Friday, June 23, 2006

Rolex bubbleback


Some background History from the web: Rolex was founded in London, in 1905, by the 24-year-old Wilsdorf, a German who became a British citizen after taking an English bride. It was an era when national borders tended to define men's ambitions, but Wilsdorf thought big from the beginning. In 1908, before anyone had uttered the term multinational, Wilsdorf trademarked the word Rolex, a name that's easily pronounced in different languages and short enough to fit on a watch dial. It's said that Wilsdorf dreamed up the word while riding a London bus, having been inspired by the sound a watch makes as it is wound

I love the Rolex bubblebacks! One of my key collections are the vintage Rolex Bubbleback as these are the first fully functional automatic watches produced in the 1930s. What attracts me was its unique protruding backcase (which is why it was called bubbleback).  One of the more unique Rolex watches is the Rolex Bubbleback, whose name comes from its protruding case back, which bulges in order to accommodate the thick movement and rotor that turns on a pivot, powering the winding of the mainspring.

The first Bubbleback made its appearance in 1933, and the watches were produced for only about twenty years. The Bubbleback helped establish Rolex as a brand known for its reliability, and these watches certainly are reliable—as evidenced by the relatively high number still functioning today. Most of the early small and medium size Bubblebacks displayed time only. The original model featured subsidiary seconds, which later changed to sweeping seconds.  Later models also included the date, becoming the first DateJust models produced by Rolex. In 1935, Rolex developed the “Super Balance,” a streamlined balance wheel that improved the functioning of the Auto-Rotor. Rolex then began producing the watch in three different sizes to make it more appealing to individuals of both genders. In 1941, Rolex launched a Bubbleback model intended specifically for ladies.

The Rolex Bubbleback is a very iconic watch, and a coveted collector’s piece. There are many versions namely: in steel, half gold, gold (9k, 14k, 18k Pink or Yellow gold) and hooded version as well as the varies sizes and dials. One of the rare ones that I have is the one with the hooded bubbleback in pink gold (made for the USA market) as well as the one with 9 Rolex crowns, and the California dial!

Some additional information from the net. The bubbleback was Launched in 1933, it was also one of the early Rolex models. The creation of this model was a significant event for Rolex because it featured the first Auto-Rotor. Rolex is not the first to create the automatic movement. Harwood was one of the pionner. However, The Auto-Rotor signified Rolex's success in developing a self-winding movement and what differntiates it from the competitors was its reliability. Today, the Bubbleback is one of the most sought after and collectible wristwatches in the world because production was discontinued in the early 1960s.

How Did Rolex Succeed in Creating the Bubbleback?
In the 1920s, numerous watch-making companies were trying to create a self-winding movement. They kept attempting to incorporate slight modifications to Harwood's self-winding watch that featured a no winding stem. However, Rolex was following altogether a different path. It experimented with its existing movements and looked for a new solution to the old challenge. Finally, in 1931, Rolex created the Auto-Rotor movement from an existing Aegler movement (subsidiary seconds Hunter 8-3/4"). This invention resulted in a "perpetual motion" wherein the winding mass could turn smoothly both clockwise and counter-clockwise and pivot a full 360 degrees on its staff in the center of the movement. In 1932, Rolex patented its first successful self-winding perpetual wristwatch. One year later, the Rolex Bubbleback was introduced into the market. Due to unsuccessful attempts in the past and the resulting skepticism in the public eye, Rolex tried to publicize this new model as "the watch sensation of 1934".

How the name Bubbleback come about?
The fascinating historical marker is the watch never had "Bubbleback" engraved anywhere on it, and was never officially designated that title as it was a term coined by the watch collectors. Instead, it bore "Rolex Oyster Perpetual" just below the 12 o'clock position. How did it come to be known as "Bubbleback?" The answer lies in its bubble-shaped, thicker case back. The thick Auto-Rotor led to an over-sized mechanism which needed a thicker case. Another nickname for this model had been "Ovettone," an Italian word meaning "little egg." for the Hong Konger, it was known as the "Little coffin" 倌材仔.

Notable Changes Introduced Over Time
The first Rolex Bubbleback was the model 1858 powered by the Ref.520 movement. The sweep versions were powered by the Ref.530 movement. The earliest Bubbleback models featured a 3-piece case and a deeper case back. In 1936, Rolex rolled out two new models: 3131 and 3132. Both these models sported a new 2-piece case and new modified movement 9-3/4". The only difference between the models was that while the Model 3131 was powered by the Ref.620 (subsidiary seconds), model 3132 was powered by the Ref.630 (sweep seconds). It is interesting to note that the early Bubbleback watches were the first Rolex models to be made available in the stainless steel material known as Steelium. Some models were also made available in Rolesor (steel and gold combination). The two terms, Steelium and Rolesor, were coined by Rolex and subsequently patented in 1931 and 1933, respectively.

A significant breakthrough took place in 1935 when the Bubbleback models were equipped with a new streamlined balance wheel known as the "Super Balance." This improved the functioning of the Auto-Rotor. Rolex went one step further by marketing its Bubbleback models in three sizes so that they could appeal to men and women alike. In 1941, a ladies Bubbleback model was launched, powered by the Ref.420 movement. However, no sweep version of the model was made available for ladies. Later, in the 1950s, some Bubbleback models--such as model 5018--were introduced featuring "Bombe lugs".

Many other modifications, cosmetically as well as technically, were introduced over time, finally leading to the development of a new Rolex model called the"Big Bubbleback”. The Big Bubbleback led directly to the development of the Rolex Datejust, which eventually became one of the flagship Rolex models.


Lester Wong said...

Rolex is the brand that never expire until today. Rolex is one of the best watch to be chosen by men and ladies for gift, anniversary, wedding, birthday and ceremony.

Best Rolex For Men and Ladies

Adam Douglas said...

I enjoyed reading this blog post about the Rolex bubbleback. I am starting to get interested in these watches and I was wondering if you could recommend a good book that covers the history and various bubbleback models?

Avinash Dwivedi said...

I appreciate your knowledge on the Vintage Rolex that makes this blog useful in the Vintage Rolex Watches, thanks.
Thanks for the sharing a nice blog that will really useful in the getting more knowledge about the Vintage Rolex.
Rolex Bubble Back

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