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Watchword: What’s the Rolex Oyster?

June 14, 2017

BY Paul Altieri


There’s no word as closely linked to Rolex as “Oyster.” But what exactly is the Rolex Oyster? For this article, we go back to basics and delve into the origins, evolution, and present-day Rolex Oyster.

Rolex Oyster

Rolex has since then carried the pattern to keep their timepieces highly resistant to water.

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The Origins of the Rolex Oyster

Today, the Rolex catalog is divided into two categories: Oyster and Cellini. Therefore, Oyster refers to any model that has a sealed watch case invented by the company in 1926. Taking on the name for the mollusk that can seal itself shut to keep the water out, the Oyster was the world’s first waterproof wristwatch. This was possible thanks to its innovative construction. The Rolex Oyster’s bezel, caseback, and winding crown were all screwed into the middle part of the case, thus preventing any water from entering. The fluting of the bezel—a hallmark of Rolex dress watches today—actually served a practical purpose on the first Rolex Oyster watch by allowing the bezel to be screwed down and sealed shut.

Rolex Oyster

A Stainless Steel Rolex Submariner is an Oyster Perpetual.

One year after the Rolex Oyster made its debut, the watch made a splash heard around the world. Mercedes Gleitze was a young English swimmer that made history by being the first British woman to swim the English Channel. During one of her swims across the Channel, around her neck was none other than the Rolex Oyster, which remained intact after a 10-hour swim.

To mark the momentous occasion, Rolex published the story on the cover of UK’s top newspaper, the Daily Mail. The ad read, “Rolex Oyster. The Wonder Watch that Defies the Elements.” And with that, the Rolex Oyster became the most famous watch in the country and beyond.

Rolex Oyster

Mercedes Gleitze’s swim helped prove the Rolex Oyster was a true waterproof watch. (credit: ablogtowatch.com)


The Evolution of the Rolex Oyster

After its introduction, the Rolex Oyster case became the center to almost all Rolex models. The “Oyster” label signaled the watch’s waterproofness. For instance, the Rolex Datejust, which came out almost two decades later, in 1945, sported the famed Oyster case. As did the Explorer in 1953.

Additionally, in 1953, was the unveiling of an iconic waterproof Rolex watch. This time it was the Submariner—the first watch waterproof to 330 feet (100 meters). With the introduction of the Explorer and the Submariner, Rolex also presented the Rolex Oyster Professional concept.

Subsequently, any Rolex watch intended to be used as a tool was labeled as a Rolex Oyster Professional. Think the Submariner for diving, the GMT-Master for flying, the Cosmograph Daytona for racecar driving, and so on.

Rolex Oyster

The GMT-Master is intended to be a tool watch and it carries the “Oyster”.

Over the years, Rolex continuously enhanced the Oyster case. For example, depending on the model there’s the Twinlock (two sealed areas) or Triplock (three sealed areas) screw-down winding crown. The water resistance across all models increased and the Oyster cases became sturdier.

The Rolex Oyster Today

Today, if a modern Rolex includes the Oyster label, it has a minimum water resistance of 330 feet (100 meters). Of course, the Rolex diving watches have even higher water depth ratings. The Submariner is water resistant to 1,000 feet, while the Sea-Dweller can dive down to 4,000 feet. Furthermore, the Rolex Deepsea boasts water resistance to an incredible 12,800 feet!

Rolex Oyster

Technology will continue to deepen the waterproofness of a watch.

Modern Rolex Oyster watches are available in 904L stainless steel, 18k yellow gold, 18k white gold, 18k Everose gold (a patented Rolex pink gold alloy), and 950 platinum. Aside from Cellini models, all contemporary Rolex watches are indeed Oyster ones, carrying on the legacy of that groundbreaking timepiece from 1926.




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