When you think of Rolex, the calibres of the Swiss watch manufacturer are probably not the first thing that comes to mind. While the design, name and history of Rolex models promise luxury and prestige, calibres are often reduced to their functionality. First and foremost, a calibre should work smoothly. But hardly any other brand has understood how to combine functionality with a spirit of innovation like Rolex. With over 100 calibre variations in its repertoire, Rolex has initiated some of the most important innovations in the watch industry, all of which are now standard and serve as the basis for the movements of other brands.
Indicators for the quality of calibres
One of the characteristics by which the precision of a calibre can be measured is its frequency. Generally speaking, the higher the frequency, the more precise the watch will be. The range stretches from the beginnings in the 1950s, which only had a frequency of 18,000 beats per hour (BPH), to the newer models of the Submariner and GMT-Master II, which all have a frequency of 28,800 BPH. In addition to precision, the power reserve is also a decisive indicator for the quality of calibres. This is the time the watch runs after winding before it has to be wound again. The latest calibres from Rolex are able to boast up to 70 hours of power reserve.
Caliber 3185 | ROLEX EXPLORER II 16570
The beginnings of the Rolex calibres
1930 to 1960
|Caliber 620||1931||First automatic rotor, small
|18.000 BPH||Rolex Bubble Back|
|Caliber 1030||1950||Rolex’ first in-house calibre,
|18,000 BPH||Rolex Submariner,
Rolex Oyster Perpetual
|Caliber 1040||1954||Automatic movement with
the precision of a quartz
|18,800 BPH||Rolex Tru-Beat|
|Caliber 1036||1954||Central GMT function||18,800 BPH||Rolex GMT-Master|
|Caliber 1565||1959||GMT function independent
|18,000 BPH||Rolex GMT-Master|
Rolex Caliber 620The most important of these innovations took place in 1930, when Rolex introduced the Caliber 620, the first automatic rotor that could wind the movement in both directions. Whereas previously, you had to wind your watch manually, this was done by the constant movement of the wrist in an automatic movement. Therefore Rolex called the rotor "perpetual". The calibre was used in the Rolex Bubble Back.
Rolex Caliber 1030At that time, it was still common for brands to buy movements from producers like Zenith, ETA or Valjoux and modify them according to their own needs. Rolex, however, began making its own movements early on. The 10xx-series would serve as a blueprint for later calibres. The Caliber 1030, which debuted in 1950, was mainly known for its functionality and reliability. The calibre is used in the Rolex Oyster Perpetual, the Submariner, as for example in the Ref. 6536, and in the Rolex Explorer.
Caliber 1530 | ROLEX SUBMARINER 5513
Rolex Caliber 1040If a Rolex watch ticks once every second, it is either a Rolex with quartz movement like the Oysterquartz Datejust, a fake or the Rolex Tru-Beat. A true exotic among Rolex watches, the Tru-Beat debuted in 1954 with the Caliber 1040, which ticked five times per second at 18,000 vibrations per hour. For this reason, a complex escapement was developed that reduced the five beats to just one beat. Rolex marketed the watch specifically for doctors and nurses, who could use it to more easily measure the pulse of patients.
Rolex Caliber 1036 and 1565After producing the reliable calibres in the 10xx series for its bestsellers, Rolex began to pursue new challenges, such as a GMT calibre for GMT watches that allowed you to see two time zones at once. It all began in 1954 with the GMT-Master (Ref. 6542), which Pussy Galore also sported on her wrist in the James Bond movie "Goldfinger". This reference contained the Caliber 1036, where the GMT hand was still connected to the hour hand. The wearer set the time zone by moving the bezel. In 1959, the Ref. 6542 was replaced by the GMT-Master (Ref. 1675), in which the Caliber 1565 was used. In this model, the wearer was able to set the GMT hands independently of the hour hand.
Classic calibres and innovations by Rolex
1960 to 1990
|Caliber 1600||1964||Manual winding mechanism||19,800 BPH||Rolex Cellini|
|Caliber 1575||1965||Instant date change||19,800 BPH||Rolex GMT-Master II,
Rolex Explorer II
|Caliber 3055||1977||Quickset feature||28,800 BPH||Rolex Day-Date|
|Caliber 3135||1988||Automatic movement, centre
second hand, date
|28,800 BPH||Rolex Datejust,
|Kaliber 4030||1989||Chronograph movement based
on Zenith's El Primero
|28,800 BPH||Rolex Daytona|
Rolex Caliber 1600After Rolex made its breakthrough for automatic movements with the Caliber 620, movements with manual winding became more and more uncommon. The 12xx series still featured hand-wound models of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual and Rolex Oysterdate Precision, but the only series that maintained hand-wound movements over the years was Rolex's classic dress watch: the Rolex Cellini. This was introduced in 1964 with the Caliber 1600 and was equipped with the more recent Caliber 1602 in 1993.
Rolex Caliber 1575Rolex enthusiasts have a particular affinity for movements that are defined by their resilience and precision. In 1965, Rolex developed the Caliber 1575 because a reliable, low-maintenance automatic movement was necessary. Rolex simultaneously introduced a number of other innovations that are still used in its timepieces today. For example, shock protection for the escapement wheel was integrated. The Caliber 1575 also introduced the immediate date change at midnight. The calibre became famous in the Rolex Datejust series. Furthermore, it was also used in the Explorer II, the Sea-Dweller and the Rolex Submariner and has a power reserve of 48 hours.
Rolex Caliber 3055In 1977, Rolex debuted the "quickset" feature in the Day-Date (Ref. 18038) with the Caliber 3055. While previously, one had to set the date by turning the dial around, the quickset feature allowed the date to be set independently of the time. Therefore, the crown was extended by a second position. Today, this feature is the standard in all watches with a date display. The 30xx series also standardized the higher beat frequency when movements were updated from 19,800 to 28,000 BPH. The power reserve is 42 hours. The Caliber 3055 is remarkable in that it only ticked in the Day-Date (Ref. 18038). Calibres that are made specifically for a watch are extremely rare at Rolex. Other examples are the Chronograph Caliber 4130, which was specially developed for the Daytona, or Rolex' extremely complex Caliber 9001, which was developed for the Sky-Dweller.
Rolex Caliber 3135If you inquire about the most famous and powerful calibres of the watch industry, chances are very high that the Rolex Caliber 3135 will be mentioned as an answer. Introduced in 1988, it is part of the tradition of the reliable calibres from the 10xx and 15xx series.
Caliber 3135 | ROLEX SUBMARINER 116610LV
With an automatic movement, date function with quickset mechanism and a Breguet hairspring, it quickly became one of Rolex's most famous movements and was a blueprint for new calibre designs for a long time. It is also by far the Rolex's most widely used movement and has been used in the Datejust, Submariner Date, Yacht-Master and the Sea-Dweller 4000 made between 1988 and 2008, among others. It has a power reserve of 50 hours.
Rolex Caliber 3155 and 3185The same year that the Caliber 3135 was launched, two enhancements to this calibre were also unveiled. The Caliber 3155 introduced the "double quickset" feature in the Day-Date, which allows a quickset for day and date. Today, it is still used in the Day-Date models with 36 mm diameter. The Caliber 3185 launched a new era of the GMT-Master and Explorer. It replaced the Caliber 3085 from 1977 and powers the GMT-Master II and Explorer II. After 17 years, it was replaced by the Caliber 3186 in 2005. This calibre has a power reserve of 48 hours, while the Caliber 3185 has a power reserve of 50 hours.
Caliber 3155 | ROLEX DAY-DATE 118239
Rolex manufacture and further advancements
1990 to 2018
|Caliber 2235||1999||At 20 mm the smallest Rolex
|28,800 BPH||Rolex Lady Datejust|
|Caliber 4130||2000||Chronograph movement
made by Rolex in-house
|28,800 BPH||Rolex Cosmograph Daytona|
|Caliber 4160||2007||Programmable regatta
|28,800 BPH||Rolex Yacht-Master II|
|Caliber 3255||2015||Update to Caliber 3135 with
90% of new parts
|28,800 BPH||Rolex Day-Date 40|
|Kaliber 3285||2018||Caliber 3255, GMT function||28,800 BPH||Rolex GMT-Master II|