Wednesday 09 February, 2011 - 10:40 AM EST
The movement that was just as important to Rolex as the Oyster case was the first Perpetual. Rolex had used movements made by Eagler from the very beginning. The first one was de Rebberg which came in a wide variety of sizes and also in versions with a subsidiary seconds hand, with a sweep seconds hands or without any seconds hand. It was a simple, robust and versatile movement that served Rolex well for almost 20 years
Then, Rolex produced the Hunter movement which was the first one that was regularly capable of being timed to chronometer precision. These chronometer movements were often either 17 or 18 jewel models with capped escape jewels.
Even though the Oyster was proving very successful and met or exceeded all of Wilsdorf’s hopes for it, there was one problem: he needed an automatic system. Once again Rolex (or Aegler, who actually patented it) took the read of patient modification of an existing product. The first perpetual models are simple subsidiary seconds 8-3/4”’Hunter movements with the “Auto-Rotor” mechanism bolted straight onto the back. This arrangement had three additional benefits. First, the watch could be wound manually if needed. The facility to wind the automatic watch is now something to be taken for granted, but it is interesting to note that all of the early automatics ere incapable of manual winding. Apart from its use during periods of enforced idleness, the manual facility on the Rolex Perpetual gave confidence to those people who still did not trust the watch yet.
Second, because the rotor swung through a full rotation, there was nothing for it to hit, so the movement received no shocks through the sudden braking of a weight. Besides, the watch was less noisy as Rolex advertised: “Rolex, the silent self winder”.
Finally, the arrangement allowed the watchmaker to remove the whole of the automatic mechanism with only two screws and then be faced with a simple manual movement that he would instantly recognize. This is an important factor in the success of Rolex’s automatic movement.
The exact date of the launch of the Rolex Perpetual would seem to be in late 1933 or early 1934. No earlier Rolex advertisement makes any mention of the watch. The first Perpetuals were produced in a case that was another classic Rolex modification, simply the first model Oyster Royal with a new, deeper back.
What we must not forget is that in introducing the Perpetual in 1934, Rolex chose to do so in the depth of the worst depression the industrial world had seen, and as the world’s economies began to improve the Perpetual was waiting.
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