Fashion insiders wear it; historic moments are marked by it. Rolex’s Oyster isn’t just a watch – it’s one of the most significant timepieces.
Everyone’s an expert nowadays, but here’s a real legend and his take on the most iconic of watches: The late Gerald Genta – who was to horology what Philippe Starck is to modern design – rued how the Rolex Oyster was never one of his creations. The visionary admitted that: “Today, we cannot find a single watch that could possibly stand up to and pose a challenge to it in terms of stylistic breakthrough.”
This from a man who has designed at least 100,000 models in his lifetime for all the luxury watch brands that matter. It’s like Martin Scorsese ’fessing that, despite his incredible oeuvre, he wished he’d directed North By Northwest.
Created in 1926, Rolex’s flagship model didn’t boast any complicated mechanisms. It was groundbreaking then quite simply for being the world’s first waterproof watch. All its inner workings are stamped and machined out of a solid block of corrosion-resistant steel, 18K gold or platinum, before the timepiece’s sapphire crystal glass, flange and back of case are screwed air-tight onto it. The result: an elegant sporty design that can reach depths of 100m underwater (300m for the Submariner diver’s model), able to keep out dust and endure cold, pressure, shock and apparently anything the English Channel can inflict upon it.
This was confirmed by Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to cross the said channel. She wore it around her neck during her historic swim in 1927. (She would later become its ambassador, one of the earliest cases of celebrity endorsements known.) Ditto Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Mount Everest, though he wore it like most people do – on the wrist.
It’s also brandished by the fashion set: The watch’s many permutations have been spotted on stylist Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele (hers scream “street” in gold) and designers like Victoria Beckham (she goes for a chunky man’s size), Calvin Klein Platinum’s Kevin Carrigan (he owns a vintage piece) and Anya Hindmarch (hers is a classic Oyster Perpetual).
Now known as the Oyster Perpetual – after Rolex added the patented Perpetual self-winding mechanism to it in 1931 – there’s no better time to see how the model has shaped the label’s legacy. This year, the brand releases the most number of new or updated styles it has in the past five years, most of which are built around the Oyster case. The classic Oyster Perpetual, for example, comes in new dial colours including purple and blue. Meanwhile, the platinum 50th anniversary edition of the Cosmograph Daytona chronograph, released last year, returns – covered in gems.
This article was originally published in Female June 2014.