The Rolex Bubbleback is a rare timepiece in the history of watchmaking. Nicknamed for its unmistakable protruding case, this watch captures the style and imagination of the 1930s, a decade when Rolex introduced some of its most daring innovations in horology. Today the Rolex Bubbleback is coveted by serious collectors the world over – not least of all because it is still ticking.
Yet the Bubbleback by Rolex is all the rarer as it was only produced for around twenty years after first appearing in 1933. The intact models seen today are evidence of the high manufacturing standards of Rolex that established the company as industry leaders. What’s more, though none of the models were ever engraved with the Rolex Bubbleback moniker, its reputation as a reliable wristwatch ensured that collectors recognize it on sight – and continue to call it by its endearing nickname. In Italy the Bubbleback is affectionately known as ovetonne or ‘little egg’, and ‘little coffin’ in Hong Kong.
The Rolex Oyster Bubbleback gets its distinctive rounded case from the unusually thick movement and rotor that, turning on a pivot, sets the winding of the hairspring in motion. It is an ingenious piece of manufacturing that announces itself rather boldly on the wrist as a result of its larger parts.
For horology enthusiasts, the simplicity of the Rolex Bubbleback watch is what makes it a collector’s piece. Together with its unique look, the pure pleasure of telling time without unnecessary embellishment or distraction comes to the fore in the Bubbleback by Rolex. The dial is reserved purely for the hands and Roman numerals, aesthetically reminiscent of the Art Deco movement. As the Bubbleback matured, however, the dial embraced more intricate detailing and style codes.
Rolex Bubbleback watches are available in Rolex Steelium (stainless steel), Rolesor (half gold, half steel) and gold varieties, depending on the wishes of its first owner. The bracelet also has a range of distinctive styles that speak to the personal histories behind each of these vintage timepieces, from steel to textured crocodile leather. Some models also feature expertly woven fabric bracelets that survive to this day.
The case and bezel also deserve special mention, as their design points to developing tastes as well as innovations in manufacturing techniques. Each bezel coveys a unique story with either a smooth, engine-turned style or hooded lugs; while the slight diameter of some Rolex Bubbleback timepieces reveal Rolex’s expansion into the ladies’ watch market in 1941.
For those passionate about the history of timekeeping, the impressive movement in the Rolex Bubbleback is of particular interest. Featuring a balance wheel called a Super Balance that took the Auto-Rotor to new levels of performance; it’s a critical link in the evolution of automatic watches. What’s more, the precursors to Rolex’s iconic Datejust models were also Bubbleback watches, adding another layer to the legend.
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Bubbleback has stood the test of time in form and function until now – and will remain an icon, well into the future.