The History and Development of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual

Published on Sunday 13th of February 2022
Rolex Watch History

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The History and Development of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual 

The words ‘oyster’ and ‘perpetual’ are synonymous with Rolex. They are terms that appear on the dial of almost every Rolex watch made today, and symbolise the pioneering technological advancements that the horological giants put into the development of the watches made today. The name Oyster Perpetual comes from two key aspects that Rolex put into every watch they make today. Oyster refers to the water resistant properties of the watch case, and Perpetual from the name Rolex have given the automatic winding function of their movements.

Rolex have been naming their waterproof cases ‘Oyster cases’ since they created the first waterproof wristwatch in 1926. The first Rolex Oyster had a screw down crown, case back, and bezel that screwed hermetically onto the watch case. The same system is used today on all modern Rolex Oyster Case models, from the sporty Rolex Daytona, to the dressy Rolex Datejust, and even the divers watch of choice, the Rolex Submariner.


Rolex Oyster Perpetual
Rolex Oyster Perpetual


There is a lot of contradicting information around the creation of the self-winding watch, from the initial idea and designs by Abraham-Louis Breguet as early as 1780, to the first ‘bumper’ wrist watch designed by John Harwood, a watch repairer from Bolton, in 1923. But in 1930, Rolex took Harwoods ‘bumper’ design, (where a weight in the watch would move back and forth as the wearer moved, bouncing off two sprung bumpers to put power into the mainspring) and improved it to feature a centrally mounted semi-circular weight that could freely rotate inside the watch. This rotating motion constantly winds the mainspring that powers the watch, a process that Rolex call perpetual. Today, the perpetual name is not only given to watches that house a Rolex self-winding movement, but is also used by them in promotional material about their partnerships and support in the arts and technology. This ‘perpetual spirit’ defines them as a company and defines their values, allowing them to help create ‘perpetuating culture’ and ‘perpetuating knowledge’. Call it meaningless buzz-words, or clever marketing, Rolex have taken the word and run with it.

Although the term Oyster Perpetual can be used to describe almost, if not, every Rolex made today, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual is a line of watches in their own right. Often considered the ‘entry level’ Rolex watch, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual has great charm, and appeals to Rolex fans and collectors, with their clean, uncomplicated look, and sleek, understated design. Rolex have been making the Rolex Oyster Perpetual since 1931, prior to that the watches were purely mechanical, with no self-winding capability, and so were called the Rolex Oyster. The Rolex Oyster, and later the Rolex Oyster Perpetual, have been a staple of the Rolex catalogue since 1926, and have even influenced the design and creation of other Rolex models. The Rolex Oyster Perpetual that Tenzing Norgay wore when he became the first man to climb Mt. Everest for example, went on to influence the design and creation of the Rolex Explorer line, with today's Rolex Explorer ref 214270 still sporting the now iconic 3, 6, and 9 numerals that came from the Rolex Oyster that inspired the line of watches back in 1953.

Although the Rolex Oyster Perpetual has been available in many size and colour combinations in the past, with some steel and gold models being made, alongside versions with a date function. In recent years the modern Oyster Perpetual has stuck to a relatively consistent formula. Available exclusively in stainless steel, with a brushed finish oyster bracelet, and polished bezel, with the simple time only display. The modern Rolex Oyster Perpetual is filling the gap in the Rolex range for an entry model very well. In contrast to the distinct lack of frills when it comes to the case and bracelet design, the dial choices that have been available on the Oyster Perpetual have been varied, colourful, and eye catching, with options from a sunburst blue with green accents, to a deep grape purple dial available on the 39mm ref 114300.

On 1st September 2020, Rolex replaced the entire line of Oyster Perpetual watches with new designs. The new models came in five different sizes, a 28mm (ref. 276200), 31mm (ref. 277200), 34mm (ref. 124200), 36mm (ref. 126000), and 41mm (ref. 124300). Along with the new sizes, there came a new batch of dial colours to choose from, from the relatively subdued champagne dial with gold accents, the classic sunburst black dial, or slightly brighter power pink dial, all the way to the loud and proud options of bright yellow, turquoise blue or bright coral red (or orange depending on the lighting). The new size and dial options have already been greeted with relative success, with certain colours already having a lengthy waiting list at authorised dealers, and fetching attractive prices on the pre-owned watch market.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Family
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Family



Looking for a pre-owned Rolex Oyster Perpetual?

Looking for a pre-owned Rolex?


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