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Archive for day July 21st, 2013

From Hans Wilsdorf to the Oyster perpetual
by admin


On the 22nd of March 1881 Hans Wilsdorf was born in Kulmbach, Bavaria (D) into a successful, middle class family of iron mongers. Wilsdorf became an orphan at the age of twelve and he moved to his aunt and uncle. They directly sent him to boarding school in Coburg (40 km from his home). Wilsdorf had a terrible time here and he indulged himself completely in his schoolwork to survive. The fact that he learned the English language perfectely here was the first illustration of his brilliant thoughtfulness.

One day Wilsdorf decided that he had enough of school and he traveled to Switzerland to start working for a dealer in pearls. He started to learn the business and remarked that, without producing anything, they made good profit. Wilsdorf saw how the pearls were bought from different sources, sorted and sent to the juwelers after their grade was determined. Working here was a very useful experience for Wilsdorf.

Finally he got a job at the growing watch company Cuno-Korten in Switzerland. He was hired because he was fluent in English. Wilsdorf handled all corresponce with the British Empire and the US which were the richest nations. It was at this company that Wilsdorf’s lifelong passion for watches and their accuracy started.

The year 1905 was crucial for the start of Rolex, a couple of years later. Wilsdorf, together with his brother-in-law James Davis, started the watch import firm Wilsdorf & Davis in London.


Wilsdorf, yet again, showed to have great thoughtfulness. He foresaw a trend in which wrist watches would start to replace pocket watches. He convinced a small watch maker, Hermann Aegler in Bienne, to start making calibers that were small enough to fit in a wrist watch. The phenomenon wrist watch received a lot of cynism. With a nice pocket watch a man was respected and it was even said that a gentleman would rather wear a skirt than a wrist watch!
Watch makers feared that the watch would be too small to be accurate enough and that it could not withstand the constant movement of the wrist. They thought that dust and dirt were also going to cause trouble to the watch. Only a few watch makers dared to make wrist watches.

The reluctance of the watch industry motivated Wilsdorf to keep making wrist watches smaller and more accurate. In cooperation with Aegler, who now had a reputation of making good lever escapement watches, a small caliber was developed. The first order was a milestone because the worth of it (several 100.000s Swiss Francs) was five times the total capital of Wilsdorf & Davis.


From this moment on Wilsdorf fabricated and sold watches (case and caliber were imported from Bienne). He wanted his watches to be available for a broad public, not too expensive, stylish and accurate. Wilsdorf’s vision was again that of a genius. He offered the watches in a variety of cases: sports, casual, formal and other forms. Direct result from this was that the clients bought several watches, depending on what their activities were. The wrist watch became very popular among the sporting Upper Class in England.

All the parts of the watches came from different suppliers. At that time it was still common that the name of the supplier was stamped on the dial and the caliber. Wilsdorf realised that he very much needed to create his own watch brand to make a difference with all the others (which he also saw as inferior to his watches because he was the only one demanding strict tests before the watch was sold).


On the 2nd of July 1908 Wilsdorf & Davis registered the name ‘Rolex’ as trademark in La-Chaux-de-Fond. There are several stories about the origin of the word ‘Rolex’. Some say it is a combination of ‘Horlogerie’ and ‘Exquisite’ and others say it is short for ‘Rex Horologlorum’. But most likely Wilsdorf was inspired by George Eastman who in 1884 didn’t call his camera Eastman 25 but Kodak. Eastman had already said that a brand name has to be short, sharp and not prone to misspelling which would destroy it’s identity. Also important, because of trademark laws, was that the word didn’t mean anything.
For Wilsdorf it was also important that the name would fit nicely on the dial and that it was easy to pronounce in many languages.
Rumours say that Wilsdorf, during his morning ride in the tram, in sunny weather came up with the name ‘ROLEX’.

In the beginning Wilsdorf had an unforeseen battle to fight to get the name Rolex on the watch and not that of the supplier. During that period Rolex watches also wore the following names: X/L, W/D, Marconi, Genex, Rolco, Oyster and Tudor.

Next follows an overview of the most important facts in Rolex history leading to the Rolex Oyster perpetual:

- 1910: Test of a Rolex watch by the School of Horology in Bienne. It was graded excellent and received a chronometer certificate, the first wrist watch with this certificate.

- 1914: Class A Certificate from the Kew Observatory in England. First wrist watch to pass these tests, normally for large chronometers. Accurate in 5 positions and 3 different temperatures. From now on every Rolex chronometer got a Official Timing Certificate.

- 1919: After WOI import taxes were 33% and Wilsdorf was forced to leave England and go to Switzerland. In Geneva he founded Montres Rolex S.A.
Later Rolex S.A. of Geneva and Manufacture des Montres Rolex S.A. of Bienne (Jean Aegler) merged after which there was one company that was controlled by the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation (an institution with the intent to spend a part of the profit on non-profit organisations. The Foundation was founded in 1945 by Wilsdorf who had no children).

According to Wilsdorf there were 3 components that a wrist watch needed to have: precision, waterproof and self-winding (he even thought that one component was useless without the other two). Of course watch makers had been busy for years to try to fit the three components in one watch but they still hadn’t found a solution for the 2 most vulnerable parts: crown and winding system. It was clear to Wilsdorf that a watch was as good as the case could protect all the parts inside. This puzzle had become very relevant for Rolex because their watches were also sold in Africa and the Far East. The ships from England took so long to reach their destination that at the arrival 50% of the watches was rusted.

- 1926: The creation of the Rolex Oyster, a wrist watch with the crown screwed to the case with a twin lock system. Just like an Oyster the case was now water and air tight. To test the water resistance of the case they developed a test with which 0,05 mg of water could be detected when the case was under water. After intensive marketing and advertising the Rolex trademark was introduced in 1925 and from 1927 all the watches had ‘Rolex’ stamped on the inside of the case, the caliber and the dial.

- 1927: Mercedes Gleitze, a young stenographe from London, swimmed the Channel with a Rolex Oyster as part of her gear (see article: Mercedes Gleitze). Juwellers now had aquaria in their show rooms with gold fishes swimming around a Rolex Oyster; Oyster’s were now garanteed water proof to 100 m

The next event that showed that a Rolex was reliable under all circumstances was the flight that Lt. Cathgart Jones made. He flew from London to Melbourne and back, a trip of over 25.000 miles, after which his Rolex watch was only a couple of seconds of the right time.

- The last challenge for Rolex now was the development of an automatic winding system. Half way during the 19th century Abram-Louis Perrelet Senior, a watch maker from Le Locle, invented the first such system. Abram-Louis Breguet in Paris and Recordon in London perfected the system but is was only used for 20 years because it was much to vulnerable.

After WOI Englishman John Harwood invented an automatic winding sytem but still not good enough for Wilsdorf. The system had to be completely automatic, quiet, winding in both directions and no buffer coils. The main problem was how to protect the mainspring from getting overloaded because of the constant movements of the wrist.

- 1931: Emile Borer, head of technique at Rolex, invented the ‘Rotor’. Finally Rolex had found the solution and developed the ideal automatic winding system. The ‘Rotor’ had the shape of a half moon and with every movement of the wrist the Rotor followed because of gravity. It also turned out that the automatic watches were more accurate than the hand winding ones because the energy to the mainspring was much more constant

Jaap Bakker

July 21st


7 Variants of the Double Red Sea-Dweller
by admin

This article is about the Double Red Sea-Dwellers that were made between 1967 and 1969 (serial numbers between 1.7 and 2.2 million). There are dials with a line in red and other dials with two lines in red without the number ’2000′. The initial dial is in red, possibly printed on a white background, and both lines have the same format font. A couple of watches of this version have a faded dial causing the red letters to have changed into rose or white. The ‘O’ under the five fingers of the Rolex crown is clearly visible. Most versions of this model have ‘patent pending’ on the back of the case.







The second version of the dial can be found in about 1.7 million cases. The distinctive character of this dial is the way it is printed. In general the print is in clear red and applied directly on the background. The font of the second line is smaller. In rare cases the dial is faded into matt black, light brown or chocolate which are also called the ‘chocolate dial’. The fingers of the crown are disfigured and the ‘O’ is practically non existent.





This version is rare. The red print on the dial looks very much like the one on version 2 but here the crown is clearly printed and it has a flat lower part, looking like the first version. The ‘D’ in Sea-Dweller is in line with the ‘R’ in submariner 2000. In version 2 the ‘D’ is in line with the ‘I’ of submariner 2000. Version 3′s print is comparable with Version 2′s but the space between the depth markers is different and so is the crown.




The final version of the dial was made for general production and is the most common one. The red print is clear but not heavy and when one uses a magnifying glass the print looks like it’s made of small dots. The font of the upper red line is significantly bigger than that of the second line. The crown is big, the five fingers are clearly printed and the ‘O’ is rather big.





This is a common version of the dial. The crown is the same as in the second version. The upper two lines are in red. Depth markings ‘ft’ and ‘m’ are in italics and the most important detail is the markers containing luminova.





This is the white Sea-Dweller dial with markers in luminova and red print over the word ‘SEA-DWELLER’.







Jaap Bakker

July 21st


Rolex for the army: special order or standard issue?
by admin

As collectors know several Rolex models exist with a marque of an army unit on the back of the case. For instance the British broad arrow on some Submariner models from the 60s and 70s.
Then in January 1990 the strangest thing happened. Rolex wrote a letter to Italian collectors saying that these kind of watches were never made. How is this possible?

The answer is that these watches were never specifically designed for the army but that several units were given standard watches that were in production at that moment and that were modified (for instance different hands or other numbers on the bezel).

There is always an exception to the rule and in this case, as the letter said, that is the:” Radiomir Panerai produced in the 40s by our dealer for the Italian Navy. This watch was specially made for their famous Commando divers and it was designed and manufactured by Panerai. Rolex was only the supplier of the calibers so there was no Rolex on the watches”.
But there is another question that is still unanswered after reading these lines. A letter of intent (11/1954) between G. Panerai & Figlio and S.A. Montres Rolex Geneva said the following: “The deal is cristal clear that the waterproof watches with the Oyster cases G. 6152 and G. 6154 (or comparable models) who have been made for over 15 years at the request of and solely for the Panerai firm, are absolutely for G. Panerai & Figlio and can not be supplied to a third party with a Rolex or another caliber”.

The question remains open if Rolex only supplied the cases to Panerai or also the calibers.
Whatever the truth, it is clear that Panerai, nowadays a very popular watch brand for collectors, is one of the keystones on which the fame of Rolex is built.

RaPa 3646 wijzerplaat

Pic.: Radiomir Panerai ref 3646

RaPa 3646 kast

Pic.: Inner case with Oyster Watch Company, Geneva, Swiss

RaPa 3646 uurwerk

Pic.: Rolex cal. 618/Type 1 (typical: ‘ROLEX 17 RUBIS’ on the central bridge)

Jaap Bakker

July 21st


Sir Malcolm Campbell: the first Rolex on Daytona
by admin

“ World’s record speeds are decided by fractions of a second. Tuning a car for a world mark is therefore a battle against time. To win, you must have a combination of a perfect car, the right course and favorable weather. And I am going to add another requisite-luck, which always plays a large part in such undertakings. By luck I mean what Americans call having the ‘breaks’. Daytona Beach, Florida is the only place I know where it is possible to make world’s land-speed records. The sand packs almost as hard as cement, and there is sufficient length to get up speed. “ – Sir Malcolm Campbell (May 1932)


Pic.: Sir Malcolm Campbell wearing a Rolex Oyster

Malcolm Campbell was born in 1885 in Chislehurst, Kent, as the only son of William Campbell who was a diamond merchant in Hatton Garden. After being a student at Uppingham School Malcolm went to Germany to become a diamond dealer himself. In Germany he developed an interest in motorcycles and racing. Back in the UK he worked for Lloyd’s in London for two years, starting with an income zero the first year and a pound a week the next.

During the period from 1906 till 1908 he won all three of the London to Lakes End Trials (motorcycle races). In 1910 he started racing cars at Brooklands. He called his car Blue Bird, painted blue, after seeing the play The Blue Bird by Maurice Maeterlinck at the Haymarket Theatre.

During WWI he served in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment and in the RAF.

Sir Malcolm Campbell became famous because all of the speed records on land and water that he broke. He also raced successfully in several Grand Prix car races. In 1927 and 1928 he won the Grand Prix de Boulogne in France driving a Bugatti T37A.

A list of his most important land speed records looks like this:

- The first time he broke the record was in 1924 with a speed of 146.16 mph (235.22 km/h) on Pendine Sands near Carmarthen Bay, driving a 350 bhp V12 Sunbeam (presently in the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu). Between 1924 and 1935 he broke 9 speed records, 3 on Pendine Sands and 5 on Daytona Beach. For the first two attemps he used a Sunbeam.

- On the 4th of February 1927 Campbell broke the record on Pendine Sands. He drove the ‘Flying Kilometre’ (the average of two attemps) with a speed of 174.883 mph (281.447 km/h) and the ‘Flying Mile’ with 17.224 mph (280.386 km/h). The car was the Napier-Campbell Blue Bird.

- On the 3rd of September 1935 he obtained his last land speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah (US). He was the first person to drive more than 300 mph in a car, with an average of 301.337 mph (484.955 km/h) in two runs.

After having conquered land the next challenge for Campbell were the speed records on water. He developed his boat, called Bluebird, in Tilgate Lake, in Tilgate Park, Crawley, were he also tested the buoyancy of the boat.
He succeeded in braking 4 speed records on water, the highest speed being 141.740 mph (228.108 km/h) in the Bluebird K4 (the 19th of August 1939 in Coniston Water, UK).

Sir Malcolm Campbell died on the 31st of December 1948 after having several strokes. He was one of a few speed record holders on land who have died of natural causes.

Rolex and Sir Malcolm Campbell have always been close, as the following pictures illustrate.


Pic.: An ad from 1933 featuring the Rolex Oyster that Campbell wore during his record attempt. In these days people were very proud paying for their Rolex themselves and Campbell didn’t want to get any money from Rolex. Chuck Yeager (first man to fly above Mach 1 in 1947) had the same pride


Pic.: Rolex advertisement from 1930. The picture dates back to 1927 when Campbell broke yet another land speed record on Pendine Sands. With his Bluebird Napier-Lion, 12 cilinders and 450 bhp, he drove 174.88 mph (279.81 km/h)


Pic.: Campbell at Daytona Beach clearly wearing his Rolex over his sleave


MalCam:BB kleur

MalCam:BB'27MalCam:speedlimit waterMalCam:BBboot'49

Jaap Bakker

July 21st


The Rolex Daytona and the Zenith El Primero caliber 400
by admin


After having trusted the hand winding Valjoux caliber 72, and some variations of this caliber (read the article: ‘Valjoux 72: the start of the Daytona’), for a long time Rolex in 1987 decided to go and use a Zenith caliber to make the Daytona tick. Zenith had started the production of their El Primero caliber 400 in 1969 and, after being off the market for several years, from 1986 it was available again. The most interesting feature of the Zenith caliber 400 was that it oscillated with a frequency of 36.000 beats per our, where 18.000, 21.600 or 28.800 bph were common. This higher frequency made the watch more accurate.

The caliber 400 made by Zenith was the only chronograph watch with automatic winding that complied with the very high quality standard that Rolex employed. However, it was not that Zenith sent Rolex the calibers 400 and that they placed them untouched into the case. Far from that, Rolex made several adjustments to the 400 as listed below:

- A new escapement with a much bigger, free moving balance and a balance coil with Breguet overcoil; a Rolex preferred and more expensive configuration that leads to a higher accuracy
- The oscillation frequency was lowered from 36.000 to 28.800 bph; this to lower the need for regular maintenance.
- The date function was removed from the watch

With all the adjustments made Rolex had modulated circa 80% of the original Zenith caliber. The new Rolex caliber 4030 was born.
The Daytona with caliber 4030 had reference number 16520. Ref. 16520 differed from earlier versions of the Daytona in having sapphire glass and a couple of esthetic changes. Influenced by other Rolex sports watches from that era, for instance the Submariner, the diameter of the case had grown from 37 to 40 mm. The surface of the dials were now lacquered and shiny versus matte (black) or metallic (silver). The dial had metal hour indexes, laid in with radiant material. The sub dials had a thin scale with an opposite colour and a metal bezel.

Rolex made the ref 16520 from 1987 until 2000. In 2000 they started with their first chronograph driven by a manufacture watch.
As can be seen in the list below the era 1987-2000 can be divided into six periods in which slide changes were made to the Daytona. The most interesting are the following three:

- 1987(late)-1988: ‘floating’ Cosmograph, ‘Cosmograph’ stands alone in the middle of the dial
- 1989-1990(early): 4 lines, ‘officially certified’ is missing on the dial
- 1990(early)-1993(early): ‘inverted’ 6, the ‘6’ on the sub dial at 6 o’clock is inverted and looks like a ‘9’

The complete list of the production of the Rolex Daytona ref 16520 in the period 1987-2000:



Pic.: 1988

DayZe:89:detail wp

Pic.: 1989


Pic.: 1991


Pic.: 1992


Pic.: 1995


Pic.: 1999

Jaap Bakker

July 21st