You either love or hate the Rolex Oysterquartz. It's one of the most un-Rolex Rolex - it's a Quartz watch and the design is close to unique - but it's also as Rolex as it gets - a technological marvel developed out of the urge to spearhead a novel frontier. I could stop here but I promised a quantitative guide, too. So let's get down to the details and all the numbers.

July 26, 2023

Rolex that Tick-Tock - A Quantitative Datejust Oysterquartz Guide

  


Marcus Siems     Marcus Siems @siemswatches
    Collector, Author, Data Analyst


  

"Rollies that don't tick-tock" - Jay-Z

That's the famous line from Jay-Z and Kanye West's "N***** in Paris" ever so often recited in horological circles as showing that "real" Rolex don't tick like a - implied - cheap Quartz watch*... Well, what we shall not forget is that Rolex did actually have quite an illustrious Quartz history and one that featured some of their most outstanding designs.

Between 1977 and 2001 Rolex produced a Datejust sibling - the Oysterquartz - that was the Genevan's approach to counter the Quartz revolution and make it their own. The final result went down in history as a watch we shall not forget but today often appears overlooked. So what was the Oysterquartz Datejust?

 

You either love or hate the Rolex Oysterquartz. It's one of the most un-Rolex Rolex - it's a Quartz watch and the design is close to unique - but it's also as Rolex as it gets - a technological marvel developed out of the urge to spearhead a novel frontier.

 

1) The Backstory Part I - The first Electronic Rolex

1977 marked the birth of the first full in-house Quartz movement but not the first electronic Rolex watch. That story begins in 1970 and a collaboration of leading Swiss watchmakers called CEH (Centre Electronique Horloger)[1-4].

The 21-company strong CEH conceived their first electronic movement in 1969 the Beta21. This initial batch had a total output of 6,000 Beta21 movement and Rolex got about 1,000 of those. With these at hand Rolex was quick to introduce their meaningful Quartz timepiece in 1970: the "Texano" ref. 5100 was the final watch that went down in history (900 in yellow gold, 100 in white gold from 1970-72) as a major success.

 

Uber rare Rolex ref. 5100 "Texano" with Beta 21 quartz movementAn extremely rare Rolex ref. 5100 "Texano" with Beta21 movement in white gold - One out of roughly 100 made. Photo Courtesy of Christie's.

 

2) Backstory Part II - The Design Blueprint

The "Texano" made a big splash but it wasn't a fully Rolex-made watch. And Rolex being Rolex couldn't just stay put in the CEH and let a consortium take the lead. So they withdrew and started developing their own Quartz movement, which led to the introduction of the Oysterquartz series in 1977. So far so good but before the movement project was finished they sneakily established the completely new case design already in 1975[2].

The ref. 1530 Perpetual Date and ref. 1630 Datejust were virtually the blueprint of the Oysterquartz ref. 17000 and 17013, respectively. It's the exact same design - integrated bracelet, angular cushion case - but they featured the automatic cal. 1570. A limited production run to test the waters (for example only 1500 pieces were made the 1530[6]). Interestingly, the ref. 1530 and 1630 marked Rolex's second integrated bracelet design and separately installed new Oyster and Jubilee styles. But we can also find differences to the later OQ models: these "prototype" references featured inclined rehautes, something not seen on other Rolex Datejust versions.

rare automatic Rolex reference 1530 and 1630 Datejusts with Oysterquartz designThe rare predecessors of the Oysterquartz - and with mechanical movements as well - the references 1530 Perpetual Date (left) and the 1630 Datejust (right). Blueprints for the ref. 17000 and 17013. Photos Courtesy of Christie's Auctions.

 

3) Caliber 5035 - finally the first Rolex Quartz movement

1977 marks the year that Rolex finally launched the caliber 5035 - their first in-house produced Quartz movement.

vintage Rolex Quartz caliber 5035The technology behind all of this design - the caliber 5035. Photo Courtesy of ShuckTheOyster

 

The cal. 5035 - as well as the 5055 for the OQ Day-Date versions - were extremely reliable and accurate timekeepers. On average the daily deviation was in the range of +- 0.7 seconds, so well below the automatic counterparts with roughly -4/+6 sec[3]. a day. However, the early cal 5035 didn't come with the COSC certification... simply because Rolex didn't sent them to COSC. These earliest OQs thus come with the so-called Mark I movements while the dials only read "Oysterquartz" (3-liner).

 

Early Mark I vintage Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust from 1979 with three-line dialAn example of an early Rolex Oysterquartz ref. 17013 with Mark I movement. Because these pieces weren't officially COSC certified the dials come as a three-liner: "Rolex / Datejust" on top and "Oysterquartz" at 6o'clock. Photo Goldammer.me archives.

 

Rolex changed the movement architecture and the arrangement of the quartz crystal quickly after the initial introduction and finally started to send out the movements to COSC in 1979. So it wasn't actually until the late 1970s that the classic text "Superlative Chronometer" appeared for the first time on the dial of these electronic Datejusts (Mark II movement, 5-liner dial)[1,3].

 

Direct comparison of two 1970s Rolex Oysterquartz ref. 17013 with (right) and without (left) COSC certificationAs a direct comparison - two Rolex Oysterquartz 17013, both from 1979. One with a Mark I movement and 3-line dial (left) and the other with a Mark II movement and corresponding 5-line dial (right). Photo Goldammer.me archives.

 

4) Producing a rare Rolex - Looking back at 25 years Oysterquartz

Now with all the history in the books we finally got the time to take a closer look at the Oysterquartz Datejust itself. We find a total of only three distinct 5-digit references - 17000, 17013 & 17014 - over an approximately 25 year production run. Interestingly, the movement production stopped in 2001 but some retailers were still able to sell them until 2003[3].

But how many were produced during that span? The Oysterquartz Datejust was the most common Quartz Rolex but still quite a rare bird - approximately between 20,000 to 25,000 pieces have been made throughout the entire production period[1,3]... that's roughly 1,000 pieces a year... Or in Rolex terms: very very rare.

 

Relative Distribution of Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust popularity between 1977 to 2003Figure 1. Relative Distribution of Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust popularity between 1977 to 2003. Data courtesy of Chrono24.

 

To further analyze their popularity we checked the available Oysterquartz Datejust watches from Chrono24. Overall, about 2% of the Rolex watches listed between 1977 and 2003 are OQs. In contrast to the total production volume that's actually more than we'd expect: The average annual Rolex production between 1977 and 1989 was at over 500,000 pieces[8]. In sum, that'd mean that only 0.2% of pieces leaving the manufacture were OQs. This makes the Oysterquartz quite a hot watch right now.

Moreover, the distribution appears far from flat. Later iteration of the OQ are a lot scarcer than during the early years, showing a steep decrease in popularity among Rolex watches all throughout the 1980s. It's actually a lot easier to find a 1970s than a 1990s OQ.

 

a pair of vintage Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust models held in handSome of the rarest Rolex watches of the time... and comparably affordable, too. Photo Goldammer.me archives.

 

Interestingly, this general scarcity might come as somewhat of a surprise when we look at the historical retail prices. For example in the late 1980s - so right with the latest update of the catalogue - prices for an Oysterquartz Datejust varied between 2,950CHF for a stainless steel ref. 17000 up to 5,750CHF for a bicolored ref. 17013[5]. This sounds like a lot - and it is - but by then compatible mechanic Datejust models cost you between 3,000CHF and 7,750CHF. In other words, the Quartz Datejust has already been an affordable version.

 

vintage Rolex Datejust models - Quartz on the left and mechanical on the rightIf you would walked into a Rolex boutique in the late 1970s... what would you have chosen? Photo Goldammer.me archives.

  

5) All the different references - Well it's three

I must apologize. So far I've thrown around references like Kirk Cousins dime passes but now we can finally bring a little order to those numbers. In total we got three references: 17000, 17013 & 17014. Those dissociate in three major categories, the bracelet, the bezel and the applied materials.

 

wristshots of all three vintage Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust referencesRolex Oysterquartz Datejust references 17000, 17013 & 17014 (from left to right). Photo Goldammer.me archives.

 

The bracelet. OQs came in 2 distinct bracelet styles: Oyster (17000) and Jubilee (17013/14). In other words two bracelets we'd anyway associate with the brand yet due to the cushion case in slightly different executions. The OQ bracelets show a flatter profile but with angled edges.

 

Integrated Jubilee and Oyster bracelets from vintage Rolex Oysterquartz DatejustsRolex Oysterquartz Datejust bracelet styles - integrated Oyster (left) and Jubilee (right). Photo Goldammer.me archives.

 

The materials. The Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust models came in two different material versions clearly dissociating between references. Hereby, we find either stainless steel (17000, 17014) or bicolored, gold and steel (17013). It appears that no full gold OQ datejust models were produced.

The bezel. The bezels are another established Rolex classic: You'll find either smooth (17000) or fluted (17013/14) bezels.

 

Reference Material
Bracelet
Bezel
17000 steel Oyster smooth 
17013 steel/gold Jubilee fluted
17014 steel Jubilee fluted
Table 1. Quick Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust reference overview.

 

Distribution of Oysterquartz popularity by referenceFigure 2. Distribution of Rolex Oysterquartz popularity by reference. Estimations based on recent Chrono24 listings.  

 

Looking at the popularity by reference we observe two main trends emerging. First, the steel with fluted bezel version (ref. 17014) appears to be the rarest out of the three with only 15% of OQs. Second, the smooth bezelled steel 17000 seems to have been the favorite in the early years but the bicolored 17013 took the lead during the early 1980s.

 

6) Some more details - Dial variations

Hour Marker. Oysterquartz dials vary in two main characteristics: dial color and hour marker style. The hour markers come as either stick markers, diamond indeces or Roman numerals. Further, Roman numerals come as either stick indeces or painted in Buckley style and are far rarer than stick marker. Probably less than 10% of dials feature Roman numerals[7].

 

Distribution of Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust dial colorsFigure 3. Distribution of Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust dial colors[7]. Estimations based on recent Chrono24 listings.  

 

Dial Colors. The dial were sunburst finished and the colors classic Rolex option. Back then you could choose between silver, white, gold/champagne, black, blue, grey and purple. Hereby, almost every third OQ dial has been silver (29%), and about every sixth dial either champagne, golden or white. On a side note, white dials didn't come as sunburst. Blue (10%) and black (9%) dials are quite rare at around every tenth dial on the market. Grey and purple were by far the rarest dials at 2% or below. In other words, probably less than 500 OQ came with either grey or purple dials. If you find one, it's a keeper!

 

7) So what did we learn?

Man, first things first... you either love or hate the Rolex Oysterquartz. It's one of the most un-Rolex Rolex - it's a Quartz watch and the design is close to unique - but it's also as Rolex as it gets - a technological marvel developed out of the urge to spearhead a novel frontier. I could stop here but I promised a quantitative guide, too.

 

A selection of vintage Rolex Oysterquartz Datejust models and variationsHonestly, what's not to love here? A great style and quite versatile if you ask me, too. Photo YouTube Intro.

 

The OQ Datejust is rare! Only about 25,000 pieces mainly made during the late 1970s and early 1980s make these timepieces highly collectible. And it's also quite well to map out the different variations... if all combinations exist** we're looking at 128 different versions (3 refs. (+ 1 steel bracelets at 17013) x 8 colors x 4 marker styles) - double that if you count in Mark I & II dials as well. For a 25 year production run that sounds quite manageable to catch 'em all. But I'm very intrigued to see whether I've missed a version or two... in that case please let me know.

 

 

* Looking into the full lyrics it's probably safe to say Jay-Z wasn't implying about Quartz-ticking but who am I to question him. But let's stick to horology and leave the rap-interpretations to others... for now.

** I'm not 100% sure but I'd say applied Roman numeral dials appeared only after the Mark I movement/dial era.

 

 

References

[1] Rolex Datejust Oysterquartz - History & Design; Felix Goldammer, Goldammer Vintage Watches;

https://www.youtube.com/watch

[2] Rolex Oysterquartz Ultimate Guide; SwissWatchExpo;

https://www.swisswatchexpo.com/TheWatchClub/2023/02/02/rolex-oysterquartz-ultimate-guide/

[3] Rolex Oysterquartz Movement; Emily Smith, WatchBox;

https://www.thewatchbox.com/blog/rolex-quartz-movement.html

[4] Beta21-Watches; Plus-Ultra;

https://www.plus-ultra.ch/en/tags/beta21/

[5] Rolex Katalog 1989 - Schweiz; Rolex (from HIFI archive)

https://www.hifi-archiv.info/Uhren-Werbung/Rolex/Rolex%20Katalog%201989/index.html

[6] A highly rare and attractive stainless steel wristwatch Rolex 1530; Phillips Geneva Nov. 2021;

https://www.phillips.com/detail/rolex/CH080221/170

[7] Chrono24, Karlsruhe, Germany;

https://www.chrono24.com/rolex/datejust-oysterquartz--mod952.htm

[8] Historic Rolex Production Numbers - From 1932 to 1989; Marcus Siems, Goldammer Vintage Watches;

https://goldammer.me/blogs/articles/historic-rolex-production

 

All Rights on the text and graphics reserved to the Author. 

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