The mere mention of a steel sports watch nowadays could either give you fear-of-missing-out, a sense of heartfelt desire or just leave you rolling your eyes at the scramble for these Instagram trophies, most excellent as they may be as quality timepieces.
Sports watches, however, aren’t just those 5-odd blue-chip, unobtainium timepieces, owning one (or many) of which is the supposed litmus test of a true watch collector. In the case of Rolex specifically, it ends up excluding a significant collection – the got-nothing-to-prove, quietly perfect Oyster Perpetual.
In the absence of an accepted definition, I wonder if there are any compelling reasons why the Oyster Perpetual is any less of a ‘sports watch’ than the GMT Master II? Or if it objectively seems less predisposed to sporting activity than, say, a Royal Oak? A great daily driver is a great daily driver, no matter the nomenclature.
Anyway, the point is that the underrated Oyster Perpetual 39 from Rolex is an exceptionally good (sports?) watch for more reasons than one. Truly worthy of more careful consideration. Because sometimes, you really want to just cut through the noise, let go of fleeting trends, and have that one nice, solid watch that accompanies you through the ups and downs of everyday life like a champ. The horological equivalent of comfort food or your favourite local brew.
So let’s get into it.
What is the Rolex Oyster Perpetual?
The Oyster Perpetual is the most unadulterated representation of what a Rolex stands for, as well as the genesis of the brand’s tenacious domination of luxury wristwatches from the early 20th century. While the Oyster refers to any sealed, water-resistant case made by Rolex, the line of watches known as the Oyster Perpetual today are the brand’s most basic offerings. Their entry-level timepiece, so to speak.
Displaying nothing but the time and offered only in steel (in five sizes, no less – 26mm, 31mm, 34mm, 36mm, 39mm) with a number of dial colours, they can elicit almost humorously opposing reactions depending on whom you’re speaking to.
For some, the absence of a jubilee bracelet, cyclops lens and fluted bezel automatically disqualifies them from being a ‘real’ Rolex, while for another section, their unadorned-yet-robust nature ties back to the kind of watchmaking the brand originally set out to do.
This is reflected well in how no core Rolex element has been omitted in designing and constructing the watch – 904L steel, 18 carat gold hands and indexes, chronometer-certified in-house movement, oyster case, oyster bracelet, 5 year warranty, 10 year recommended service interval. It is as purely Rolex as a Rolex can be, with all the promises of precision, reliability and an exceptionally high degree of fit and finish.
Despite its unassuming exterior, it stands for the same obsessive dedication to making a great watch that we’ve come to associate with the brand. And this is evidently made known to a wearer in the metal, as I discovered during the time I spent with it.
Why the Oyster Perpetual 114300 in white?
Oyster Perpetual reference 114300 is the 39mm variant, which is understandably the most popular of the range, given contemporary size preferences. Rolex released this in 2015, with three uncharacteristic but very refreshing dials – dark rhodium, red grape and blue. More than the dial colours, it were the contrasting indexes which made the OP39 (as it is generally known) uncharacteristic by Rolex’s usually conservative standards.
The game changed in 2018 when Rolex introduced white and black dials in the collection. It was that little extra push needed to put them in the realm of the perfect everyday watch. One that feels comfortable no matter what occasion or circumstance you throw at it.
I think it’s fair to say that the idea of a great everyday watch pre-supposes versatility, wearability and robustness. In case of the Oyster Perpetual, apart from a studied timelessness in design and proportion, this is also helped by an industry-leading bracelet and 100 metres of water resistance.
Many would gravitate towards the black dial as the default choice, but there’s a lot of hidden cool going on with the white OP39. And this largely comes down to how well the dial plays with light. It’s lively and chameleonic, constantly shifting among silver, white, eggshell and a multitude of tones in between.
It imbues the watch with a kind of exciting dynamism that tends to keeps you engaged. As if the watch were a pleasantly unpredictable, living entity. Overall, there’s a definite softness to the white OP39’s appearance, which is rather appealing. Quite distinctly different from most white dials out there, which tend to be bright and flat.
Impressions after going hands-on
I’ll concede I was fairly excited when I read about the watch’s release. If there’s one category of timepieces I find endlessly appealing, it’s the no-nonsense, daily watch. And the watch world could do with a few more solid contenders here. The OP39 (especially the black and white variants) seems to be designed with exactly this in mind. However, I didn’t expect to be this impressed after going hands-on.
Admittedly, this watch doesn’t give you much on paper to inspire wonder, but it really shines where it matters. In the metal, it’s got the same, unmistakable sheen of a Rolex that one can spot from across the room. This effect comes from a mix of factors – the use of 904L steel, beautifully (almost-clinically) uniform brushing and a fluid, harmonious taper on the bracelet.
The square, black 5 minute markers also inject a bit of visual interest into, what is otherwise, a fairly straightforward watch. Introducing such subtleties that make noticeable, positive differences is definitely Rolex’s forte. More on that in a bit.
On the wrist
Once you put it on the wrist, it’s one of those watches which goes about its own business until you decide you need it. It doesn’t draw undue attention to itself, but seduces you into a second, joyful glance when you do actually check the time. I’ve noticed this is often the case with watches that feel greater than the sum of their parts; possessing a certain flavour-binding secret sauce.
The thickness of about 11mm feels quite right, given what the watch is attempting to be – which is to say, not a fine, ultra-thin watch, but rather a comfortably substantial do-it-all. Each dimension and proportion seems to have been considered with the intention of hitting the sweet spot between elegance and robustness. Rolex know this zone all too well.
But the watch, for all its apparent simplicity, is by no means uninteresting. The black markers, high-polish indexes and applied coronet ensure there are enough design elements to instil a certain depth and character. In fact, the more you look at it, the more it seems quite exact in what it attempts to pack in.
All too often, exercising design restraint results in stripping down character, but thankfully that isn’t the case with the white OP39. Basically – and this is hugely positive even though it may not sound like it – it’s not a watch you need to be in the mood for. It’ll come around.
Now I’m not going to say anything that hasn’t been said before about the Oyster bracelet, but it’s really, supremely comfortable as we’ve come to expect on all their watches. If compared with a Submariner, you don’t have on-the-go adjustment or the applied coronet on the clasp, but neither feels like an omission, honestly, nor a deal-breaker. All things considered, we are talking about Rolex’s entry-level watch, eschewing ornamentation for understated flawlessness.
The bracelet is fully brushed (compared to the polished centre links you’d find on many Rolex watches, including the Datejust), and apart from helping the watch keep a low profile, it also works as sort of an age-mask. Polished centre links are notorious for picking up scratches with alarming ease, but also add a bit of bling and contrast, so opinions are usually quite divided. It comes down to a matter of personal preference, as ultimately, there is no real, qualitative difference between the two.
As with a lot of modern Rolex watches, the Oyster Perpetuals too, wear larger than what paper dimensions would typically have you imagine. This is, of course, quite relative and means different things to different people. So I’ll let a photograph do the talking here.
In case of the white OP39, the colour and space on the dial amplify this effect further. So it isn’t exactly a modest size, especially in its overall visual effect. However, this is down to personal preference and what your own wrist can take.
It fit quite well on my small (~6.2 inch) wrist too, but I would ideally prefer a size that proportionally looks more elegant, relative to the wrist-real-estate on offer. This is because the OP feels like the kind of watch that does better when not making its presence felt too much. A quietly confident tool that doubles up as a smart accessory on demand.
The good news is that the white (and black) Oyster Perpetual is available in a 36mm variant as well – which is the de facto size for the Datejust, for reference. This 36mm version (reference 116000) has double-indexes at the 3,6 and 9 hour positions, which means the soothing symmetry seen in the OP39 is compromised in favour of a slightly different dial layout.
But there may just be a middle-ground.
A radical idea – the Oyster Perpetual 34
The OP in white, with a layout very similar to the OP39 comes in a 34mm version too (reference 114200). It probably sounds unthinkable to even consider a watch of such diminutive proportions, but in many ways, the OP34 is the dark horse of the Rolex catalogue.
I did say earlier that the visual effect of modern Rolex watches exceeds their stated dimensions, and the OP34 is no different. On wearing it, I got the impression that it was modest, in a good way, and very comfortably above the threshold of being awkwardly small. This assessment is fairly subjective, I would agree. On the other hand, something I’ve seen consistently stated on the forums is that the current OP34 wears much like earlier Explorers and Datejusts, which were 36mm.
My point is that a perfectly good watch shouldn’t be written off purely on its stated specifications, especially considering that it appears to wear very similarly to other watches that many are quite comfortable sporting, or even actively seek out. Put it on your wrist for a while before making up your mind. It’s worth a shot.
While comparing the different sizes of the white OP, I came across some more interesting little details that had escaped me earlier. The dial layouts of the OP39 and OP34 are similar, not the same. On the face of it, you may get the impression that the OP34 is a downsized facsimile of the OP39, or vice versa, but there are more than a few things that greet you on looking closer. On the OP34, size of the indexes at 3,6 and 9 hours are larger than the rest, while they are uniform on the OP39. The indexes are also placed closer to the minute track on the OP34. Further, even the size of the ‘Oyster Perpetual’ text relative to ‘Rolex’ is different.
Essentially, it seems that even while the two models are intimately related, they have been designed independently to ensure that each watch, on its own, is the best that it can be. It is proof of the little details the brand pores over and one of the many reasons they are where they are.
The appeal of a watch so simple
The fact that the Rolex Oyster Perpetual is their ‘entry-level’ watch is merely coincidental, because it neither feels built with that idea in mind, nor are there any signs of cut corners. In fact, this format of wristwatch has historically been Rolex’s stronghold with a long, storied lineage. And even in it’s current incarnation, it’s been given the full brand treatment.
The Oyster Perpetual is basically a pared down Datejust, serving more conservative taste. A kind of watch you wear for no one but yourself, taking joy in its purity and remarkably high level of execution.
While the Oyster Perpetual isn’t peerless, it does make a very strong case for itself, when pitted against competition from watches like the Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra and Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris, among others. At least as far as sticker prices go, the Oyster Perpetual collection comes in at significantly lower than the aforementioned watches too. The OP39 (reference 114300) is ₹3,71,800, OP36 (reference 116000) is ₹3,51,400 and OP34 (reference 114200) is ₹3,30,400. (US pricing: $5,100-$5,700)
So without being objectively inexpensive, the Oyster Perpetual collection still offers quite a lot, relative to peers in the segment. Most of all, they are robust, comfortable watches with timeless design and outstanding finish. And with the brand itself confidently standing behind its watches with things like 5 year warranties and 10 year service intervals, it gives a pretty good sense of how long you can expect these timepieces to last. They’re basically heirloom-ready.
To sum it up, the Oyster Perpetual is a watch you can truly make your own. Because it has no baggage, polarising design or delusions of grandeur – just a romantic singularity of purpose. In any avatar, it does what it needs to do. And it does it damn well.
- Material: 904L steel
- Crystal: Sapphire crystal
- Movement: Automatic calibre 3132 with non-magnetic Parachrom hairspring
- Power reserve: 48 hours
- Water resistance: 100 metres, with a screw-down crown
- Accuracy: +2/-2 seconds per day
- Strap / bracelet: Three-link Oyster bracelet in 904L steel
- Price: Between ₹3,30,400 – ₹3,71,800 for the 34, 36 and 39mm models (US pricing: $5,100-$5,700)
Special thanks to Sarat Bhogavalli (@mrpaminreverse on Instagram). Spending time with his OP39 inspired this story. He also graciously contributed the lovely photographs you see here.
Boring or timeless? 34, 36 or 39mm? What’s your take on the Rolex Oyster Perpetual and the romantic idea of having that one-nice-watch for a lifetime? Please do share your thoughts in the comments below.