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In 1926 Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex, filed a patent for a watertight watch case that would go on to change the course of horological history.
However, the Rolex Oyster was just one in a long line of similar cases, one that was conceived to do the inconceivable: conquer the elements. The journey had begun as early as 1891, when François Borgel filed a patent for a “sealed” case: brevet number 4001. When Borgel exhibited his case at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, it was described as “a construction completely different from that of the current cases, [which] provides a tightly closed and waterproof case, bowl shaped, elegant and slim.”
Borgel soon collaborated with èbauche manufacturers to create movements designed specifically to fit in his cases. The conceit was picked up by many other companies, including IWC, who made the first Borgel wristwatch. However successful the case proved, there was still room for improvement.
So in 1921, a case maker named Jean Finger filed a patent for a “montre a remontoire avec boitier protecteur”—or “watch winder with protective box.” This patent, CH 89276, called for a three-piece case, where the bezel, dial, and back were enclosed in a larger case with a lid. The outer case only had two pieces, a back and a bezel that would unscrew, much like a Mason jar.
Soon Finger’s case design attracted the attention of Hans Wilsdorf, who filed a patent for it in London (GB 197208), and secured three further patents for model names. The one that stuck was the Submarine, although Hermetic was also used. By whichever name, the watch proved a hit in the tropical markets in which it was most used, and paved the way for the Oyster case that would follow.
This particular hermetic case Rolex possesses a 33mm sterling silver case and an enamel dial with Roman numerals and blued steel hands. The outer case back bears the engravings “397,” “Rolex World’s Records Gold Metal.” Once the bezel is unscrewed, the inner case is revealed, and the markings on the outside are repeated.
Although the later Oyster case would go on to eclipse any previous waterproof cases, the Rolex Hermetic is an interesting artifact of an era when watchmaking was entering a new frontier. As one of Rolex’s first waterproof wristwatches, it paved the way for the Submariner. With the increasing popularity of Submariners from the 1950s and 1960s, its aquatic ancestor deserves a spot in any Rolex collector’s watch box.
Two-piece sterling silver case is approximately 33mm. Rolex manual wind movement. Circa 1920's.
Overall Condition: Sterling silver case is in good condition with some wear and discoloration from age. Enamel dial is in very good condition with crisp printing and no cracks. Unsigned crown.
Includes one 15mm open-ended strap.
Analog/Shift stands behind the authenticity of our products in perpetuity.
We back each Analog/Shift vintage timepiece with a one-year mechanical warranty from the date of purchase.
All of our watches include complementary insured shipping within the 50 states. We are happy to hand deliver your purchase in Manhattan or you may pick it up at our showroom.
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