Updated: May 6
Throughout the years, Rolex has released numerous models of their famous timepieces. One of the earliest models was the Bubbleback. The creation of the Bubbleback made an impact in the history of watchmaking due to the introduction of the very first Auto-Rotor, which brought forth Rolex’s accomplishment of developing a self-winding movement. To this day, the Bubbleback is widely sought after and is considered one of the most collectible timepieces in the world due to the discontinuation of the product in the early 1960’s.
The Bubbleback was created due to a goal that watch companies everywhere were striving to achieve: the evolution of watchmaking through the creation of a self-winding movement. While competitors sought to incorporate minor modifications to Harwood’s self-winding watch what did not feature a winding stem, Rolex experimented with the movements that already existed in Rolex watches and looked for a new solution to the old but daunting challenge. In 1931, they created the auto-Rotor movement from an Aegler movement. This innovative new invention resulted in a perpetual motion, which meant the winding mass could turn smoothly clockwise and counterclockwise, as well as picot a full 360 degrees on its staff in the middle of the movement. It was in 1932 that they finally patented their very first self-winding perpetual timepiece. A year after that, Rolex released the Bubbleback, publicizing it as the “new watch sensation of 1934” in an attempt to quell public skepticism.
One of the most interesting details about this new timepiece, however, is that it never had the name Bubbleback engraved on it—in fact, the words Rolex Oyster Perpetual were engraved on it. The reason the Rolex Oyster Perpetual came to be known as the Bubbleback was because of its bubble-shaped, thicker case back. This was because the Auto Rotor was so thick and led to an over-sized mechanism, which required a thicker case. This earned the Rolex Oyster Perpetual a few nicknames, to include Bubbleback and Ovettone, an Italian nickname meaning “little egg.”
The very first Bubbleback was the model 1858, which was powered by the Ref.520 movement while other versions were powered by the Ref.530 movement. The earliest Bubblebacks featured a three-piece case and a deeper case back. In 1936, Rolex introduced two more extravagant and magnificent models, the 3131 and the 3132. These new models both exhibited a two-piece case and a new movement. The Model 3131 was powered by the Ref.620, which used subsidiary seconds, while the Model 3132 was powered by the Ref.630, which used sweep seconds.
In 1935, Rolex made a significant breakthrough when the Bubbleback models were equipped with a streamlined balance wheel called the Super Balance. Rolex also took another leap forward and sold this new Bubbleback in three different sizes so men and women alike could proudly wear the magnificent watch and in 1941, Rolex released a Bubbleback specifically for ladies. Rolex continued to release Bubblebacks for years until discontinuation, leaving behind a beautiful legacy for the Rolex Oyster Perpetual.
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