Aside from timeless designs, the finest materials, and excellent craftsmanship, one of the many reasons people love Rolex is for their movements. After all, they invented and patented the first self-winding mechanism with a perpetual motion. Today, it’s at the heart of every modern watch, and Rolex leads the way with their robust, maintenance-friendly, and chronometer certified movements.
What some people may not realize is that at one point in time, Rolex also produced watches with quartz movements. They had a dedicated collection for these called the Rolex Oysterquartz.
Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust watches
Today’s Rolex watches exclusively use automatic or self-winding movements, which derive power from an unwinding spring which in return is powered by the motion of the wearer’s wrist. Quartz watch movements, on the other hand, are powered by batteries. One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between automatic and mechanical, and quartz movements is through the movement of the hands – the former will have hands that sweep the dial, while quartz watches have a ticking sound and movement. Quartz has been considered inferior to automatic and mechanical movements, and so a quartz-powered Rolex might sound contradictory to some.
Quartz movements also get a bad rap for its history. After the technology was introduced in 1969, and more accurate yet inexpensive quartz watches became mass produced, the “Quartz Crisis” almost killed the Swiss watch industry and other makers of mechanical watches. Many heritage brands just couldn’t keep up, and this forced illustrious brands, some with hundreds of years of watchmaking history, to jump onto the quartz bandwagon.
The Beta 21 Quartz Movement (photo: DaPro on Wikipedia)
Rolex joined other watch brands in a quest to develop their own quartz movement, but eventually, Rolex left the consortium to develop not just their own quartz caliber, but an entire collection of quartz-powered watches – the Rolex Oysterquartz.
With an angular case and integrated bracelet, the Rolex Oysterquartz had a very modern look at the time, one that rivaled uniquely-shaped watches of the era like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus. Over time, the Rolex Oysterquartz also became one of Rolex’s means for experimentation, with a wide range of dial designs offered within the collection. With the Rolex Oysterquartz, Rolex proved that quartz watches could be just as luxurious as traditional, manually-wound timepieces.
The Rolex Oysterquartz has been discontinued in the 2000s, but it continues to be sought-after among collectors today. Learn why with SwissWatchExpo’s Ultimate guide to the Rolex Oysterquartz.
A Brief History Of The Rolex Oysterquartz
The year 1969 caused major upheaval in the Swiss watchmaking industry with the advent of the first quartz watch, the Seiko Astron. Soon after, Japanese and American manufacturers began to saturate the global market with less expensive, yet more accurate battery-powered watches. Aside from this, the seemingly futuristic technology also made them more popular among consumers. The existing watch market struggled to compete.
While many watchmakers tried their best to hold on to centuries of watchmaking tradition, they knew that they also had to adapt to this change. In the early-1960s, 20 high-profile Swiss watchmakers formed the Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH), whose primary mission was to produce electronic watches in Switzerland. When the Quartz Crisis happened, they went to work on a quartz movement that could rival the competition.
The Seiko Astron (photo: Seiko)
The result was the Beta 21 movement, an electronic caliber with a quartz crystal oscillating at 8192 Hz. The 20 Swiss houses agreed to produce 6,000 of these movements, and Rolex developed their own watch to house this caliber. The result was the prototype ref 5100, also known as “The Texan” or “Texano”.
Because of the large movement, the Texan was crafted in a thick and slightly angular case measuring 40mm. It was made of solid gold, and featured for the first time ever for Rolex, a sapphire crystal and a quick-set date. Moreover, it was unlike any Rolex of the time because of its integrated bracelet.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Rolex Datejust Oysterquartz
While it was never confirmed, it is thought in watch circles that renowned watch designer Gerald Genta sketched the case of the Texan. Its similarity to his Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, released two years after, fuels this legend.
While the Texan became successful (it’s said that all 1,000 pieces sold before it even hit the shelves), it presented a few problems. First was that the Beta 21 movement was too big to fit inside Rolex’s signature Oyster case. Second was that, being a product of the CEH consortium, its movement was also being used by Rolex’s competitors.
The Rolex ref 5100 also known as The Texan (photo: Sotheby’s)
In time, Rolex formally withdrew from CEH and began developing their own quartz movement. In 1977, after 5 years of development and testing, Rolex introduced not just their very own quartz movements, but an entire collection of quartz-powered watches – the Rolex Oysterquartz.
For a brand like Rolex, who was heavily invested in mechanical watchmaking, this was no mean feat. When their quartz movements were ready for the market, they decided that it also called for a modern new look to distinguish it from the rest of their catalog.
Rolex introduced two new movements, Calibers 5035 (with date complication) and 5055 (with day of the week and date displays). With 11 jewels and a 32khz oscillator, these new quartz movements became the standard.
Rolex quartz caliber 5035 and 5055
The watches combined the classic round fluted bezel of the Oyster, with an angular and beveled case and bracelet. Moreover, the bracelets were integrated into the case. It was the 1970s, and Gerald Genta-designed Royal Oak and Nautilus watches just introduced a new genre – the steel luxury sports watch. The confluence of curves and angles were very much on trend at the time, and they converged in the new Rolex Oysterquartz.
With this futuristic new design, Rolex incorporated two of their most iconic models – the Datejust and the Day-Date. There became two families of watches under the Rolex Oysterquartz range: the Oysterquartz Datejust and the Oysterquartz Day-Date.
Just like its forerunner, the Oysterquartz Datejust was offered in steel, yellow gold, and Rolesor models, with simple dials and a choice of angled Oyster or Jubilee bracelets.
Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date and Oysterquartz Datejust
Meanwhile, the Oysterquartz Day-Date was crafted only in yellow gold and white gold, and it offered a wide range of dial materials and designs, from diamond, sapphire, and ruby-embellished models, to dials made of wood and tapestry.
Aside from its design, what set the Rolex Oysterquartz apart from other quartz watches of the time is the performance of its movements. Caliber 5035 and 5055 operated at a frequency almost four times that of the Seiko Astron. They were granted chronometer certification by the COSC, and furthermore, the movements are beautifully decorated, complete with Geneva-striped metal. Rolex also continued to improve on the movements in subsequent editions of the Oysterquartz.
Rolex Datejust Oysterquartz Watches
Although Rolex continued to produce the Oysterquartz until the early 2000s, only about 25,000 units were made in its lifetime – a very small number in Rolex production. This makes it a less common Rolex model. With its limited availability, distinct design, and place in Rolex and watchmaking history, the Rolex Oysterquartz is worth making a part of any watch collection.
Here are key milestones in the history of the Rolex Oysterquartz.
1977 – Rolex introduces the Oysterquartz collection, comprised of the Rolex Datejust and Rolex Day-Date Oysterquartz models. They are powered by Rolex’s first in-house quartz movements, the Caliber 5035 (Datejust) and 5055 (Day-Date).
1980 – The Caliber 5035 is given COSC certification. The Caliber 5055 has been COSC-certified since its launch.
1987 – Rolex applies for a patent for the Oysterquartz Perpetual, but production of these watches are shelved. Only 11 prototypes were produced.
2001 – Rolex applies for COSC certifications for their quartz movements for the last time.
2002 – Steel Oysterquartz models no longer appear in Rolex catalogs
2004 – All Oysterquartz models no longer appear in Rolex catalogs. They were last produced the year prior, in 2003.
Key Features Of The Rolex Oysterquartz Collection
The Rolex Oysterquartz possesses many of the 1970s era watch design elements. Integrated bracelets, geometric shapes, and sporty elegance was the order of the day, and we see them all in the Oysterquartz. Here are key elements of Rolex Oysterquartz design.
Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust Black Dial Vintage Steel Mens Watch 17000
Following the trends of the day, the Rolex Oysterquartz is slightly barrel-shaped, and much more angular than the Oyster-cased watches from the brand. Different brushing techniques were used on the metal, with diagonal brushing on the lugs, vertical brushing where the bracelet and case are linked, and polished finish on the flat sides of the case and on the bevels on the case and bracelet.
The Oysterquartz case measures 36mm, keeping it in line with the Rolex Datejust and Rolex Day-Date watches produced at the time. It measures 42.5mm lug to lug, and is 12.5mm thick, giving it quite a presence on the wrist.
Steel models are paired with smooth bezels, while Rolesor and gold models had fluted bezels.
Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust Black Dial Vintage Steel Mens Watch 17000
Rolex Oysterquartz watches also have integrated bracelets, whose ends meet the lugs. They are also trapezoidal, tapering from the ends of the lugs down to the clasp. Datejust Oysterquartz bracelets come in three-piece steel links (just like the Oyster) and five-piece links in steel and Rolesor (just like the Jubilee).
For the Day-Date Oysterquartz, bracelets are three-piece links like the Presidential bracelet, with circular center links. Both feature a beveled design on the edges.
The Rolex Oysterquartz was introduced along with Rolex’s in-house quartz movements: the Caliber 5035 for the Datejust Oysterquartz, and the Caliber 5055 for the Day-Date Oysterquartz.
Following the release of the Beta 21-powered ref 5100, Rolex left the CEH consortium and spent the next five years developing these two movements.
They are quite similar to each other, with the difference being the day of the week feature on the Day-Date. Both have 11 jewels, a 32khz oscillator, which is four times faster than those of the Beta 21. This was necessary for its thermo-compensating mechanism, which regulates its temperature in extremely hot or cold climates.
Rolex Caliber 5055 Movement
They also featured quickset calendar functions, and hacking seconds to make time-keeping accurate to the second. At the time, these calibers were more accurate than any of the mechanical movements Rolex produced – with an accuracy of +/- 0.7 seconds per day, compared to 4/+6 seconds per day for the mechanical movements.
The Caliber 5035 was not COSC-certified until five years after its release, while the Caliber 5055 was COSC-certified from the beginning. These meant that the texts on the dial also differed – Mark I models or pre-COSC models of the Datejust Oysterquartz did not have the ‘Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified’ inscription on the dial.
Burl wood, pyramid, and Buckley-style dials
The Datejust Oysterquartz was offered in sunburst finish with classic black, silvered, champagne, and blue colors.
Rolex has a tradition of offering a wide range of dial designs for the Day-Date range, and this also applied to the Day-Date Oysterquartz. Aside from the sunburst finish dials, Rolex also made use of African mahogany, walnut, pyramid style, and gem-embellished dials. Some very rare models also had gems on the bezel.
This ref 19168 Rolex Day-Date Oysterquartz features a very rare ruby-set bezel, and quartz calendar stones on the hour markers and outer bracelet links. (photo: Phillips)
These rare yellow gold Rolex Day-Date Oysterquartz watches (ref 19078 and 19018) feature multi-gem set finishes. On the left is a rainbow-effect baguette bezel and hour markers, on the right is a burl wood dial set with a concentric diamond pattern. (photos: Phillips)
Models Of The Rolex Oysterquartz Collection
Rolex produced the Oysterquartz collection from 1977 until the early 2000s. Its distinctive movement called for a look that is just as different to distinguish it from the rest of the Rolex catalog. With an angular shape and integrated bracelets, the Rolex Oysterquartz’s aesthetic was very on-trend in the seventies.
The Rolex Oysterquartz also took after the design of two of Rolex’s dress watches, hence the collection is divided into two families: the Oysterquartz Datejust and the Oysterquartz Day-Date.
Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust Steel White Gold Mens Watch 17014
Rolex Datejust Oysterquartz
Reference numbers: 17000, 17013, 17014
The Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust is the three-hand, time-and-date version of the Oysterquartz. It was made available in three finishes – stainless steel, yellow gold, and two-tone steel and gold. Dial colors ranged from champagne, silver, blue, black, and the more rare purple dial.
Steel models were paired with smooth bezels while the Rolesor models had fluted bezels, and they were paired with either Oyster or Jubilee bracelets that were integrated into the case. Most of its models had simple baton dials, but there were also more unique models with “Buckley” dials or painted long Roman numerals, and those with small applied Roman numerals.
Rolex Datejust Oysterquartz watches are powered by the Caliber 5035.
Rolex Oysterquartz President Day-Date Yellow Gold Mens Watch 19018
Rolex Day-Date Oysterquartz
Reference numbers: 19018, 19019, 19028, 19038, 19048, 19049, 19058, 19068, 19078, 19148, 19168, 19188
The Rolex Day-Date Oysterquartz takes after the President’s watch, so it features a date display at 3 o’clock and the day of the week spelled out in full at 12 o’clock.
To emphasize the luxurious form of the watch, Rolex offered a wider range of dial designs that ranged from sunburst dials in champagne, silvered, lacquered and matte black, pyramid style, tapestry, burr walnut, mahogany, burgundy, and many more. There were also references with gem-set dials and bezels, embellished with either diamonds, rubies, or sapphires.
In line with the model family, the Oysterquartz Day-Date was also paired with a three-piece Presidential bracelet integrated into the case.
Rolex Day-Date Oysterquartz watches were powered by the Caliber 5055.
Rolex Oysterquartz Perpetual Calendar Day-Date 790 (photo: Antiquorum)
Rolex Oysterquartz Perpetual Calendar Prototypes
While the previously mentioned families formed the Oysterquartz collection, Rolex also had plans to design a perpetual calendar version.
Rolex began working on the next generation of Oysterquartz movements in the 1980s, and by 1987, they had filed a patent for a quartz perpetual movement which could be set using the winding crown. These movements were the Caliber 5355 for the Perpetual Calendar Day-Date, and the Caliber 5335 for the Perpetual Calendar Datejust.
These watches never made it to production. It is estimated that Rolex made 11 prototypes of these watches, and they were either disposed of or destroyed. That said, a few pieces did surface and make it to auction. In 2020, Antiquorum auctioned off a Rolex Oysterquartz Perpetual Day-Date with a white gold bezel, produced in 1997. The watch sold for over $260,000 or 240,000 Swiss Francs.
Mechanical Watches with the Rolex Oysterquartz Design
While the angular cases and integrated bracelets were the main features of the Oysterquartz, these design elements were also used in a few of Rolex’s mechanical watches. In fact, a few years before they launched the Oysterquartz, Rolex had already used these features in two of their designs.
Rolex Date 1530 and Rolex Datejust 1630 (photo: Sotheby’s)
As they waited for their new in-house calibers to be ready for market, the manufacturer had already fulfilled the 36mm case designs. Rolex decided to put them to use with the Caliber 1575 movement, and the result were the Rolex Date 1530 and the Rolex Datejust 1630, both released in 1975, just two years before the Oysterquartz was launched.
These two models were discontinued in 1977 to make way for the Oysterquartz. One will find that they look much like Oysterquartz models but are actually powered by automatic movements.
Rolex Date 1530: Stainless steel case, smooth steel bezel, and steel integrated Oyster bracelet
Rolex Datejust 1630: Steel case with yellow gold winding crown and fluted bezel, steel and yellow gold integrated bracelet
Rolex Oysterquartz Reference Numbers
There were a total of 15 models produced under the Rolex Oysterquartz family – 3 for the Datejust line, and 12 for the Day-Date range. Rolex Oysterquartz models are available with these reference numbers:
|yellow gold Oyster case, fluted bezel, and integrated Presidential bracelet|
|white gold Oyster case, fluted bezel, and integrated Presidential bracelet|
|yellow gold Oyster case, pyramid style bezel, and integrated Presidential bracelet with pyramid style center links|
|yellow gold Oyster case, pyramid style bezel with 12 diamonds, and integrated Presidential bracelet with pyramid style center links|
|yellow gold Oyster case, diamond-set bezel, and yellow gold integrated Presidential bracelet|
|white gold Oyster case, diamond-set bezel, and white gold integrated Presidential bracelet|
|yellow gold Oyster case, gem-set bezel with baguette cut diamonds, rubies, or sapphires, and yellow gold integrated Presidential bracelet|
|yellow gold Oyster case, diamond-set bezel, yellow gold integrated Presidential bracelet with pyramid style center links|
|yellow gold Oyster case, rainbow color gem-set bezel, and yellow gold integrated Presidential bracelet|
|yellow gold Oyster case, diamond-set bezel, and yellow gold integrated Presidential bracelet with diamond-set center links|
|yellow gold Oyster case, gem-set bezel with baguette cut diamonds, rubies, or sapphires, yellow gold integrated gem-set Presidential bracelet|
|yellow gold Oyster case, diamond and ruby-set bezel, and yellow gold integrated Presidential bracelet with diamond-set center links|
|Stainless steel Oyster case and smooth bezel, stainless steel integrated three-piece Oyster bracelet|
|Stainless steel Oyster case with yellow gold crown and bezel, Rolesor integrated bracelet|
|Stainless steel Oyster case, white gold fluted bezel, stainless steel integrated five-piece Jubilee bracelet|
Common Questions About the Rolex Oysterquartz
With the Rolex Oysterquartz, Rolex showed that even quartz-powered timepieces could be as refined as traditional mechanical watches. Here are the most frequently asked questions about the Rolex Oysterquartz collection.
What is a Rolex Oysterquartz watch?
The Rolex Oysterquartz is the only quartz-powered collection ever made by Rolex. It was produced from 1977 until 2003.
When the Quartz Crisis hit in the 1970s, Japanese and American suppliers put forward large quantities of quartz watches into the market, which were less expensive and yet accurate. This led consumers to shift from traditionally made watches to the battery-made ones, and caused major upheaval in the watchmaking industry.
Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust White Roman Dial 17000
Rolex, together with a consortium of 19 other watchmakers, created a quartz movement called the Beta 21 to rival the competition. While Rolex initially made a quartz watch (ref 5100 or The Texan) powered by this movement, they eventually decided to make their own quartz movement.
This resulted in the Rolex Oysterquartz collection, a range of watches that differed from the Rolex line, not just because of their battery-powered movements, but also because of their angular cases, integrated bracelets, and sapphire crystals (which were new at the time).
How many Rolex Oysterquartz were ever made?
The Rolex Oysterquartz was produced for about 26 years, and it is estimated that Rolex only produced 25,000 of these watches. This is a very low production number, making them quite a rare find.
Sir Michael Caine’s Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date ref 19018 (photo: Bonhams London)
What was the most expensive Rolex Oysterquartz ever sold?
Veteran English actor Sir Michael Caine auctioned some 180 of his personal items through auction house Bonhams London. Among them was his 18k yellow gold Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date ref 19018, which he had owned since 1979. While the auction estimate was already a high $15,800, it smashed this by fetching a total of $166,500. It is currently the most expensive Oysterquartz watch ever sold (as of 2022).
As previously mentioned, a prototype Rolex Perpetual Day-Date Oysterquartz also surfaced in 2020 and was auctioned by Antiquorum for $260,000.
How long does the Rolex Oysterquartz battery last?
Average battery life for the Oysterquartz is two to three years, but owners sometimes report batteries lasting for up to five years. We advice that you go to an authorized dealer or reputable retailer of Rolex watches, like SwissWatchExpo, to have your batteries replaced.
Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date “Pyramid” Ref. 19028 (photo: Christie’s)
Is the Rolex Oysterquartz waterproof?
Rolex Oysterquartz watches are water resistant to 100 meters, thanks to their three-body construction: a robust tonneau-shaped case, an inclined bezel, a screw down case back, and an Oyster crown that secures them together.
With this level of water resistance, and considering the vintage nature of the Oysterquartz, the wearer can use it for light water exposure, such as handwashing.
How often should a Rolex Oysterquartz be serviced?
Rolex generally recommends a service every 3-5 years. By nature, however, vintage timepieces tend to be fragile, so it’s recommended to have any vintage watch serviced every two years.
However, a watch’s water resistance and accuracy are not permanent and are subject to wear and tear. There may be signs that your watch needs a service sooner rather than later. Read on for Signs It’s Time for Watch Maintenance.
Interesting Facts About The Rolex Oysterquartz
The first quartz watch made by Rolex was the Beta 21-powered ref 5100 or “The Texan”, introduced in 1970.
This timepiece is considered a prototype as only 1,000 pieces were made. Rolex produced this model to house the Beta 21 movement, which they had produced together with 19 other Swiss watchmakers. The Texan was called such because of its large (for the time) 40mm case, solid gold construction, and new movement, which limited its reach to a more affluent clientele.
The Rolex Oysterquartz is divided into two families: Datejust and Day-Date
The Rolex Oysterquartz’s angular design was incorporated into the Datejust and the Day-Date. The Oysterquartz Datejust features the date aperture at 3 o’clock with the Cyclops lens, while the Oysterquartz Day-Date displays the day of the week at an aperture at 12 o’clock.
The OysterQuartz was only made in steel and gold, and a combination of the two metals.
The Oysterquartz Datejust was produced in all-steel and Rolesor (the combination of steel and yellow gold). Meanwhile, just like the Day-Date, the Oysterquartz Day-Date was only produced in precious metals, namely 18k yellow and white gold.
Sir Edmund Hillary (the first person to reach the summit of Mt. Everest) with Reinhold Messner and his Rolex Oysterquartz (photo: Jake’s Rolex World)
The OysterQuartz has been on the top of Mount Everest.
In 1978, mountaineer Reinhold Messner, together with Peter Habeler, succeeded to be the first humans ever to reach the summit of Mount Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen. Messner was wearing his Oysterquartz, which remained in good working condition at almost 8,000 meters above sea, and in extreme cold.
Only 25,000 pieces of the Rolex Oysterquartz were ever produced.
The Oysterquartz was in production from 1977 until the early 2000s. For a watch that was produced for a little over 25 years, this production number is low, making the Oysterquartz even more sought-after among collectors.
The development of the Rolex Oysterquartz proved Rolex’s ability to adapt to change, and put their own spin to emerging technologies. The Rolex Oysterquartz remains sought after among watch collectors because of its era-defining aesthetic, one of a kind movement, and place in Rolex and watchmaking history. Explore our collection of Rolex Oysterquartz watches at SwissWatchExpo.com.