Rolex Oyster Perpetual Ultimate Guide

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual is widely known as the brand’s most accessible watch, with its minimal, time-only dial and entry-level price point. With a simple design that manages to be both contemporary and timeless, many view it as the perfect “one-watch” for budding collectors. This is Rolex at its most pure.

Despite this reputation, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual should not be seen as less than stellar watchmaking, especially when placed side by side with more popular models like the Daytona, Submariner, Datejust, and GMT-Master. In fact, if you’ve ever used any of those models – or any water-resistant, automatic wristwatch, you have the Oyster Perpetual to thank.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Models

Rolex Oyster Perpetual models over the years

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual formed the beginnings of every Rolex, and as the brand’s founder Hans Wilsdorf imagined them to be. Featuring pioneering water resistant technology with its hermetically sealed Oyster case, and powered by one of the world’s first automatic winding movements through its Perpetual rotor, the Oyster Perpetual set the stage for many of the Rolex watches we have come to love.

Today, Oyster Perpetual watches are still part of the Rolex portfolio, and still offer the collection’s fundamentals – excellent chronometric precision, easy reading of time, and democratic pricing.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual models from 28mm to 41mm

Rolex Oyster Perpetual models, from 28mm to 41mm

While Rolex has experimented with some of its models over the decades, the brand has also remained steadfast about its core features. Doing away with functional and aesthetic bezels, complications, and other embellishments, the sole purpose of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual has always been to tell time. With its no frills design, the range has become a symbol of elegant style while offering practical use.

The collection offers a vast range of sizes from 28mm to 41mm – and in a multitude of dial colors, from neutral to eye-catching. Due to the immense variety that the collection offers, as well as its very long history, choosing a Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch can still be overwhelming.

To help you make the perfect choice, SwissWatchExpo is breaking down the most important details about the history, features, and references of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual with our Ultimate Guide.


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A Brief History of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual was introduced as a collection in 1950, but it traces its beginnings back to 1926. It is important to go back to the previous decades to understand the Oyster Perpetual’s significance in Rolex and horological history.

Origins of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual

The words “Oyster” and “Perpetual” actually give an insight to its origins. The “Oyster” refers to its waterproof case, and the “Perpetual” refers to its self-winding movement. Both were innovations from Rolex that were bestowed to the first Rolex Oyster Perpetual timepiece.

In 1926, Rolex created the “Oyster” watch – the first mass-produced and commercially available water-resistant watch ever made. According to legend, Hans Wilsdorf got the idea for its name while trying to open an oyster during a dinner party. He thought that the case design that they were working on was very similar to the mollusk – to shield the insides from water, it was made very difficult to open, unless you had the right tools to do so.

The 1926 Rolex Oyster watch

The 1926 Rolex Oyster watch (photo: Rolex)

The following year, the Oyster’s waterproof capabilities was vindicated by a swimmer named Mercedes Gleitze. For over 10 hours, the young athlete swam across the English Channel with a Rolex Oyster attached to her, and the watch remained in perfect working order when it ended.

At last, with the Rolex Oyster, the public had access to a manually wound watch that could do almost anything.

Mercedes Gleitze swam the English Channel with a Rolex Oyster Perpetual in hand

Mercedes Gleitze swam the English Channel
with a Rolex Oyster Perpetual in hand 
(photo: Rolex)

The second half of the Oyster Perpetual’s name is a nod to the self-winding caliber that Rolex invented in 1931. Named the “Perpetual” rotor, it became the world’s first self-winding mechanism – that is, it is powered by the natural movement of the wearer’s wrist, which provides energy that makes the gears turn. It thus winds itself automatically, and is at the heart of every modern watch today.

The 1931 Perpetual Rotor

The 1931 Perpetual Rotor (photo: Rolex)

As Rolex’s collection expanded over the centuries, the “Oyster Perpetual” name ceased to apply to one specific collection only, and instead became a prefix used for succeeding models. The likes of the Daytona, Datejust, Explorer, and Yacht-Master among other all had the Oyster Perpetual as part of their name, to signify their water resistance and automatic movement.

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual as a Collection 

The original Oyster Perpetual was introduced in a 36mm case size. Over the years, different sizes were introduced, mostly in measurements that would be considered diminutive today – 26, 31, 34 and 36mm. This is why until recently, the Oyster Perpetual’s primary audience were women. While there are vintage watch aficionados who sought the 34 and 36mm sizes, for modern collectors, these were just deemed too small.

In 2015, Rolex introduced the 39mm model, to the delight of the watch world. Its initial colorways were blue, grey, and grape, with complementing square indices. Apart from the colors, the dial remained classical, with baton hour markers and straight hands. Rolex purists were even more delighted when Rolex followed up with black and white dials, not just for the 39mm edition, but for the rest of the Oyster Perpetual sizes. It was truly back to basics for the collection.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39 Rhodium Dial Steel Mens Watch 114300

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39mm Rhodium Grey Dial ref 114300

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual has been known as a classic, no-frills watch, but in the following years, it also became Rolex’s avenue for experimentation. In 2020, Rolex introduced an array of very bright and eye-catching lacquered dials for the collection – a homage to the famous “Stella” lacquer dials from 1970s Rolex Datejust and Day-Date models.

Moreover, Rolex phased out the 39mm size in favor of a 41mm size. This aligns Rolex Oyster Perpetual with the rest of Rolex’s classics, most of which have 40 or 41mm case diameters. This change, together with the bright new colors, made the Oyster Perpetual the watch to own for 2020. Famous Rolex collectors like Roger Federer, Lebron James, and Mark Wahlberg have been spotted wearing the bright dial OP 41 models. 

Roger Federer Rolex Oyster Perpetual

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual has found popularity with its new “Stella” Dials. Tennis legend Roger Federer wears a yellow dial ref 124300. (photo: Getty Images / AELTC)

With its combination of timeless, reliable design, new generation technology, and striking colors, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual has gone from an underrated classic, to one of the most sought-after watches in recent times.

Here’s a timeline of the most important milestones in the Rolex Oyster Perpetual history:

1926: Rolex unveils the “Oyster”, the world’s first waterproof and dust-proof case

1931: Rolex unveils the “Perpetual” rotor, its first automatic, self-winding movement

1950: The first Rolex Oyster Perpetual models make an appearance; they were equipped with calibers 645 and 1030

1960s: The first midsize Rolex Oyster Perpetual in 31mm is introduced

1964: The first Ladies Rolex Oyster Perpetual is introduced by Rolex

1986: The Rolex Oyster Perpetual shifts from acrylic to sapphire crystals, first used in the midsize model

2014: New Rolex Oyster Perpetual models are introduced in a wider range of sizes – 26mmm, 31mm, 34mm and 36mm

2015: Rolex adds a new size to the Rolex Oyster Perpetual line – the 39mm

2020: Rolex updates the entire Rolex Oyster Perpetual collection. The 26mm edition is replaced by a 28mm size, and the 39mm is replaced by a 41mm version.


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Key Features of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual is often overlooked for sports models like the Daytona and Submariner, or glitzy models like the Day-Date, but it remains at the heart of every Rolex timepiece. It is a cornerstone model that possesses many of the Rolex hallmarks that we see until today. Here are key features of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual.

Oyster Case and Bracelet

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual has always been equipped with an Oyster case and three-piece Oyster bracelet. While earlier models of the Oyster Perpetual were made in two-tone gold and steel models and equipped with Jubilee bracelets (such as the ref 14233), for the most part, the Oyster Perpetual has always been made in stainless steel, with matching smooth bezels and paired with Oyster bracelets.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 34mm Blue Dial Steel Mens Watch 124200

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 34mm Blue Dial Steel Mens Watch 124200


Case Sizes

Over the years, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual has been made available in a wide variety of case sizes. Today, the range offers 5 case sizes as seen below, but the rest can still be sourced from the secondary market.

24mm – discontinued
26mm – discontinued
28mm
31mm
34mm
36mm
39mm – discontinued
41mm

Rolex Oyster Perpetual in mens and ladies sizesRolex Oyster Perpetual in mens and ladies sizes 

Smooth Bezels

As mentioned before, earlier models of the Oyster Perpetual did have fluted bezels – in fact, the original Oyster watch of 1926 had the same feature to screw the crystal onto the case. Over the years, the fluted bezel has become a superfluous feature, exclusively made in 18k gold and serving as a functional decoration on the Datejust, Day-Date, Lady Datejust, and most recently, the Sky-Dweller collection. From 2014, all Oyster Perpetual models have sported smooth bezels and it is all you will find in the catalog today.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Steel Yellow Gold Black Dial Mens Watch 14233

A Rolex Oyster Perpetual ref 14233 featuring a gold fluted bezel and center links

Crown

All modern Rolex watches have a water resistance level of at least 100 meters or 330 feet. This is all thanks to the Twinlock Crown first introduced in 1953, which equips the case with two seals, one under the crown, and another inside the crown stem. Rolex has since developed the Triplock Crown for the Sea-Dweller in 1977, but it has only been used in sports models.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Midsize White Dial Ladies Watch 177200

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Midsize White Dial Ladies Watch 177200

Movement

The earliest movements used for the Rolex Oyster Perpetual were rotor assembly mechanisms that had to be bolted to existing manually wound movements. This created a rather thick caliber for the watches, and to make way for them, the cases were equipped with domed backs. These models earned the nickname “Bubbleback”.

From 1959 onwards, starting with the reference 1002, all Oyster Perpetual watches featured automatic movements that allowed for screw-down crowns and cases, and therefore thinner profiles. In 1977, Rolex introduced the Caliber 3035 to the Oyster Perpetual line. It was the first high-beat movement used for the collection, with 28,800 vibrations per hour. Today, it is regarded as one of the most reliable movements made by Rolex.

Since then, Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches have been equipped with high-beat and chronometer-certified calibers that have passed the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC) tests.

Crystals

Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches used acrylic crystals until the late 1980s, when they switched to more scratch-proof sapphire crystals.


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Generations of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Collection

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual collection has been in existence since 1950. While its fundamental design has remained the same, many upgrades have taken place over the years. Here are four major generations of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual line.

Four-digit references

REFERENCEMATERIALSCALIBER
10XX36mm, Stainless steel with fluted or milled bezels1560 / 1570
66XX34mm, Yellow gold or stainless steel with gold shell1225 / 1130

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The first Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches made an appearance around 1950, and were equipped with Caliber 645 and 1030. Back then, Rolex was using stock movements from a manufacturer called Aegler, and the automatic rotor was attached to the backs of those movements. This required more room inside the watch, so Rolex created domed casebacks for the watches, which were termed “Bubbleback”.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual ref 2764 Bubbleback

Rolex Oyster Perpetual ref 2764 Bubbleback

By 1959, Rolex Oyster Perpetual Non-Date movements were already equipped with automatic movements, which allowed for screw-down case backs and crowns.

Beginning with reference 1002 until 1038, Oyster Perpetual models were equipped with either fluted or engine-turned bezels. It was during this era that Oyster Perpetual models were also made available in solid yellow and rose gold finish, as well as Rolesor steel and gold models. Models with gold finish were equipped with Jubilee bracelets.

Rolex Date Stainless Steel Blue Dial Fluted Bezel Ladies Watch 6917

Rolex Date Stainless Steel Blue Dial Fluted Bezel Ladies Watch 6917

The two calibers used for this generation of the OP are the 1560 and 1570. They were produced until the mid-1980s.

In between, the Ladies Rolex Oyster Perpetual was introduced in 1964. Its initial case size measured only 24.6 millimeters. Models were available with Oyster or Jubilee bracelets. Earlier Ladies’ OP models were powered by the Caliber 1130, then in 1974 Rolex introduced the hacking seconds function with the Caliber 2030.


Five-digit references

REFERENCEMATERIALSCALIBER
142XX34mm, Yellow gold, two-tone, and stainless steel3000
671XX
672XX
761XX
24 or 26mm, yellow gold, two-tone, and steel2030
2130
2235

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The Rolex Oyster Perpetual 5-digit references signaled the switch from acrylic crystals to sapphire crystals – this would be the biggest change for this generation of OP models.

Movements were also upgraded to the 2130 for the ladies’ models, which had better accuracy at  tolerances of just -4/+6 seconds a day. Ladies sizes would be increased to 25.9mm, and back to 25mm.


Six-digit references

REFERENCEMATERIALSCALIBER
17720031mm, Stainless steel with smooth bezel2231
11600036mm, Stainless steel with smooth bezel3130
11430039mm, Stainless steel with smooth bezel3132
27620028mm, Stainless steel with smooth bezel2232
27720031mm, Stainless steel with smooth bezel2232
12420034mm, Stainless steel with smooth bezel2232
12600036mm, Stainless steel with smooth bezel3230
12430041mm, Stainless steel with smooth bezel3230

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In 2014, we saw the introduction of the new Rolex Oyster Perpetual in four different case diameters – 26mm, 31mm, 34mm, and 36mm. The following year, Rolex added a 39mm case size with new colorways – blue with green index markers, grey with blue index markers, and “grape” or purple with red index markers. With this new range, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual became the most flexible collection in the Rolex catalog.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39mm models

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39mm models

This generation of OP watches is also equipped with in-house movements. There’s the Caliber 3132 for the 39mm version, the Caliber 3130 for the 36 and 34mm sizes, and the Caliber 2231 for the 31 and 26mm sizes. They are all equipped with the Bleu Parachrom hairspring, which is 10 times more precise than standard hairsprings, and offers better stability from temperature fluctuations.


Current selection

In 2020, Rolex yet again revamped the Oyster Perpetual line with quite an unexpected twist. While previous generations were subdued in design, the new OP watches included bright new colors and lacquered dials, inspired by “Stella” Rolex dials from the 1970s.

The ladies 26mm and mens 39mm sizes were also discontinued and replaced with a larger 28 and 41mm sizes, bringing the total options to five sizes – 28, 31, 34, 36, and 41mm.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Coral Red Dial Steel Mens Watch 126000

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Coral Red Dial Steel Mens Watch 126000

Each of these models now have a fully brushed 904L Oystersteel bracelet equipped with Rolex’s Easylink extension system, which allows for tool-less adjustment of the bracelet in 5mm increments. This is especially handy when adjusting bracelet size for colder or warmer weather.

The current range of Rolex Oyster Perpetual models are powered by new movements – for the ladies sizes, the Caliber 2232, and for the unisex and men’s sizes, the Caliber 3230. Both are self-winding COSC-certified in-house movements with precision of -2/+2 seconds per day.


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Popular Rolex Oyster Perpetual Models

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual offers a vast range of models, but there are references that fans keep pining for. Below are some examples of the most popular Oyster Perpetual models.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Steel Yellow Gold Black Dial Mens Watch 14233

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 34mm ref 14233

The OP ref 14233 was produced in the mid-1990s, and possesses an exquisite steel and 18k gold finish that we no longer see in the collection today. It is adorned with a fluted bezel and center bracelet links in yellow gold, as well as a black dial with gold index hour markers and hour, minute, and seconds hands. It presents a balance between vintage and modern Oyster Perpetual design.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 31mm ref 177200

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 31mm ref 177200

It was in 1986 that the midsize (31mm) Rolex Oyster Perpetual was introduced. This size offers a sportier look compared to the dainty 24 – 26 mm sizes. The ref 177200 is a newer model of the midsize OP which features a 904L-grade Oystersteel case and bracelet with combined satin and polished finish, the Twinlock waterproof screw-down crown, and the new Caliber 2231 Perpetual movement. Seen here is a subtle grape colored dial made more regal with Roman numerals – sure to turn heads whenever its worn.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 36mm ref 116000

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 36mm ref 116000

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual 36 ref 116000 is one of the most popular references of the line in the pre-owned market. Aside from its unisex 36mm size, the dial also makes for very legible reading. There are two options offered – all baton dials, with double baton markings at the 3-6-9 markers; or a combination of indices with luminous Arabic 3-6-9 numerals. This model also offers a variety of dial colors, from black and silver, to blue and white or red grape.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39mm ref 114300

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39mm ref 114300

Launched in 2015, the Oyster Perpetual 39 ushered the collection into the realm of sport watches with its larger 39mm case. Also contributing to its wrist presence are dial colors in sunburst blue, rhodium grey, and grape – with complementing neon dot markers for every hour. Also adding to its appeal is the Caliber 3132, which features Parachrom hairspring and Paraflex shock absorbers, offering better resistance to shocks and magnetism.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 41mm ref 126000 Models

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 41mm ref 126000 

Among the current production Oyster Perpetual models, the most sought-after are the 41mm lacquered dial versions. Inspired by the “Stella” lacquered dials found in 1970s-era Datejust and Day-Date models, they’ve added a modern, sporty touch to the OP.

Striking colors like canary yellow, coral red, forest green, and “Tiffany” or turquoise blue are available for this size of the Oyster Perpetual. Several A-Listers have been spotted with this model, among them tennis legend Roger Federer and basketball star Lebron James.


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Common Questions About the Rolex Oyster Perpetual

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual is the quintessential Rolex watch. Below, we answer the most common questions about the Rolex Oyster Perpetual collection.


Where did the Rolex Oyster Perpetual get its name?

The terms “Oyster” and “Perpetual” came from the key features of the timepiece, which also serve as the backbone of today’s Rolex watches. “Oyster” refers to the hermetically sealed waterproof case invented by Rolex in 1926, which became the first in the world to be reliably resistant to water and dust.

Meanwhile, “Perpetual” refers to the automatically winding movement first unveiled by Rolex in 1931. The Rolex Oyster Perpetual is its own collection of watches which first appeared in 1950, but the “Oyster Perpetual” name appears as suffix to most Rolex collections, to signify their waterproofness and self-winding movement.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 26 Steel White Gold Diamond Ladies Watch 176234

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 26 Steel White Gold Diamond Ladies Watch 176234


What is a Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch?

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual is the purest form of Rolex watches. It has all the elements that makes a Rolex, a Rolex.

An Oyster Perpetual or “OP” watch would have an Oyster case made in stainless steel, a three-piece Oyster bracelet also made in steel and closed with an Oysterclasp; a time-only dial with three-hands and baton hour markers, and a Twinlock screw-down crown.

There are older Oyster Perpetual models in solid gold or two-tone steel and yellow gold finish, but since 2014 the Oyster Perpetual has been crafted only in stainless steel and with a smooth domed bezel, further emphasizing its place as the purest Rolex, and an ideal entry to the Rolex brand.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 34mm Blue Dial Steel Mens Watch 124200

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 34mm ref 124200

 

Is the Rolex Oyster Perpetual a good watch?

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual is an undisputed classic and definitely a good addition to any collection, whether you’re a budding watch collector, or a seasoned connoisseur.

Defined by its discreet and no-frills design, the Oyster Perpetual comes in stainless steel and time-only models. They also come in a wide range of sizes for men and women – from 24, 26, 28 and 31mm watches designed for women’s wrists, or the 34, 36, 39 and 41mm watches that while originally made for men, also lend a stylish, oversized look on women that’s in vogue today.

The Oyster Perpetual’s versatility is also enhanced with the wide range of dial colors available – from versatile colors like black, blue, and grey; and the recently added striking shades like yellow, green, coral red, candy pink, and turquoise.

With its vast variations and attainable prices, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual is a great “one watch” prospect or a starter watch if you’re new to Rolex or collecting in general.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yellow Dial 124300 and Pink Dial 124200

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yellow Dial 124300 and Pink Dial 124200


Is the Rolex Oyster Perpetual waterproof?

Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches have a water resistance 100 meters (330 feet). This is achieved through its Oyster case, screw down case back, and Oyster crown that secures them together.

With this level of water resistance, it is possible to safely swim or snorkel while wearing the watch, but it is not recommended for use while diving.


How often should a Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch be serviced?

As a general rule, Rolex recommends that you have your watch serviced every 3 to 5 years, but it all depends on how you use or store your timepiece. It is important to note that a watch’s water resistance and accuracy are not permanent, and can be reduced over time because of age and wear and tear.

There are some signs that your timepiece needs a service sooner rather than later. Read on for Signs It’s Time for Watch Maintenance.


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More than seven decades on, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual still features the most distilled elements of a Rolex watch. It remains the essential wear-anywhere timepiece, representing the perfect blend of form, elegance, and function that only a Rolex can provide.

Explore our collection of Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches at SwissWatchExpo.com.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual on A-Listers

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