Review: Rolex Oyster Perpetual
Let’s say that, ten years ago, you couldn’t afford a Rolex. A Submariner was looking to cost you some £3,000 or so, and so you set yourself a goal; work hard, earn more, get yourself that Submariner. But now, ten years later, you’re staring down the barrel of a six-and-a-half thousand pound price tag and your reality has just been shattered. It seems like the dream is over, but hold on a sec—there might still be hope yet.
The price rises at Rolex—and indeed the industry in general—have been quite the eye-opener of late. A combination of inflation and availability are making what was once a milestone purchase into an impossibility; just look at the rise and rise of Tudor as a demonstration of the gap that’s opened up in the wake of Rolex’s meteoric climb.
If anything, it’s made the allure of a owning a Rolex even more tantalising, but wanting something, no matter how badly, has never made it any cheaper, no matter how much we wish it would. And it’s not just inflation to blame; the £3,000 you needed ten years ago adjusts to £4,000 today, leaving you shy some £2,500, or sixty percent. Not an insignificant margin there.
Well, that’s it then, for the Submariner at least, because unless you plan on growing a money tree, and one that yields faster than Rolex prices continue rising, then you’re out of options. But there’s an alternative, a fallback, something you might consider that’s a little more budget friendly that still wears the golden coronet.
I am of course talking about this, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual. Available in five sizes from 26mm all the way up to thirty-nine, it’s positioned as the baby of the line-up, free of any complication besides a centre second. For this 39mm version, there are five dial shades to choose from, from your classic black or white, through grey, blue and even purple.
Everything about the Oyster Perpetual is kept simple; from the smooth, polished bezel to the dateless dial, brushed case and snap-fit clasp, there’s nothing fancy going on whatsoever. You won’t see big water-resistance, glossy ceramic and reams of dial text here. Even the movement is keeping it old school, a forty-eight–hour, chronometer-certified powertrain delivering a four-second accuracy window from its free sprung balance, all sealed to one hundred metres’ depth.
It lags behind the very best of Rolex’s line-up in almost every way, but then it is a considerable amount cheaper. It’s by far the best value you’re going to get from the Rolex brand right now, but the big question is—is it worth it? Is it worth missing out on the dream of the Submariner you’ve held on to for so long? Is it going to be the most expensive case of regret you’ve ever had? There’s only one way to find out.
It’s a big question. Can the simple Oyster Perpetual really live up to the dream? It’s so plain and so simple, frill-free and basic. Well, I’m here to tell you this: that’s everything that makes it so good. It seems a long time ago now, but remember when a Rolex was a simple, rugged, well-built watch? The less lines of text, the slimmer the case, the simpler the finish, the better?
Things have changed quite dramatically in this last decade, and not just in the financial sense. As luxury pervades the industry to a greater degree, as the origins of these watches slip further behind, the ethos and drive of the companies that make them becomes diluted. Some may say that’s a good thing, and some may disagree, but there’s no denying that we’ve all experienced a strong case of desensitisation here.
A Rolex used to be a bulletproof, functional timepiece on a rattly bracelet, and if you were peering through jeweller’s windows ten years ago, it would have been that kind of Submariner you would have been ogling at. As we approach the ten-year anniversary of the ceramic-bezelled Submariner, it’s worth casting your thoughts back to the way Rolex watches were before—and had been for nigh-on half a century.
And that’s what you’re getting here with the Oyster Perpetual. Actually, that’s not strictly true. Yes, the dial is clean, as is the case, its proportions more in keeping with the Rolex of yesterday than the chunkers of today, but the real trick is that it’s a nostalgic experience untainted by the things Rolex was doing back in the day that really should stay there. No rattly bracelet, no hollow end-links, no press-fit clasp that looks like it was stamped out of a tin can.
I’ll tell you what it reminds me of: a Singer Porsche. It looks the part, sounds the part, drives every bit as it should—you just don’t have to put up with all the period nonsense that would happily leave you stranded on the side of the road or upside-down in a hedge. It gets new brakes, new suspension, new electrics and a rebuilt engine. It’s a balance, the best of both worlds, and so is the Oyster Perpetual.
Put the Oyster Perpetual on and the experience is more closely matched to the memories of trying on a Submariner ten years ago than it is the Submariner of today. It slips on and disappears, just like it should, yet when you handle it, it carries all the solidity of a modern Rolex, as it should. Short of there being an actual Singer for Rolex, this is as close as you’re going to get. The best bit? A Singer costs many multiples more than a modern 911, and that makes the Oyster Perpetual value even better.
There may be some lingering disappointment about the Submariner’s ascension into the realms of unaffordability, but I can assure you they will be short-lived upon trying the Oyster Perpetual. For anyone who’s lusted after Rolex since as long as they can remember, the Oyster Perpetual experience is as pure and unfettered as it gets. Don’t think of it as the baby Rolex, the cheap Rolex—this Rolex is the one for purists.
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