Throwback Thursday: Rolex Oyster the Original Sports Watch

The original Rolex Oyster took its inaugural swim in 1926.
The original Rolex Oyster took its inaugural swim in 1926.

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner is easily the world’s most recognizable watch, and often simply referred to as “the Sub” (or the “Roly Sub” if you want to distinguish it from the “Panny Sub” (Panerai Submersible) in watch collector’s parlance). But the full name is important, because it’s a partial summation of the brand’s technical heritage. The word “Oyster” refers to the case, and the name is applied to all Rolex models except the Cellini dress watches. The first Rolex Oyster was introduced and patented in 1926 – the original model is shown here – and it was the world’s first water-resistant wristwatch, something many brands had previously tried, and failed, to achieve.

It was so named because it reminded Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf of how difficult it was to pry oysters from their shells. The two-piece Oyster case with a rubber gasket and a screw down crown became the blueprint for all water-resistant cases that followed. English swimmer Mercedes Gleitze proved its mettle in 1927 when she swam the English Channel with the watch strapped to her wrist – it remained in perfect working order.

In 1931, Rolex added “Perpetual” to the name of is models when it began using an automatic movement with a “perpetual” rotor. The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner, the pride of this combined technology, was introduced in 1953. It was the first timepiece capable of submerging to 100 meters, thereby achieving cult status among divers – even before James Bond made it cool in Dr. No and Live and Let Die.

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