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  1. #1
    Steve Maddox

    Default Rolex "Bubbleback"

    The Rolex "bubbleback" models were the world's first waterproof, self-winding watches. They were introduced in 1933, and were produced largely unchanged until 1955. The movements in these are 9 3/4 ligne size, and Rolex actually produced them "in house." The cases are a type of "Oyster" model, which Rolex patented in 1928.

    Most "bubbleback" movements have 17 jewels, but the "premium" grades have 18. A few of the later models have jeweled self-winding mechanisms, but the early ones did not. Even the ones with jeweled winding mechanisms did not count those jewels among the total jewel count as marked on the movements; this often results in movements that are marked "17 jewels," and self-winding mechanisms that are separately marked "two jewels," etc.

    During the late 1940s and early 1950s, watch styles began to grow larger, and several "big bubbleback" models were produced, including the early "Explorer" models, etc. No "true" "bubbleback" models ever had date mechanisms, but several of the "big bubbleback" models did. Most "bubbleback" models, whether "true" or "big," have center sweep seconds hands, but a few (probably about 5-10%) have subsidiary (small) seconds.

    Of course, "bubblebacks" are so known for their unusually thick, "domed" case backs. These were necessary to accommodate their early, relatively primitive self-winding mechanisms, which were essentially "add-ons" to ordinary manual wind movements. Some "bubbleback" cases are composed primarily of three separate parts (back, bezel, and body), but others are composed from only two parts (the bezels and bodies are made together from a single piece).

    The only set of good pictures I have of a bubbleback may be seen at the link below. This particular example is a very rare "hooded bubbleback," but the movement is the same as was used in ordinary models. http://members.aol.com/oddwatches/3599pics.JPG

    Hope this helps!

    Steve Maddox
    President, NAWCC Chapter #62
    North Little Rock, Arkansas

  2. #2

    Default Rolex "Bubbleback" (By: Steve Maddox)

    Just a couple of cents to add here.

    The term "Bubbleback" is, as Steve's quotation marks suggest, a colloquialism.

    Rolex, as far as I know has never sanctioned this term.

    And as Steve points out, true purists, consider a "bubbleback" to be a smaller one that is straight between the lugs. Now the term has been changed to mean anything with a "bubbled" back. (Funny but back in the 80's there were even "manual wind bubblebacks" that had totally flat backs)

    I fear, that like the term "Calatrava" which used to mean the calibre 96 Patek ONLY, and now means just about ANY plain Patek, the term Bubbleback will become an all encompassing term as well.

    Another odd term is "tropical" which at one time referred to the early attempts by Wilsdorf to waterproof and dustproof a watch with screw on bezel that unscrewed to reveal the entire watch housing and the crown too "INSIDE" the bezel. Now the term is used for "bubblebacks" that have a gold top and a steel back!

    And so it goes..... Jeff Hess
    Jeffrey P. Hess, collector, historian, writer, CEO Ball WATCH USA

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