The year was 1969. It was the height of the Cold War between the USA and the USSR. The Vietnam War was at its peak. The murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy (both assassinated the year before) were sentenced. John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged a bed-in for peace, where they recorded the song “Give Peace a Chance.” The California Zodiac Killer was making headlines. Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.
Amid all those major world events, a lesser-known “bombshell” was about to shake the world of watchmaking. On Christmas Day of 1969, Seiko, a relatively unknown brand outside of Japan, released the world’s first quartz wristwatch and forever changed the watch industry, creating what some watch historians would later call “The Quartz Crisis.”
While many legendary timepiece manufacturers would go belly-up, Rolex survived the crisis, answering Seiko with the Oysterquartz, their own overbuilt, quality quartz movement. Today, those quartz Rolex watches can be purchased for a relative steal compared to the typical automatic Rolex. This article serves as your collector’s guide into the world of the Oysterquartz.
Quartz vs. Mechanical Movements
A quartz movement is powered by a battery and uses a quartz crystal to keep accurate time. The quartz crystal oscillates at a precise frequency, and this oscillation is used to power the movement of the watch hands. Quartz watches are known for their high level of precision and reliability and require very little maintenance.
On the other hand, a mechanical movement is powered by a winding spring and uses gears and levers to keep accurate time. Mechanical watches are known for their intricate design and craftsmanship and require regular maintenance, such as oiling, to keep them running smoothly.
Quartz watches are generally more accurate than mechanical watches, as they are not affected by temperature changes, shocks, and other environmental factors that can affect the performance of a mechanical movement.
However, many watch enthusiasts consider quartz watches to be inferior to mechanical watches, as they lack the craftsmanship and artistry of a mechanical movement. Quartz watches are also considered less exclusive and more widely available to the public.
One way to quickly tell if a watch is powered by a mechanical movement is the sweep of the second hand, in contrast to the tick, tick, tick of the quartz movement.
Understanding the Quartz Crisis
The railroads were among the major forces in the mid-1800s, driving the need for timekeeping accuracy. After some tragic rail accidents due to pocket watch inaccuracies, the movements were refined, and official time zones were adopted in the US and eventually globally.
This would be one of the drives behind the birth of a new era of highly accurate watches, and Switzerland would become the de facto capital of watchmaking. That is, until a challenger from the East, Seiko, would introduce the world’s first quartz wristwatch.
Watchmaking is as much an art as it is a science in Switzerland. Their top luxury brands, like Rolex, are known for their handmade movements crafted by expert artisans. With the advent of quartz wristwatches in the late 60s and 70s, all that seemed in question and sparked a panic, which “sunk” many notable luxury brands and put Omega into bankruptcy.
Many wondered if Japan would become the future of watchmaking, displacing Switzerland, as quartz movements were far easier to mass-produce, significantly less expensive to manufacture, and more accurate.
Rolex managed to weather the crisis by developing its own in-house quartz movement, the Oysterquartz, while maintaining its focus and commitment to mechanical movements. This approach proved successful, as quartz eventually became synonymous with mass-produced, inexpensive watches that didn’t last generations like the fine, handcrafted timepieces Rolex was known for.
Rolex Oysterquartz History
In the 1970s, Rolex decided to develop its own quartz movement in response to the growing popularity of quartz watches, which were becoming increasingly accurate and reliable. Rolex teamed up with a group of Swiss watchmakers and engineers to develop the movement named the Beta 21.
The Beta 21 was based on a Japanese quartz movement called the Seiko Astron and was one of the most accurate and reliable quartz movements of its time. Rolex was the first brand to put the Beta 21 in production, followed by other brands such as Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and Omega.
The Rolex Oysterquartz was the first watch model to feature the Beta 21 quartz movement, and it was first introduced in 1977. The watch was available in two models, the Datejust and the Day-Date. It combined the precision and reliability of the quartz movement with the classic design and durability of the Rolex Oyster line.
The Oysterquartz quickly became a highly desirable watch among collectors and enthusiasts. It was in production until 2001 when Rolex decided to discontinue the line and focus on its mechanical timepieces.
Buying a Pre-Owned Timepiece
When buying a pre-owned luxury watch, such as a Rolex, it’s essential to consider several factors to ensure that you get a high-quality, authentic timepiece.
- Research: Before making a purchase, research the different models and styles of Rolex watches. Familiarize yourself with the features and characteristics of the watch you are interested in and its retail price. This will help you identify potential red flags when looking at pre-owned watches.
- Buy from a reputable seller: Look for a reputable seller, such as a certified jeweler or a licensed pre-owned watch dealer. These sellers will have a reputation to uphold and will be more likely to offer a high-quality, authentic watch.
- Check the documentation: Make sure that the watch comes with its original documentation, such as the warranty card and instruction manual. These documents must be present to ensure that the timepiece is authentic
- Inspect the watch: Carefully inspect the watch for any signs of wear and tear, such as scratches on the case or a worn-out bracelet. Also, look for any inconsistencies in the engravings or markings on the watch, as these can also indicate that the watch is not authentic.
- Have it professionally assessed: Have the watch inspected by a professional before making your final decision. A professional watchmaker can confirm the watch’s authenticity and check for any potential issues.
- Consider the price: Keep in mind that pre-owned Rolex watches may be priced higher than their retail value. Compare the price of the timepiece you are considering to its retail price and consider the watch’s condition before making a decision.
By following these tips, you can ensure that you are getting a high-quality, authentic pre-owned Rolex watch.
Rolex Oysterquartz Models
The Rolex Oysterquartz line was initially offered in the Datejust and the Day-Date models. Both models featured the iconic Rolex oyster case, which is waterproof and highly resistant to corrosion.
1. Rolex Quartz Beta-21 (ref. 5100)
Only 2,000 of these watches were made. It’s theorized that 1,000 were made in white gold and 1,000 in yellow gold. That makes these watches quite rare. The case size is 39mm and fits nicely on the wrist. It offers a magnified date at 3 o’clock.
This was the first Rolex to feature a synthetic sapphire crystal, a hacking movement (meaning the movement can be stopped to synchronize with other watches), and a quick set date. Some have criticized the style of this timepiece, but to others, it’s a unique stand-out that will surely be a conversation piece.
Price: $20,472-$30,836 (Source: www.watchcharts.com).
2. Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust (ref. 17000)
The Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust is a luxury watch that was first introduced by the Swiss watchmaker in 1977. The watch features a stainless-steel case with a diameter of 36mm and is water-resistant to 100m.
The case is paired with a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and a screw-down crown, which helps to protect the movement from water and dust. The dial features a white color with gold hour markers and a date display at 3 o’clock. The watch is available with a stainless-steel bracelet or a leather strap.
One of the most notable features of the Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust is its classic and timeless design. The watch is a perfect example of Rolex’s commitment to precision and reliability while maintaining its classic and timeless design.
The Oysterquartz Datejust is also highly collectible, thanks to its historical significance as one of the first Swiss-made quartz movements and Rolex’s first and only quartz watch, which was in production for over two decades.
Price: $4,775-$7,119 (Source: www.watchcharts.com).
3. Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date (ref. 17013)
The Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date was first introduced in 1977, along with the aforementioned Datejust. The watch features a 36mm diameter case, available in yellow gold, white gold, and rose gold, and it’s water resistant to 100m.
The case is paired with a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and a screw-down crown. The dial features a white color with gold hour markers, and the watch features a day of the week display at 12 o’clock and a date display at 3 o’clock.
The timepiece is available with a matching president bracelet, which was designed specifically for the Day-Date. The Rolex Oysterquartz Day-Date is a highly desirable watch that offers the best of both worlds: the precision and reliability of a quartz movement and the classic design and durability of a Rolex oyster case.
The watch is also highly collectible, given the limited supply and no indication that Rolex will be producing more quartz watches at this time.
Price: $3,921-$5,749 (Source: www.watchcharts.com).
4. Rolex Lady-Datejust (ref. 69173)
The Rolex Lady-Datejust Quartz was first introduced in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is a smaller version of the Datejust model, designed specifically for women.
The watch features a 26mm diameter case, available in yellow gold and stainless steel, and it’s water resistant to 100m. The case is paired with a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and a screw-down crown, which helps to protect the movement from water and dust.
The dial features a white color with gold hour markers and a date display at 3 o’clock. The watch is available with a matching jubilee bracelet, which was designed specifically for the Lady-Datejust.
Price: $3,279-$5,183 (Source: www.watchcharts.com).
5. Rolex Cellini Quartz (ref. 6623)
The Rolex Cellini Quartz is a dress watch that was first introduced in the late 1990s. The watch features a 34mm diameter case, available in yellow gold, white gold, and rose gold, and it’s water resistant to 30m.
The case is paired with a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and a screw-down crown. The dial features a white color with gold hour markers and a date display at 3 o’clock. The watch is available with a matching leather strap or a matching gold bracelet.
The Rolex Cellini Quartz is a classic dress watch that is designed with simplicity and elegance in mind. The watch features a timeless design that is perfect for formal occasions. The watch’s dimensions and technical specifications make it an ideal fit for a man’s or a woman’s wrist, making it easy to wear and comfortable.
Price: $4,000 – 18c white gold version (Source: www.exquisitetimepieces.com).
There’s something luxurious about a mechanical movement, both in the way it’s made, requiring more human involvement than the assembly line, automated manufacturing of the quartz, and in the way the movement functions and looks. However, there are undeniable benefits to a quartz movement.
The Rolex Oysterquartz line offers the best of both worlds, the iconic design and craftsmanship of Rolex married with the accuracy of a quartz movement. Most horologists and collectors favor the beauty and intricacy of the handmade, mechanical movements and expect that in a luxury timepiece.
However, the Oysterquartz created a unique hybrid and became a cult favorite among some collectors. The Oysterquartz also provides an opportunity to get a Rolex at a lower price point.