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1942 Rolex “Raleigh” Stainless Steel. Total Restoration!

About the Item

Welcome to the Vintage Watch Corner, a vintage watch place where you will find the unusual and most likely learn something as well. I pride myself in the different and distinctive time pieces. The Oyster Raleigh is a classic wartime vintage Rolex watch, and one of those models that really is an essential purchase for anyone attempting to build up a collection that charts the products of this famous the Rolex Oyster has remained in production to the present day, but it is these beautiful vintage models which now inspire almost fanatical enthusiasm on account of their striking period good lucks and exquisitely crafted movements. The Rolex Oyster is unquestionably on of the most sought after vintage watches, with well preserved examples collected worldwide. To a large extent, we can attribute this popularity and cult following to the fact that the sheer over engineering and rugged nature of these pieces means that as well as being proven strong financial investments, they can be carefully enjoyed on the wrist on a regular basis without any negative consequences. The two main factors that ensured the success of the Oyster were its waterproof, ultra reliable nature and the supreme accuracy of its movement. Rolex had always carefully marketed these models with very much a sporting, almost daredevil, theme, capitalizing on their use by legendary figures like Sir Malcolm Campbell, the famous British land and water speed record pioneer, and Alex Henshaw, the first pilot to fly from London to Capetown and back again. As an aside, it is worth noting that, incredibly by today’s worldly attitudes, none of these individuals were ever paid by Rolex for their support and were happy to promote the Rolex brand out of a genuine appreciation for this remarkable watch to which they entrusted their lives. This image was cultivated further by an increased alignment with British RAF pilots as the 1930s continued towards their inevitable conclusion. By the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, quite literally, every Rolex Oyster in Britain had been purchased, out of their own pockets, by pilots and other front line military personnel who simply felt more comfortable depending on a Rolex watch than those officially issued by the Government by other Swiss manufacturers. In retrospect, this was an enormous compliment, particularly when we consider just how expensive these watches were when new. For a young pilot, often in his late teens or early twenties, purchasing a piece like the one for sale here was a very significant investment, and this perceived necessity for ownership of a Rolex Oyster among RAF flyers in the war years tells us an awful lot about the justified aura of technical brilliance that the company’s products had earned by this time. The Oyster Raleigh is now inextricably linked with World War II, but in truth, is not technically a wartime watch having been first introduced nine years before hostilities broke out in 1930 and indeed only remaining in production for the first year of the conflict, it being no longer pictured in Rolex catalogues after 1940, two years after this example was made. It is also worth noting that despite its widespread use among RAF pilots. The Oyster Raleigh is not a military watch, ( and in this respect is again in common with the Oyster Army, which despite its name was a civilian model purchased privately by military users) though quite understandably, it is often viewed in this context. Rolex was later, in the 1950s, to trademark a selection of exploration themed names, and we can safely assume that the Raleigh title of this model was inspired by the dashing British Elizabethan era explorer of the same name, Sir Walter. If we look back over the last century, there are certain common re-occurring themes that constantly show up in Rolex Oyster model names. One of these is a sense of speed, exploration and pushing forward boundaries and the other is a connection with English aristocracy and in some cases, the Royal house itself. Even the crown logo, the symbol adopted by Rolex in 1925, utilises this regal imagery that the company’s founder, Hans Wilsdorf, found so irresistible. If we take almost any Rolex model name at random from the 1920s through to the 1980s, it can invariably be assigned immediately to one of these two categories and this Raleigh name is a title that perfectly illustrates this point, combining strong overlapping aspects of both. Case Size; approximately 30MM, Watch Band Size 16MM. Use the pictures to support the collective condition. It is a sublime piece. The watch for sale here is in exceptionally fine condition throughout. I debated very hard if I was going to have the dial, hands and case relished back to its original status. Its gleaming stainless steel case is almost mint, with just the usual tiny imperfections that must be expected on any carefully looked after piece of this age. If the photos of this item are studied carefully, it will be seen that the Oyster Raleigh actually used a slightly different case type from the vast majority of other Oysters from the same era. Unlike the standard models, which have curved sides bending inwards to meet the glass and bezel, the very chunky sides of the Raleigh are almost vertical, these meeting the top surface of the lugs almost at a right angle. Rolex have very rarely produced any design feature in isolation, and we can see this same flat sided case type continued today on the current Rolex diver’s models, whereas the less robust Oysters still use the curved sided cases. We have always liked the very utilitarian, substantial look of the Raleigh case and feel that it just adds that extra interest factor to what is already an extremely attractive watch. The milled edges that surround the case back are in almost perfect condition, this item having only ever been removed for servicing with the correct Rolex tool. This is a very important point, as so many vintage Rolex Oysters, all of which have had this distinctive edging since 1926, have been at some time opened with an incorrect implement causing very unsightly damage. Novice collectors can often be rather swept up in a wave of over enthusiasm and overlook these matters, but this is very unwise as these finer points will have a huge influence over a piece’s value. At these events, serious collectors, often with years of experience behind them, will be seen poring over potential purchases with eyeglasses, looking for imperfections to case back edges, dials and movements, often for several minutes per watch. As with so many areas of antique collecting, condition and originality are everything, near perfect order often multiplying the worth of a watch to several times that of its merely average sibling. This smooth, perfectly polished, screw down case back outer is signed with the serial number 174315, while internally we find the model reference 3478. The two numbers here are, of course, correct for this watch. Page 47 of Charles Jarman’s excellent book “The Rolex Reference Guide” identifies model reference 3478 as “Oyster Raleigh, manual wind, polished bezel, stainless steel” and the second indicating unequivocally that this particular example was made in 1940 ( 1939 production ended with serial number 136000 and 1941 started with 165000). It is always worth checking these numbers before buying any vintage Rolex as so many of these high value pieces have been built up from spare parts removed from scrap or badly damaged watches. The case back numbers should always tie in, as they do here, with the rest of the piece, correctly identifying its model and being appropriate in age. Inside the case back we find the correct stamped wording “Oyster Watch Co, Geneva Swiss, Patented in All Countries”, together with the “RWC Ltd” ( Rolex Watch Company Limited) oval cartouche and the wording “Patented in All Countries”. From this strong reference to patent protection we can see how utterly obsessed Rolex were with securing the Oyster case design in all possible worldwide markets. This is a very important point for anyone wishing to really understand why Rolex were so successful, particularly in the inter and immediately post war years. The quality of Rolex workmanship was second to none, with the sheer standard of finish and build that went into watches like this beautiful example being almost breathtaking, but the success of the company was its genius in combining this high standard with the only case design that was effectively waterproof at the time. The continued prosperity of Rolex depended entirely on the Oyster patent continuing to stand unchallenged, and the firm were well aware, as the forceful mention of worldwide patents signed inside this case leaves us in no doubt, that they needed to take an incredibly active approach in protecting their landmark design at all costs. The original threaded winding crown that was fitted to this watch when new in 1940 is still in place and is in superb, almost unworn, condition. This locks down perfectly onto its correspondingly threaded case tube, creating the waterproof seal for which the Oyster design became world famous. Quite correctly, this crown is signed around its flat outer edge as “Oyster Patent”, together with the Swiss cross emblem. This type of crown is universally regarded as being one of the all time Rolex classics, having been used as standard on the company’s Oysters from 1929 when it replaced the so-called “onion crown” until the early 1940s, when the “Rolex Oyster” signed crown made its debut. So many older Oysters today have had their original crowns replaced, typically with the post-1953 coronet signed type that remains in production today, and it is a pleasure to find an original, near mint vintage crown here. The art deco dial on this watch is completely an original design that has be painstakingly refinished. In a perfect world, we would have preferred a watch on which the dial was perhaps was well preserved than this one, but having said this, during the course of almost thirty years in the vintage watch business, this is by far the tidiest Oyster Raleigh that I have offered for sale. This particular dial layout is one of the most attractive and evocative of all 1930s Rolex variants and actually appeared on several different Oyster models from the inter-war period, these including the self-winding bubbleback types. This is a very complex item, with a gold double minute track consisting of rectangular blocks and Arabic numerals being set outside large radium painted luminous numerals, the dial and hands do have nob-toxic lume material applied. “Oyster Raleigh” is signed in black above the dial centre point. Best of all though, and the features that give the Raleigh that famous “special operations” look are the twenty four hour numerals around the dial centre point. If we look at every aspect of this watch, and this inclusion of a twenty four hour read-off scale is the perfect one to point, Rolex had deliberately produced a piece that was ideally suited to the military buyer and targeted the Raleigh directly at this market. Every vintage wristwatch enthusiast is aware that elderly Rolex movements are the very finest ever made within the Swiss horological industry. One of the major reasons for the rapid advancement in the popularity of these early watches by the great houses is an increased appreciation that this level of quality and hand finishing simply cannot be obtained in a brand new timepiece today. This piece utilises Rolex’s calibre 59 movement, one of the most famous hand wound movements to be offered by the company during the inter-war years and eminently suitable for inclusion into a watch designed for use by forces personnel due to its sheer proven track record of keeping going under the most demanding conditions. This watch has been serviced with no regard to expense on a regular basis since new and is, as a result, in gleaming, almost as new, order. This is of course a fully signed calibre of which Rolex were extremely proud, “Rolex Geneve” being signed on the top plate beneath the dial and “15 Rubies, Swiss Made” being stamped into the bridges. It is very difficult to really begin to scratch the surface of these older Rolex movements within the confines of a short website description, but suffice it to say that they were the very best of their type, still produced when there was very little automation within the Swiss watch industry and essentially finished and regulated by hand on the workbench of a craftsman, many of whom had worked at Rolex since the 1920s. In summary, this is a very tidy vintage Rolex Oyster Raleigh from the early World War II period with the most beautiful refinished dial. Despite being sold in quite significant quantities when new, not many of this model have survived and, perhaps due to the environment in which they first saw service, hardly any now seem to surface in the quite remarkable condition of the one here. I was thrilled to locate this watch when I acquired it privately, and were aware that it might be an awfully long time before we found a better preserved example. This watch is what the antiques trade often refer to as a “sleeper”, one of those pieces that has spent most of its life in a drawer, being removed only occasionally for routine servicing and occasional use. As to its price, we have to hold our hands up and admit that that we found very hard to put a value on this item, simply because we do not recall having seen another genuine Oyster Raleigh for sale in the last decade from which some precedent could be taken. Probably the most useful reference to the Oyster Raleigh in terms of establishing an idea of its worth comes in the Italian collector Osvaldo Patrizzi’s book “Collecting Rolex Wristwatches 2001” where this exact model, is suggested as having a market value, in “exceptional condition” of $4200~$5000, Patrizzi is known to be a stickler for detail, particular in terms of dial condition, and we would definitely suggest that this watch would fall just slightly short of his definition of exceptional. On the other hand, prices of all vintage Rolex watches have escalated exponentially in the last few years since this book was published, a factor that must be taken into account when trying to work out a realistic level for this item today.
  • Creator:
  • Case Material:
  • Strap Material:
    Leather
  • Case Shape:
    Round
  • Movement:
  • Case Dimensions:
    Height: 13 in (330.2 mm)Width: 30 in (762 mm)Diameter: 30 in (762 mm)
  • Style:
  • Place of Origin:
    Switzerland
  • Period:
  • Date of Manufacture:
    1942
  • Condition:
    Repaired: Complete Restoration New Crystal Professional Dial and Hand Refinish Case restored meticulously by generational watch maker Comprehensive mechanical overhaul New Watch Band. Replacements made: Complete Restoration New Crystal Professional Dial and Hand Refinish Case restored meticulously by generational watch maker Comprehensive mechanical overhaul New Watch Band. Polished. Wear consistent with age and use. Complete Restoration New Crystal Professional Dial and Hand Refinish Case restored meticulously by generational watch maker Comprehensive mechanical overhaul New Watch Band.
  • Seller Location:
    Raleigh, NC
  • Reference Number:
    Seller: Sky Rocket1stDibs: LU3149220842032
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