Today, a Rolex watch is often thought of as a status symbol – you can walk down nearly any street in Manhattan and quickly run out of fingers on which to count Submariners. These are the watches that every Wall Street trader buys with his first bonus, regardless of whether or not he knows how to SCUBA dive.
However, those with an interest in vintage watches realize that Rolex was originally a tool watch manufacturer – that is, a brand creating timepieces that fulfilled a specific purpose, i.e. to function flawlessly beneath the ocean and time a dive, or to display two time zones concurrently for pilots who were actually crossing time zones in the sky, or to give a spelunker a clear indication of whether it was night or day in an environment entirely devoid of natural light. Watches produced in this bygone, pre-cell-phone-is-always-in-your-hand-telling-you-everything-including-things-you’re-not-even-remotely-curious-about-to-begin-with era have seen their values explode lately (perhaps due to some sort of collective, subconscious nostalgia for simpler times), to the extent that many classic Rolex models are now so expensive that only the ultra-wealthy can afford them.
However, there is one particular type of vintage Rolex that that hasn’t yet realized stratospheric prices, and can serve as a gateway to collecting the brand’s vintage pieces without completely guaranteeing your financial demise – namely, the Rolex Oysterdate Precision.
The Oysterdate Precision Family
What the hell is an Oysterdate Precision, you might ask? It’s a family of watches produced from the 50s through the 80s that share a set of common attributes, chief among them a 34mm Oyster water-resistant case (for the references we’re speaking about, anyway – some had 31mm cases) with screw-down crown, a date function, and a non-chronometer-grade movement. Many of these Oysterdates were originally sold on a stainless steel Oyster bracelet, as well.
Because the Oysterdate Precision models didn’t feature chronometer-grade movements, they received the moniker “Precision,” and the words “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” did not appear on the dials. However, the watches still of course received in-house Rolex movements, which were all hand-winding rather than automatic (the reference 6694, for example, which was produced from about 1958 through the 1980s, features the Rolex caliber 1225, a 17-jewel movement beating at 21,600 bph).
The earliest references of the Oysterdate Precision are the 6094, the 6294, and the 6494, which often feature sword hands and super-cool roulette date wheels, in which the date numbers alternate between red and black fonts (though the movements on the Oysterdate Precision models, it should be noted, do not feature quick-set date function). Some of the crystals features “cyclops” magnifiers, and all feature drilled lug holes for easy strap/bracelet swapping.
So what does this feature set give you? You get a watch from a storied manufacturer with an in-house movement, date wheel with roulette date disc, water-resistant Oyster case, hand-winding movement, timeless looks, and the ability to wear it with a classic steel Oyster bracelet or a leather (or other) strap. Because of its modest 34mm case size, the Oysterdate Precision can function as a dress piece on the right strap, but throw it on a bracelet, and it reverts to tool watch territory (unless you’re Sly Stallone, in which case a 34mm watch looks like a ladies watch on you, and you’re probably wearing a Panerai, anyway).
Most guys would probably be surprised that they can pull off a 34mm case just fine – I mean, look at pictures from WWII – those G.I.s were wearing 31mm A-11s, and nobody dared question their masculinity! You don’t need a 44mm behemoth of a watch, goddamnit!
But the best thing about Oysterdate Precisions is the value: right now, these watches are still a relative bargain (for vintage Rolex, anyway), with prices beginning around $2,000 to $2,500 and heading up to around $4,000 depending on bracelet/strap type, condition, age, etc. Because the Oysterdate Precision line spanned many years and several references, there are myriad dial types, colors, and finishes to choose from, ranging from simple glossy black dials to textured linen dials and beyond.
So what’s our advice? Snap one of these up before the prices start to follow the rest of the vintage Rolex market and head promptly up into the stratosphere.