The Rolex Oyster Case

September 4, 2018

BY Paul Altieri


For nearly a century, Rolex watches have been synonymous with reliability, precision, and water resistance. Today, even Rolex’s most luxurious and dress-oriented watches such as the Day-Date and Sky-Dweller are protected by a 100-meter depth rating, which is more than enough for the vast majority of people’s day-to-day needs.

Rolex Oyster Case

The Rolex Day-Date President ref. 118206 in platinum is not only for show, it is still an oyster.

The Beginning of the Rolex Oyster Case

Rolex’s history of water resistant watches dates back to 1926, company founder Hans Wilsdorf, registered the world’s first waterproof watch case: the Oyster. This ability to completely seal the watch against moisture and dirt was made possible by Rolex’s patented system of screwing down the bezel, case-back, and winding crown against the middle case of the watch.

The Oyster case relied on a winding stem and crown design that has its origins in a patent initially filed by Paul Perregaux and Georges Peret in 1925. When Wilsdorf saw their design, he purchased all rights to the patent from them and used elements of their screw-down crown design in his own Oyster case, which he later registered the following year. Although Rolex’s Oyster case with signature screw-down crown received the credit as the world’s first waterproof wristwatch case, it was the original design by Perregaux and Peret that made Wilsdorf’s vision possible.

Rolex Oyster Case

The Rolex Oyster Case includes the crown which plays a role in its ability to keep water outside.

The initial design of Rolex’s Oyster case required both the bezel and the case-back of the watch to be screwed onto the middle case to ensure a tight seal. Consequently, the fluting on the bezel was identical to the fluting on the back, which corresponded to the proprietary tool that Rolex had designed to open the watch. Today, bezels are pressure fitted onto the middle case of the watch rather than screwed on; however bezel fluting has remained as an aesthetic element on certain Rolex watches, a signature feature of the brand that is only ever manufactured in solid gold.

Rolex Oyster Case

Rolesor Rolex Datejust II has a fluted bezel in white gold.

The Mollusk That Changed Rolex

As legend has it, the “Oyster” name came to Hans Wilsdorf one night at a dinner party, while he was struggling to open up an oyster. The tight closure of the mollusk’s shell was symbolic of the watertight seals present on his watchcase, and the aquatic habitat of the animal alluded to the Oyster case’s ability to withstand significant exposure to water.

Rolex Oyster Case

Thanks to technology Rolex watches can reach new depths.

Living Proof

After perfecting the design of his Oyster case, Hans Wilsdorf set out to prove his design to the public and spread the word about his waterproof wristwatches. In 1927, English swimmer, Mercedes Gleitze wore an Oyster watch around her neck while swimming across the English Channel. The swim lasted over 10 hours, throughout which the Oyster watch remained in perfect working condition. The swim proved Wilsdorf’s claims about his waterproof Oyster case to the public, and marked one of the first instances of using athletes or celebrities’ testimonials as part of a marketing strategy for a wristwatch.

Rolex Oyster Case

Since its inception till today, Rolex keeps their watches water resistant.

Rolex’s Oyster case has become the gold standard of water resistance within the luxury watch industry and the fluting – still present on the case-back, is now one of the defining hallmark traits of the brand. Rolex has been pioneering the world of water-resistant watches since 1926, and their current Oyster case represents the culmination of nearly a century worth of refinement and the never-ending pursuit of perfection.



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