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Review: Rolex Oyster Perpetual 41

When you’ve got something good, you want to hang on to it, and the 39mm Oyster Perpetual from Rolex was something very, very good. So, naturally, Rolex threw it away. Let’s try and figure out why.

It’s described on Rolex’s own domain in Rolex’s own words as the Oyster in its purest form. No date, no turning bezel, no fuss—just that singular development that would become the core of Rolex’s success through the 20th century, its water-resistant case. Never before had any manufacturer boiled down the simplicity of a squishy rubber gasket and a precision screw thread to make a watch quite so impervious to water in the way Rolex did, and you have to imagine back then, in the late 1920s, how impressive that seemed.

Here it was, a watch that looked like any other watch, any other watch that, ordinarily, would baulk at the sign of a sweaty cough, let alone the crashing ocean. Yet Rolex was all like, “I don’t even care,” and didn’t only let its new Oyster get wet—it did it on purpose. Rumour has it that in the early 30s, 74% of Oyster watches were to be found underwater. Rolex just kept on putting them there to prove a point. Many remain underwater to this day, unfound.

If ever there was an essence of a watch, it’s the Oyster. The self-changing date, yeah, that’s a Rolex staple too, but it’s more a nice-to-have than the ruggedness of a watch you can wear without care or consideration. For Mercedes Gleitze, halfway across the freezing English Channel, fighting against the weight of all the shopping trollies snagged onto her swimwear, she wasn’t wondering if it was the fourth or the fifth—she just wanted to make sure her watch worked so knew if she was making good time.

Ideally, if I were in charge, the Oyster Perpetual would do away with the Perpetual part to make it a manual winder, but I do understand that most Rolex buyers can’t be bothered with that faff, thus proving that Rolex should never, ever offer to make me CEO. So the Oyster Perpetual is what you get, as pure as it can be, barely any text on the dial—at least, in comparison to some of the books Rolex has been writing on its watches of late—and, to plop the cherry right on top of that elegantly simple Victoria sponge, it could be had at 39mm.

Founded in 1905, Rolex was originally called Wilsdorf and Davis after it's founders Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis

Founded in 1905, Rolex was originally called Wilsdorf and Davis after it's founders Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis

In case you don’t know, 39mm is the best size for a watch. It’s not so much a fact as just something that feels, deep down inside, right. It’s like hearing a piece of music that touches your soul, or seeing a sky so big you really get a sense of the planet beneath you—wearing a 39mm watch is just right. So there you are, the ingredients to a watch that is just about perfect. And don’t take my word for it—take the words of the thousands of people who queued up to buy one. And what did Rolex do? They binned it.

Now you’re left with the options of 36mm—too small for most—or 41mm, like we have here. Instantly it feels like a splinter in the mind—the Oyster Perpetual, the pure Rolex, at 41mm. It’s like a moustache on a donkey—it sounds like it might be okay in theory, but I’m not entirely sure if it’s going to work. Donkeys have been around for plenty of time without them, and putting a moustache on one just feels like mucking about. Is it? The watch I mean, not the donkey.

Rolex being very sensible does of course mean there is a very sensible reason to be increasing the Oyster Perpetual to 41mm. The Sea-Dweller, the Explorer and the Submariner, amongst others, have all had their own adventure into the expanding world of modern case sizes, and you and I both know that Rolex isn’t doing it to sabotage its own sales.

The truth of the matter is that people want bigger watches. The 39mm case size was, for many, a bit too small. It may be that those people should be cast into the fiery depths, but unfortunately as well as not being in charge of Rolex, I’m not in charge of that either, so the only solution is to make the Oyster Perpetual a little bit bigger. And is that so bad?

Wilsdorf and Davis became Rolex Watch Co. Ltd. in 1915

Wilsdorf and Davis became Rolex Watch Co. Ltd. in 1915

To me, yes, yes it is, but unfortunately I own precisely zero Oyster Perpetuals, so I can see why my opinion on the matter means less than squat to Rolex. I haven’t bought one because I feel I can get more value for my money elsewhere, which is even more reason why I shall not only never be CEO of Rolex, but why henceforth I will most likely be banned from any Rolex establishment. Not that I ever went to any of them.

It’s so easy to judge from the sidelines, isn’t it, so easy to speak out and doggedly argue the rights and wrongs of it all, because we don’t have to face the music when we turn out to be wrong. If Rolex makes a decision and it ends up being a whoopsie—Sea-Dweller 4000, anyone?—then they’ve got a grumpy board to contend with and no Christmas bonus. Alright, maybe just a little one. I, on the other hand, just have to delete a few forum comments and pretend it didn’t happen.

And we may think, when change like this occurs, from the isolation of our own heads it can look like a big mistake, but we really only have the benefit of our own experiences and what John from the club said. He may well have told you that he tried on the 39mm and it was so perfect he bought three, one for him, one for his son, and one for his dog, and yes, anecdotal human stories may carry more weight to our small, emotive brains than a sheaf of A4 paper containing statistical data on the buying practices of reasonably well-off individuals, but the reality is that we don’t know the reality. People would rather wring their hands and make wild claims about things they know nothing about.

So, when Rolex decides that people want a 41mm Oyster Perpetual instead of a 39mm Oyster Perpetual, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in knowing that they have a handle on what they’re doing. They know how many people tried on the old model, gritted their teeth and admitted to themselves that they’d love to purchase it, if only it were a bit bigger. They know how many people opted to go elsewhere because many of the people who think 39mm is better don’t actually buy new Rolexes.

The 2020 Rolex Oyster Perpetual 41 starts at £4,700

The 2020 Rolex Oyster Perpetual 41 starts at £4,700

Remember when everyone said Porsche had sold out by making the Cayenne SUV? I wonder how many of those people tried to save Porsche by buying a 911. I wonder how many of them would have rather seen the company fold and make no more 911s at all than make a tonne of profit and fund the crazy 919 Evo. Perhaps that’s where the 41mm Oyster Perpetual really comes in, the bread and butter of Rolex that lets it experiment with crazy dive watches like the Deepsea Challenger. Maybe I should just shut up and let them get on with it.

If you were expecting a review of the watch itself, my apologies. It’s like the old one but an almost imperceptible amount bigger, with the new 3230 movement that is an almost imperceptible amount better. For me at least, what this watch really stands for is a self-reflective look at what I want from the watch market, and where I stand with the inevitable shifting tides. And do you know what? It doesn’t matter what I think. I shouldn’t be here to tell you what watch to buy or not to buy, I should be here to let you experience them impartially so you can make your own judgement. And that judgement is so simple: you either buy one, or you don’t. Which will it be for you?

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