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Rolex Tudor Oyster steel. Very early. 1946
Dating from 1946, only a year after Rolex introduced the Tudor range, this stainless steel Rolex Tudor Oyster is one of the earliest examples of this model that we have seen. Despite being almost seventy years old, it remains totally original and in virtually mint condition throughout, making it ideal for the serious collector or investor.
The Tudor range came about as Rolex attempted to satisfy the demand for lower priced, but still high quality, luxury wristwatches in the years following World War II. These were austere times, and, with food rationing still in place and an outright ban on the import of gold for jewellery purposes into the UK, the company realised that profits could be made by offering a reliable product, with the same pedigree and all the patented features that had made the Rolex Oyster such a commercial success in the inter-war period, for a less expensive price.
This was achieved by using a standard Rolex Oyster case, but instead of fitting it with a movement normally found in the mainstream Rolex range, employing instead a unit that was purchased from third party suppliers and then refining it in-house. The resulting watches were actually of a very high grade, to the extent that in many instances, the disparity between them and their equivalents in “full” Rolex form was almost embarrassingly small. Today, vintage Tudors are very much sought after in their own right by the Rolex collecting fraternity. The physical auctioneer Sotheby’s sold a Tudor chronograph in May 2008 for a record breaking 48000 GB pounds, and while this was certainly an extreme example, it is indicative of the enthusiasm for early Tudors that has developed over the last two years in particular. The English horological magazine “QP” tipped vintage Tudor as “the next big thing” and all the evidence seems to suggest that this is indeed the case.
Even looking at this case with a jeweller’s eyeglass, it is difficult to make out the smallest imperfections. We would suggest that it has probably only ever been used on a very occasional basis and certainly never as an everyday watch.
The design of this case is unusual and worth of brief comment. On almost all vintage Rolex Oysters of this period, the case sides are rounded and there is no specific point where the side joins the top. Instead of this, the sides of this case are flat and vertical, and they meet the top of the case at sharp right angles. Flat case sides are something that we associate with Rolex sports models from relatively recent years, for instance the Submariner, GMT Master and Explorer II, but we don’t normally think of them in the context of the classic 1940s Oysters.
The milled edge around the case back is in excellent condition and is not in the least bit chewed. This is always indicative of a watch that has been carefully looked after and opened only with the correct Rolex factory tool. Particularly during the 1970s, when mechanical wristwatches were deemed to be of little commercial value, many owners begrudged the high cost of servicing at Rolex agents and instead entrusted their timepieces to back street repairers who didn’t have access to the appropriate equipment to open Oyster cases without damage. The milled edge here is crisp and just as it should be.
The case back outer is stamped with the individual serial number 449460. Falling between the two extremes for that year of 413000 and 478000, this informs us that this piece was manufactured in 1946. These very early Tudor models have serial numbers that conform to those of mainstream Rolex Oyster production. Later, in the mid-1950s, Tudors were assigned their own serial number sequence that differed from that of the rest of the Rolex range.
Internally, the case back is covered with an engine turned pattern and signed “Tudor, Geneva, Switzerland, Patented”, together with the model reference 4453. Looking this up in Charles Jarman’s book “The Rolex Reference Guide, 4th Edition”, we see on page 48 that it defines the watch as a “stainless steel manually wound Oyster, with a polished bezel”. This is the perfect summarized description of the piece here. We always advocate the checking of model references against the features of the actual watch being offered for sale. Over the years, case backs have been changed and there have been many occasions when we have investigated a model reference and found that it bore no relation at all to the specification of the model to which it was fitted. It only takes a few moments to look up a model reference, and this is a good initial safeguard against watches that are made up from incorrect parts.
The winding crown is of the correct screw down type and is signed on its flat outer edge as “Oyster Patent”. This pattern was the one used by Rolex for Oysters from 1929 until approximately 1946, making this one of the last watches to have this crown variant. Post-1947, there would be the gradual phasing in of the “Rolex Oyster” signed crown. While arguably the most important feature that ensured the water resistance of the Oyster, the screw down crown can suffer damage to its internal threads if handled roughly. The threads inside this crown are perfect, as are those on the corresponding case tube. The crown tightens down securely onto the case side without any problems.
In common with all the watches for sale on our website, this one isn’t cheap and other examples of the same model could almost certainly be located at a lower price. However, it is very unlikely that they would have the same totally original, near mint dial that is present on this item. In many ways, the buyer is actually largely paying for the dial when he purchases a collectible vintage wristwatch and deficiencies in condition or originality will devalue any model dramatically at a stroke. A watch with a so-called “restored” dial, this innocent sounding term actually describing a process that involves the complete stripping of a dial surface and its replacement by a completely new re-printed substitute, will be worth only approximately half of its potential value with a near mint, untouched dial. Original dials in virtually perfect condition are rare and therefore expensive, but for the collector intent upon acquiring items for investment, there really isn’t any alternative.
“Tudor Oyster” is stated above the dial centre point, with “Swiss Made” running around the bottom edge. The minute track is unusual, having minute markers outside double track rings rather than between them. This is very attractive and gives the dial an art deco influenced appearance.
The blued steel hands are completely original and in excellent condition. These are very wide, noticeably wider than normal, and filled with luminous paint. If one wished to be over-critical, it might be said that this paint, and that of the large Arabic numerals on the dial, was slightly aged and more of a mellowed khaki than a bright green, but this is entirely due to the unavoidable chemical decay of its radium ingredient. Knowing this, no experienced collector would ever be critical of a wartime piece with aged radium paint and this does not in any way detract from the value of the watch or its good looks.
When we unscrew the case back, we can closely examine the movement inside the watch. This is a calibre 59 unit, manufactured by Fabrique Horologerie de Fontmelon to an exceedingly high quality standard. Interestingly, while used here in a Tudor model, calibre 59 also appeared at approximately the same time in a number of mainstream Rolex Oyster types including the Centregraph, Lipton and Raleigh, all of which were sold primarily in the Canadian market. Rolex has a policy of never releasing details relating to its past production and without access to company records it is impossible to be specific, but in our business, we don’t recall having seen a Tudor Oyster post-1950 with a calibre 59 movement, and it seems fair comment to say that by the end of the 1940s, Rolex had decided to emphasise the gap between the Tudor models and the rest of the firm’s range by using ETA and A.Schild movements for its hand wound Tudor Oysters.
Calibre 59 is quite rightly regarded today as something of a vintage Rolex classic. While beautifully finished and robustly engineered, it was actually a very simple design and this lack of complication contributed greatly to its well deserved reputation for reliability. While Rolex today will still undertake the servicing of its wartime models, the truth is that there is nothing here that couldn’t be maintained just as well by a conscientious local watchmaker for a fraction of the cost. We do recommend Rolex servicing in some instances, but for a simple hand wound model, it seems excessive and rather profligate.
The condition of this particular movement is, quite literally, almost as-new. It would be impossible to locate a better representative sample of calibre 59 and even under high magnification, this unit looks as if it was manufactured only yesterday. Not one component part has been changed and everything here gleams brightly. The signature “Tudor, 17 Rubies, Swiss Made” is stated on the plates, these being completely covered in a set of faux Geneva stripes.
Having been serviced regularly, this movement works perfectly. It winds, sets and runs very smoothly and with excellent amplitude. Properly looked after, this piece will continue to perform faultlessly for many decades. Early Rolex watches were built not as throwaway fashion items, but as expensive pieces of high precision machinery that were intended from the outset to last for the lifetime of their purchasers. Provided a near perfect, mechanically unworn example is sourced, there is no reason at all why a 1940s Oyster like the one here shouldn’t be in fully working order a century from now, just as many antique pocket watches from the Victorian era still are today.
The London based Japanese collector Shigeharu Aritake includes a large colour photograph of a 1949 reference 4453 Oyster in his excellent book “Rolex Scene 1913-1997” on page 220. He also includes a close up shot of a calibre 59 movement on page 9. We have used these two pages as the background for three of the photographs with this listing. Interestingly, notice how Mr. Aritake’s watch has a centre sweep second hand rather than the subsidiary second hand here. The 4453 was available in both versions.
We have fitted this watch with a high quality crocodile skin type strap. This is not a genuine Rolex strap, but it is very similar in both construction and appearance to the straps supplied by the company on its Oyster range in the 1940s. It is brand new and has never been worn.
Within the vintage watch collecting fraternity, everyone seems to be agreed that classic Tudor Oysters are set to explode in price very soon. We constantly monitor the market for emerging trends and would not disagree with this view. It seems to make logical sense that as the value of mainstream Rolex models from the 1940s and ‘50s climbs to an extent that many enthusiasts are no longer able to finance new acquisitions, then attention will increasingly focus on the best of the Tudor range from the same era.
The price of this watch is £725 GB pounds. For a completely original Rolex Oyster in almost mint condition from only the second year of Tudor production, this is not an excessive sum. If values of early Tudors soar as predicted, it will be these near mint, untouched pieces that produce the strongest sale room results and it seems likely that even five years from now, this will be seen retrospectively to have been bought at a very inexpensive level. Whatever happens, its purchaser will own a lovely, totally authentic classic Rolex watch that will always appreciate in value while at the same time being a very enjoyable piece to wear.