The word “Oyster” can be found on every Rolex model except for the Celini. The other word that you typically see is “Perpetual”. Oyster here refers to the water proof case, and Perpetual here refers to the automatic movement. What’s interesting to me is that Rolex movement varies by models, while the case is the same for all non-Celini model, and it has been like that with minor changes for close to 100 years. Let’s take a look of a quick history of the Oyster case and what makes it one of the best Rolex’s feature.
In 1926, Rolex introduced probably one of the most significant watch that set precedent for all watches to come. They introduced the world’s first waterproof watch named “Oyster” (because like an oyster, this watch’s case (or the oyster’s shell) protects the movement (the oyster’s pearl) completely dry). The only thing Rolex needed then was to get the words out about the world’s first waterproof watch and how good it is. What better way than giving it to Mercedes Gleitze, the first woman to swim the English Channel? Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, gave her the watch to use during her swim, and asked her to write a testimony if the watch still ended up functioning when she complete her swim. Write that review, she did.
There are a whole lot more history behind the Oyster case as Rolex was trying to compete against Omega for the best waterproof watch. Let’s park that for another time. Now let’s look into why, in my opinion, the Oyster case is one of the most indestructible case in the watch world.
First, the case is constructed out of a solid piece of metal whether it is 904L stainless steel, 18ct gold, or platinum. Typically, watch cases can be made by assembling different pieces together to form the body of the watch. This method is common amongst the complicated watches such as the JLC Reverso Dual Time, or the Cartier Basculante Mechanical. The reason for this is you can customize different pieces of the case to fit the enormously complicated movement. The Oyster case, on the other hand, is machined from literally a block of metal. This could also be the reason why you don’t see that many highly complicated watches from Rolex because they would have to alter their entire manufacturing chain to accommodate for a new case dimension. Because the Oyster case is constructed out of a block of metal, it is extremely durable, and I think could outlast all daily wear and tear for years.
The second component that makes this case indestructible is the screw-down case back. Screw-down case back is actually not that special since most watches use this method to secure the back of the watch. One thing I do find interesting is that Rolex rarely (or never) uses a display case back for their Oyster watches. You would think that it’s for water resistant, but the Omega Planet Ocean has a display case back and still able to achieve the 600m depth water resistant. That being said, the solid case back is a great canvas for any carving that satisfies your personalization needs.
The third and most vulnerable component on any watch, and to me the most important component that makes the Oyster case extremely waterproof, is the screw-down crown. The watch crown is the only place where the inside movement is exposed to the outer environment. There are two common types of Rolex screw-down crown: Twinlock and Triplock. Without getting into details, Twinlock means the outside environment is sealed at two zones that connects the crown to the watch case. Triplock uses the same concept, but with an extra gasket surrounding the winding stem. You can find out whether the watch is Twinlock or Triplock by looking at the crown. Twinlock crowns have 2 dots or a bar, Triplock crowns have 3 dots. Depending on the model, the watch could use Twinlock or Triplock. For example, the normal sports models (Datejust, Explorer, etc.) use Twinlock for 100m water resistance, while the dive models (Submariner, Sea Dweller, etc.) use Triplock for extra water resistance of up to 3900m
I think Rolex watches are one of the few watches that are able to handle the everyday beating, yet still shine and look at home in the board room or dressy occasions. The Oyster case plays a major role in this versatility because the case and bracelet go well with each other regardless of whether the bracelet is sporty (Oyster bracelet) or dressy (Jubilee or Presidential). The simpler looking models (Oyster Perpetual, Explorer 1, Datejust, or Day Date) also look great with a leather strap.
Rolex is typically known as the “first milestone” watch that people first splurge their money on. Typically, these watches require people to be really taken care because who would want to carelessly wear a watch that they just spent their hard-earned thousands of dollars. While in fact, the Oyster case would probably survive anything that a normal user put it through (and probably for the occasional extreme users as well). Rolex is known not for innovation, but for perfecting what they currently have, and the Oyster case is one of those perfection, though I’m sure Rolex can still make further perfection to this already perfect Oyster case.
By Daniel Q.