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What do the words 'Oyster Perpetual' mean on a Rolex?

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 126000
Rolex Oyster Perpetual reference 126000

Nowadays, the words ‘Oyster Perpetual’ are present on the upper portion of the dial of all Rolex models currently in production, but what do these two words actually mean?

Let’s look at the word ‘Oyster’ first. In 1926, Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, created the world’s first waterproof watch. Wilsdorf revolutionised the design of the watch with a patented screw down case back and crown which allowed the watch to be sealed from water and dust. Coining the watch the ‘Oyster’ model, Wilsdorf chose this name as the watch was clamped shut like an Oyster shell to survive under water. To this day, the term ‘Oyster’ is present on all watches made by Rolex which are waterproof to 100m or beyond.

Rolex Oyster watch 1926
Rolex Oyster watch 1926 (Image: Rolex)

A few years later in 1931, Wilsdorf once again came forward with another revolution in watchmaking design. Rolex unveiled a self-winding mechanism negating the need to manually wind the watch in order for it to run. Known as the Perpetual rotor nodding towards it’s enduring or everlasting quality, it comprises a central mounted oscillating weight which is a half moon in size, which rotates in both directions able to cover a full 360 degrees as the wearer moves their wrist, winding the mainspring of the watch in turn powering the movement. These movements are sometimes referred to as self winding or, more commonly today, as automatic movements.

Rolex Perpetual Movement 1931
Rolex Perpetual Movement (Image: Rolex)

In 1946, these two terms appear side by side for the first time with the release of the Rolex Datejust model under reference number 4467. While there were watches made following this period which were ‘Oyster’ but still a manual wind (non-perpetual), such as the quintessential Oysterdate model, Rolex made their entire range of watches exclusively ‘Oyster Perpetual’ around 1989.

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