Last week we briefly discussed the early riveted version of the Oyster bracelet. And we promised the rest of the story. So here goes.
Yes, the Oyster was first released in 1947. It was patented on February 5 of that year, and was 16mm at the straight end links, and tapered to 10mm at the clasp.
But it was predated by a 16mm parallel-sided, but very similar, bracelet in the early 1940s. It did, however, have a folding deployant clasp, just as later versions have always had. Rolex sourced this early parallel version from Mecan. In fact, Rolex usually sourced their bracelets from specialty vendors in those days. That’s why you can find similar, if not identical bracelets on other brands – without the rolex signature, of course.
Then, in 1952, Rolex patented the curved or fitted end link. This was introduced in 1954 as the Flush-fit. The first watch to feature this fitted end link were the new Submariner and GMT-Master. A year later, the Explorer had it too.
All these early bracelets were either folded or folded and pressed stainless steel. They were made in several countries – the United States, Britain, Japan, and Argentina.
Gradually, the expanding feature went away, and the riveted version gave way to a bracelet with solid outer links while the center portion stayed hollow. All however, had stamped end links. The 93160 bracelet on the SeaDweller was the exception. It had solid end links milled from a single piece of steel.
These construction methods lasted until the mid-2000s. That’s when the Oyster bracelets began to get redone with solid center links, starting with the GMT-Master II, Milgauss, and Daytona. The Submariner was last on the list.
Clasps milled from solid stock rather than stamped began to make their appearance too. And on the Submariner and SeaDweller, those clasps were of a new design which allowed expansion of the bracelet without a folding expansion link, which had been hidden in the clasp in the earlier design.
Finally, a caveat. Information is tough to find on date of release for the different Rolex Oyster bracelet generations. And to add to the problem, there is conflicting information, even among well-known and respected references. I’ve done my best, but as I discover new information, I’ll revisit this post and correct any bad or murky information.