Introduction to the Rolex Oyster Perpetual
The name Oyster Perpetual means two different things in the Rolex universe. There’s the Oyster Perpetual range, which are Rolex watches that are both water-resistant and automatic. This is why you’ll see the words “Oyster Perpetual” on the dials of famous Rolex timepieces like the Datejust, Day-Date and Submariner.
On the other hand, Oyster Perpetual watches are Rolex’s entry-level timepieces with straightforward time-only dials. Due to their affordable prices and minimalist style, pre-owned Oyster Perpetual watches in steel are popular starter Rolex watches.
History of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual
In 1926, Rolex’s founder, Hans Wilsdorf, invented the world’s first waterproof wristwatch. He called it the Oyster. The hermetically sealed Rolex Oyster watch featured a patented system that brought together a screw-down bezel, caseback and winding crown.
In 1931, Rolex unveiled the first self-winding system for a wristwatch equipped with a free rotor named the Perpetual rotor. The rotor oscillates freely in both directions thanks to the natural motions of the wearer’s wrist, thus constantly winding the watch. Therefore, Oyster Perpetual simply means an automatic water-resistant Rolex watch.
The combination of the waterproof Oyster case and the automatic Perpetual movement made way for the now-iconic Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches. The earliest versions of vintage Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches picked up the nickname “Bubbleback” due to their bulbous casebacks to accommodate the thick rotor.
Over the following decades, Rolex used the waterproof and automatic Oyster Perpetual as the basis of most of its watches, but added a variety of other functions and design touches to create entirely new models. The Oyster Perpetual Datejust featured a date window at 3 o’clock while the Oyster Perpetual Day-Date included both a date window and day window. In the 1950s, Rolex unveiled a slew of tool watches including the Oyster Perpetual Explorer for adventurers, the Oyster Perpetual Submariner for divers, the Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master for pilots and the Oyster Perpetual Milgauss for scientists.
By the late 1960s, Rolex released the first Submariner with a date window, complete with the text “Oyster Perpetual Date” on the dial. Modern Rolex sports watches with date windows, such as the Submariner Date, GMT-Master II, Explorer II, Yacht-Master, and Sea-Dweller will all have “Oyster Perpetual Date” on the dial. However, this is not to be confused with the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date watch model, which is similar to the Datejust—the biggest difference being its smaller case size.
Although Rolex developed the Oyster Perpetual range into a vast assortment of famous watches equipped with various mechanical complications and design features, the brand never abandoned the Oyster Perpetual base model. In 2015, Rolex introduced the largest version yet with the Oyster Perpetual 39.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Timeline
Rolex Oyster Perpetual
While there are plenty of old Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches in gold, modern versions are exclusively made in stainless steel. Current Oyster Perpetual watches share the following design traits:
Round stainless steel Oyster cases water-resistant to 100 meters
Time-only dials with three hands at center
Stainless steel Oyster bracelets
Although the watches themselves are the simplest Rolex models, the brand does offer many dial colors within the collection, ranging from black and white to vibrant red grape and blue.
Rolex makes both men’s Rolex Oyster Perpetual and women’s Oyster Perpetual watches, currently available in five different sizes:
- Oyster Perpetual 39 ref. 114300 (Caliber 3132)
- Oyster Perpetual 36 ref. 116000 (Caliber 3130)
- Oyster Perpetual 34 ref. 114200 (Caliber 3130)
- Oyster Perpetual 31 ref. 177200 (Caliber 2231)
- Oyster Perpetual 26 ref. 176200 (Caliber 2231)
Regardless of the specific caliber, all Oyster Perpetual watches run on automatic movements with a power reserve of about 48 hours.
In 2015, the company redefined its Superlative Chronometer certification whereby all Rolex watches, including Oyster Perpetual, boast an accuracy rating of −2/+2 seconds per day.
As a watch that’s rated to be water-resistant to 100 meters deep, it’s safe to take a modern used Oyster Perpetual watch swimming as long as the winding crown is safely screwed into the case. However, vintage Oyster Perpetual watches may no longer be water-resistant, therefore it is not recommended to get them wet.
Oyster Perpetual Collectability
As the brand’s entry-level model, Oyster Perpetuals are the least expensive Rolex watches in the current catalog. The retail price for the Rolex Oyster Perpetual 114300 with the largest 39mm case is $5,700, while the Oyster Perpetual 36 retails for $5,400.
Oyster Perpetual 39 watches hold their value impressively well in the secondary market, with pre-owned versions selling close to (or even above) retail prices. On the other hand, since the 36mm version has been around longer, pre-owned Oyster Perpetual 116000 models can be found for about $1,000 less than retail in the secondary market.
Vintage Oyster Perpetual “Bubbleback” models are popular with some Rolex collectors and are typically priced between $3,500 and $5,500.