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The Birth of a Star: 1927 Rolex Oyster Ultra Prima

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  • The Birth of a Star: 1927 Rolex Oyster Ultra Prima


    This piece is a follow on from a post a couple of days ago where I shared some photos of one of the two watches that a friend on this forum sent up for an overhaul ( This second timepiece shares a common theme with the 1958 Mars Orient in the sense that they were both key turning points for their respective manufacturers. Mars Orient represented Orient’s first venture into high-grade Japanese watchmaking, while the topic of this post was the watch that undeniably made the world’s most famous luxury watch brand the celebrated brand it is today. It is the foremost ancestor of the Submariner, Sea-Dweller, and Deepsea, as well as Panerai.

    We’ve all read stories of how, exactly 90 years ago, Mercedes Gleitze wore a Rolex Oyster as she swam across the English Channel.

    For most of us, however, such an event from 1927 is far removed from the modern world of watches we enjoy today. Having the opportunity to handle and groom this Rolex Oyster Ultra Prima, dating to around 1927-1928, is not unlike an astronomer witnessing, through a radio telescope back in time, the birth of a star. Figuratively, one could compare the experience to watching an old movie that made an acting legend famous. Here are some photos that was taken after the service, but before a new acrylic crystal is fitted, thus the visible cracks. A new crystal has since been installed.

    A year prior to the debut of the first Rolex Oyster, the founder of Rolex, Hans Wilsdorf was presented with a rare opportunity to produce the world’s first waterproof wrist watch. Though Wilsdorf had no watchmaking skill and Rolex was merely an assembler of watch parts bought from other manufacturers, spotting opportunities within the watch industry at the time was what he did better than anyone in the Swiss watch industry. Working together with Charles Rodolphe Spillmann, a case manufacturer in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Wilsdorf acquired the patent rights for a system for screwing down the crown using a threaded protruding tube from its inventors, Paul Perregaux (no relation to Girard Perregaux) and Georges Peret. Spillmann made the case for Rolex, while the movement was built by Aegler in Bienne,

    File image from a similar Ultra Prima

    The Aegler-sourced 15 jewel Savonnette movements were graded by timing tests post-assembly, with the top 10% given the “Ultra Prima” designation, as is the case with the piece presented today.

    Marketed as a uni-sex wrist watch, its cushion case has a diminutive 27 mm diameter, excluding crown. An interesting aspect of this early Oyster is its three-piece design, consisting of the actual case with wire lugs attached, a screw-in case back, and screw-in bezel! It is my guess that the latter may have been a concept linked to earlier hermetic watch casing used in the early-1920s that consisted of an outer case with screw-in bezel. Lugs are wire type, requiring special open-end straps (14 mm), not too common nowadays, and the set fitted in the photos came from the UK.

    At 90 years old, this is the oldest wrist watch that I have ever had the pleasure of inspecting up close.
    On the instruments we entrust to pace our lives, to bear witness to our days, and to be the keepers of the most precious thing we have... time.

  • #2
    Nice work with this one Don. Clean, but with non of it's character and charm removed . Just how it should be :thumbup: . It's such a shame the cases are so small for our modern tastes. I have a couple of watches from the same era and they are equally small, but also quite beautiful. I can't help thinking that a revival of this watch in a 40mm case would be a great piece.
    Preparation and planning prevent piss poor performance


    • #3
      I go along with your thoughts on size Alex, I am not a fan for 45mm plus, around the 40 mark is fine. I guess its a fashion thing.
      That is a sweet looking watch.