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the Rolex Bubble Back

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I believe that every watch collector and every watch enthusiast is fond of watch out of their own reason. And Rolex would definitely be the most popular choice no matter for the purpose of joy, collection or investment. When it comes to why Rolex is so popular, we have to talk about the Oyster Perpetual, which developed by the Rolex founder hans wilsdorf.




1. The birth of the Oyster automatic watch


Rolex started to develope Oyster waterproof manual winding watch in 1920s and it became more and more popular. But because it was the manual winding watch, the users would forget to screw back the crown after finished winding and that leads to many watches broken because of the water seepage. A lot of customers complained about this porblem, so Mr. Wilsdorf wanted to develope a self-winding watch to avoid this problem. But because the patent right of the automatic watch technics was owned by the Harwood factory in 1920s, so Rolex has to produce the automatic watch with whole new concept based on the old manual winding watch.






Harwood factory announced to finish the business because of the bad management. Rolex learned the lesson from Harhood automatic watch.(the Harwood automatic watch was reject by customers and repair shops) So Rolex not only adopted the basic 360 degree automatic winding rotro, but also engraved the movement decomposition method on the movement in English and French to avoid the complaint of the repair shop. But the automatic movement is thicker than normal movement, so the general flat case back is not fittable, then Rolex developed the sepcial Bubbleback case back for this automatic movement. That's how this name of Bubbleback come from.


Today's Oyster Pertual is no longer the Bubbleback.The true Bubbleback was produced from 1933 to 1955.






Rolex made 6 reforms of the Bubbleback between the 1930s and 1950s, and that made Rolex became the first Chronometer watch in this world.


The first generation (1933-1935) 8 3/4'''Hunter:




we can find that there is a groove in this movement, that was to ficilitate the repair shop that they can adjust time. And every part of the movement was clearly engraved with the name in English and French.


The second generation (1935-1941) 8 3/4''' Hunter:




The second generation is not too different with the first generation, just without the groove and the parts decomposition mathod.


The third generation (1941-1943) 9 3/4''' Hunter:




Firstly adopted the NA movement. The 9 3/4 Hunter of the 620 is bigger than the former 8 3/4, and the precision is higher. The new movement has Mircometer Regulator.


The forth generation  (1943-1945) 9 3/4''' Hunter:




Started to engrave the mark of "Chronometer" in French, not in English. If the watch is able to continuesly working for 10 day on 5 different positions with the deviation is under 15s and under the temperature difference of 2℃ to 32℃ with the the deviation is under ±14s.


The fifth generation (1945-1946)9 3/4''' Hunter:




The rotor of the reformed movement was engraved with "Rolex Perprtual" mark. The fifth generation even derived the 7 3/4''' Hunter cal. 420, also called PA, installed in the wamen's bubble back. 


The sixth generation (1946-1955) 9 3/4''' Hunter


The double angle slope movement was produced in 1946, it was also the last generation of the bubbleback. The diameter is big but the rotor was thinner to 1mm, so it was called Semi Bubbleback. And all the six bb movement generations were ended produced in 1955. 


This pic is the early sixth movement, still using the sealing rotor automatic movement.




These pics are the later sixth generation movements, has became the half sealing rotor design.




2. The sizes of the bubbleback 


Generally, we can divided the bubbleback into four types: Small Round bubbleback28mm, Round end bubbleback30-32mm, Semi- Bubbleback 34mm and Big bubbleback 36mm. And the movements are generally using the full sealing or half sealing rotor.


Case: all-steel, gold plated steel case back, full gold filled, gold filled steel, gold steel, full gold 9k/10k/14kand 18k(gold or rose gold)


Bezel: Smooth, engine turned/ marked/graduated/thin milled


Dial: Sweep Seconds or Subsidiary Seconds


Square end bubbleback 30mm-32mm

1858,1873, 2490, 2764, 2765, 2940, 3009, 3130, 3131, 3132, 3133, 3134,3333, 3353, 3372, 3458, 3693, 3696, 3725, 3795, 4875, 4919, 5011, 5015, 5050,5105, 5488, 6015, 6050, 6065 and probably others


Round end bubbleback 30mm-32mm

3794, 3801, 3796, 3885, 4024, 4984, 5048, 5173 and probably others


Semi- Bubbleback 34mm

6084, 6085, 6018, 6090, 6108, 6117, 6205, 6284, 6332, 6334 and probablyothers


Big bubbleback 36mm

4467, 5027, 5029, 5030, 5031, 6026, 6028, 6075, 6105, 6304 and probablyothers


Small Round bubbleback  26mm-27mm

2849, 3348, 3501, 3505, 3686, 3794 and probably others


Hooded bubbleback 30mm-32mm

2319, 2940, 3064, 3065, 3333, 3353, 3595, 3599, 5488, 6065, 8056 andprobably others


*Above is just part of the model number

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The charm of the Bubbleback


The bubbleback collectors are amazed by the innovation design and different supplement of the hands, dial, bezel and the case. There are more than seventy models according to Rolex literature record. Six generations in total, 6/7 case and caseback types, 11 match types of minute and second hands, six types of bezel and over 100 types of dial. The variability of the bubbleback is so amazing!


The Big bubbleback + calendar


Ref.4467 produced in 1945. Its speciality is there is radian on the top and bottom of the case and the minigroove of the bezel.




The super Hooded bubbleback, excellent and luminous design!!








The hands, numberals and the dual of this full gold bubbleback are all very brilliant. Added with the early five matches crown logo.




The diversification of the bb's hands, numberals and dail


These pics are just part of the matches, Rolex once took pains to design bubbleback products.






More than 10 types of the hands design, the collection of the art and sience and the change is very different with current design. The hands and dial are generally not fixed matched, but the hands needed to be matched to the dial, such as the California Dial is definetely matched by the benz hands and the Scientific dial must be matched by the red triangle second hand and blue steel minute hand.





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The charm the BubblebackII

I chose some models as the most ultimate bubbleback. Some of the are very super rare, and some of them are weird round end bubbleback. Whats the weird means? It means that the design is different with the normal round end bubbleback but still equiped with the full sealed movement or improved movement, and these models are not official Bubbleback models informed by the international collectors.


Scientific Bubbleback

The dial design is divided into three layers. The dial is matched by the red second hand. The advertisment of this watch in 1993 saids "you can only use it when you want to know the correct time"- brilliant!




Emipre Bubbleback

Not the most usual Empire model, some collectors even call it "chess pie", but some other collectors don't think it even belongs to bubbleback!




Lifesaver Bubbleback

This rare model is called Lifesaver, because the bezel is very wide like a bubble, but the diameter is only 26mm.




Another Lifesaver Bubbleback




Hooded Bubbleback

Personally i think its the supreme state if you can have a Hooded bb, no matter its the smooth, ribbed ,flexible, rigid or scalloped hooded, which are all produced in very quantity and beautiful designed. And the full steel Hooded is even more valuble than the gold or gold steel. But if you want to purchase a Hooded bb, check the lug cover, besides that you should check if it bas been worn through under the lug cover. Just be carefull.




Enamel Dial Bubbleback

Its no need to introduce too much that the enamel dial bb is super rare. And the cloisonne dial is the most valuble. The bubbleback with a boat printed on the dial, the second pic below, was desined by Geneva master chief color porcelain, Poluzzi Charles.






Other special bubbleback

Ref.4643 18k pink gold case  -cal. 9 3/4''' 19J (28mm x 28mm)




Ref. 4645 18k pink gold case  -cal. 9 3/4''' 18J (30.5mm x30.5mm)




Ref. 6309 Datejust(Thunderbird) 18k gold case  -cal. 10.5''' A296 (35mm)




Ref. 6090 Bombe 18k gold case  -cal.9 3/4''' A260 (34mm




Ref. 8724 18k gold case  -cal.760 (35mm)




Ref. 6062 Moonphase 1949-53












Ref. 8171 Moonphase 1948-52









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3. The case and the crown of the bubleback


The bubleback case is generally 2 piece case or 3 piece case. The early models were most 3 piece case, and most of them were used on the bubleback. But is was changed into 2 piece case. But Rolex was using back to the 3 piece case again, and even produced the ful steel edition 3372. The differences between the 2 piece case and 3 piece case is the 3 piece case's bezel can be screwed out, and the be locked on the outside. You can see a convex buckle when you started to install the bezel. This structure is simpler and easy to be installed.




Bubbleback crown


The first model: 6mm big crown (1928-1941)

Because winding oyster crown was used in the middle term of the Bubblback. While the main purpose of the bug crown is to remind people to screw back it when they finished the winding.




The second model: 5mm crown (1941-1945

Whe nprople are used to screw the crown back, so the shrinked the 6mm crown to  5mm and adopted the multy angles design




The third model: 5mm crown (1941-1945)

Was published in the same time, and improved the angle numbers. And the cross sign has already owned the patent in Swiss.




The forth model: 5mm crown (1944-1946)

With the dispearance of the cross sign, the "Rolex Oyster" words appeared on the crown. But this design is not popular,so it was changed after three years.




The fifth model: 5mm crown (1946-1955)

The crwon was signed with the "+" sign on the middle, its production year is very long, so it was used till 1955.




The sixth model: 5mm crown (after 1950)

The cross sign dispeared again. Replaced with the square with a horizontal bar.




The seventh model: 6mm crown (after 1950)

This is definetely the failure design of Rolex. The original Super Oyster desigh is don't to need screw back the cown. But us not reliable, it was stopped being using sinece it has been published for two years.




The eighth model:  6mm crown (1920)

This crown was massive produced when the early manual winding watches were popular. The speciality of this crown is the bump in the middle of the crow.




On the right of the fllowing pic is the patent that owned by Paul Perregaux and Georges Peret in 1952, then they sold it to Mr. Willdorf. And the left side is the informed exclusive Rolex winding stem.






The size of the oyster has to be paired with properable crown tube to protect water from water.





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4. The BB brecelet/strap buckle and the original watch box

If you want to show the unique features of Rolex , the original bracelet and strap buckle have to be introduced. When Imperial watch was released in 1933, this bracelet was firstly introduced, and people can optionally purchase it at that time. It was in one year later that the bracelet officially appeared on the ad of the Bubbleback, the supplier is the Gay Freres. But because the price is too high and the under the influence of the worldwide economic recession, the market reaction was not so well. Untill when the Mecan, Cy & Co. Cronwell, American Rolex/ C&I and the RolexSA have been released, the bracelet was kinda truely introduced.




the promotion brochure that Rolex specially made for Canada market.




The premier bracelets are all streight lug, so it feels kinda bizarre.




This is the full steel "Banboo" bracelet designed for the bubbleback




The early Beaded or Grain of rice bracelet




By the way, there was no riveted or the Z-spring expanding links.




This is the riveted expanding bicolor bracelet produced by Gay Freres. It was specially produced for the rose gold steel bubbleback. The bracelet on the top is Swiss Made, and the bracelet on the below is Made in France  




This beaded or grain of rice produced by French Gay Freres in 1945-50 was sold on the Internet ata the price of $7250.00, very amazing!!!




The unique feature of the early Rolex 18k, 14k, 9k full gold and rose gold buckle is the enlarged crown logo, and there were also full steel buckle designed for ladies.




The Bubblback must be secured by the real "Coffin" watch box.


I believe that almost collectors are expect that their collections are full set. Some elderly collectors said that when they were purchasing the Bubbleback at that time, the retailers maybe not pair you the watch box, some even would charge for that. But up to this day, these boxes are far more expensive. The primary bubbleback box design was already very bold, the "Coffin style".


It was changed into sideway opean style in 40s, also like the "Coffin style".








The lady bubbleback box is rare variety, because Rolex only produced a few lady bubbleback at that time.




Rare gold steel lug bubbleback 306 full set series.



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5. Bubbleback is turned into sport watch?

The sporty watch which is very popular in recent years is actually derived from the bubbleback movement. The Turn-O-Graph6202, Submariner6200,6204,6205,6538丶Explorer6098,6298,6150 and 6350 and Deepsea6332 are all using the A260 or A296 half roto movement, as for the bubbleback, the manufacturers decided to stop producing bubbleback in the middle of 50s. And the first automatic oyster watch left a bright immortal foot print on the Rolex history.


The Submariner 6200




The early Turn-O-Graph



The early Submariner 6204




The early Explorer 6298




The early Explorer 6350








The early Deepsea 6332





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6. The charm lady bubbleback


When Relox first introduced the Submariner丶Explorer丶Turn-O-Graph and some other automatic men's watch in the Basel Spring Fair in 1954, they also introduced the lady automatic watch at the same time, which was paired with the 7 3/4"PA Cal. 420. Actually, rolex has already released the ref.3869丶ref.4487 and some other lady bubbleback in 1945. It was a pity that the lady watch decorated with many was precious stones was most popular at that time, so these lady bubbleback's market reaction was not so ideaL. And the lady bubbleback was finished produced in the end. According to the record, the proportion between the lady bubbleback and the men's bubleback is 1:100.


The first generation lady 18k rose gold bubbleback ref. 3869




The following pic is the ref. 5003, produced in 50s, 18k rose gold.




The original rose gold crown in 50s




The gold case was well reserved over 50 years.




The lady movement is the cal. PA 420. And we can clearly see that the caseback was engraved with 0.75-18k 5003.




The men's bubbleback movement is not so different with lady's, so we can imagine that how precise the lady's movement is.



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7. The true and false Bubblback?


This watch is actually a 100% true Rolex watch. The case is kinda like the bubbleback but with a manual winding movement. Relox produced many watches whose movement was manual winding movement and case were like the bubbleback case at that time, this kind watch was called fake bubbleback, and i'm not agree with that point.


This Rolex is adopted the Rolex early 9k full gold case and even printed with the company title of BEYER, which is a famous jewelry, watch retailer.




The differences between the normal bubbleback and the Hooded bubble on the appearance

The Hooded watch is precious of course, and there many fake hooded in the market. So when you before you purchase it, check the hood first, the real hooded bubbleeback has cusp circular radian on its end and the normal bubbleback just has a sharp end, then check if the lug has been reconnected and notice if there is any damage of the strap holes.


the pics below are the side comparsion between the normal bubbleback and hooded bubbleback.




zoom lug




Here is the fake bubbleback in market, its totally no problem in the front




But its easy to find this reformed bubbleback has a sharp end in the side. 




Here are some fake bubbleback examples. This is a full fake one. The serial number, and the mark on the inside of the caseback are too new.




How about this one?




If you look it carefully, you will find that the hands are too strange. This hour hand is too sharp and short on the end, the minute is turned into two parts on the end part and the second hand is even not the Benz hand. And the dial, the intervals between 10, 11 and 12 are not everage. The font of the dial, print material and the luminous hands are cleraly want to creat the vintage feel, but its just too much. The movement part was too mew to have any tracks of this movement being used for 5/60 years. The position of the mark on the second layer were not right and the position and quantity of the screw are not right eihter. We can confirm that its a fake bubbleback even dont need to opean the roto.


This fake bubbleback 5051


First, Rolex has never ever print the mark of "Automatic" on the dial.




The true 5051 is screw out crown not the push-out crown




And this watch has became decolor




The rotor is kind of very real




But there were no any automatic winding parts




And the all fake Rolex movement.



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Another lady bubbleback, released in 50s. At that time, most lady wayches were jewelry processed, so the lady bubbleback was not widely accepted in the market. Ref.5003, oyster waterproof 14k full gold watch case, 7 3/4 Hunter PA 420 automatic movement. Rolex set the horological prominent position by releasing the bubbleback equiped the first automatic movement in 1930s.









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The existing lady bubbleback still has its speciality, and the movement is very brilliant not the appearance but also the movement! The steel 5003, paired with the small subsidiary second, delicate and charming!











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Among these bubblebacks, the 6085 was mos prefered at that time. Maybe because Rolex very confident about A 260 movement, so most the customized dials were set on the 6085.


The following pic is the special pattern that was designed for Switzerland's World Cup and another is the Cloisonne dial with some Middle East country pattern.






Although my 6085 is not equiped with special dial, but the dial with 3, 6, 9 numberals already has the explorer's feel. The 14k gold case and the crown is also what Super oyster recommended at that time.











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What we introduced today is actually a Semi- Bubbleback produced in 50s Its funny that the case was Rolex specially designed at that time, the lugs are very thin, the both sides of the case are flat too, and the dial wasn't printed with “Precision”or“Chronometer” or any other words.


As what Mr. James M. Dowling described "One of the stranger models of the 1950s from Rolex, the 6332 had a very unusual case & dial. The history of this particular watch is also most unusual and can be verified.The case sides of this model are flat, unlike all other contemporary Rolex oysters; only the Submariner & GMT models had flat case sides.The movement is a 9.75’” calibre A260, the very last of the true bubblebacks, interestingly usually only chronometers have numbered movements but the dial of this watch bears neither “Precision” nor “Chronometer” markings..."














And another funny thing is 6332 and 6532 were two of the prototypes (the other is Deep Sea Special). Rolex officially registered the name of "Deep Sea" on January 19, 1953. And 6532 is using cal. 1030.


The following pic is Mr. Rolex(James M. Dowling)'s one other 6332 collection, which is printed with the "DEEPSEA".




Another redialed 6332 DEEPSEA



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My 6332 is double plate dial, equiped with the sharp sword hands , which has some feel of early Explorer and Tudor Ranger.




Slight yellowish antiquities of feelings.








On the inside of the lug, we still see the mint-mark of "BREVET + 6332" and the serial number.






Finished with the half sealed bubbleback movement A 260.




On the inside of the caseback was engraved with II.54, which means that it was produced in the second season of 1954.




The mysterious "18"?


The Rolex collectors can find that many Rolex casebacks produced between 1953 and 1955 were engraved with the number of 18. Many watch collectors from Europe and the United States and Asia, etc want to know what that number means for many years. Some collectors think its the machine specified to make the case, some others thin its because the steel is containing 18% Chromium and 8% Nickel and that is 304 stainless steel. And some others even think that it is to describe some fime steel that can only has 18 case on the same piece of metal. Only Rolex knows the true meaning.

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The 6332

My 6332 was purchased in a shop, there were about 30 pieces of vintage Rolex watches, and i was attracted by the honey combed/waffle dial immediately. Then i paid for it and took it home. 


The original dial faded a little in color, but it still has its own unique beauty.




Still paired with the original cross-shaped crown.




Serial number is 979XXX, also produced in 1954.




Engraved with "BREVET" and 6332




Also using the 9 3/4L A260 half sealed bubbleback movement




The caseback was engraved with 6332, II.54 and number.18




Change with the new mirror and the red second produced in the same factory and same time, brilliant!!




A pair of the balck and white dial edition of the same model at the same period.





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I was not intrested in gold filled/gold plated/gold cap 6334 gold semi-bubbleback, because the case are great abraded after a few decades. But since i got a nice gold case semi-bubbleback form a friend, i changed my mind.












I'm very happy i met with this 6334, produced in 1953, white waffle dial paired with the tridimensional crown and markers. The case is also kept well after been used for over 50 years. Paired with the hidden-spring bracelet produced by Citi, very nice!






Adopting the A.260 9 3/4L half sealed automatic winding movement




18J, adjusted to 5 positions, kinda of the relatively exquisite processing.









A wrist shot as the end



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Although i've posted some fake bubblebacks, but i hope this post can be better, so i want to post some more fake bb pics as the reference for you guys.


Followings are all the fake bbs, including the hands, dials, cases, crowns and movements.



































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Although i've posted some fake bubblebacks, but i hope this post can be better, so i want to post some more fake bb pics as the reference for you guys.


Followings are all the fake bbs, including the hands, dials, cases, crowns and movements.



































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Let's talk back to the Bubbleback




I met an Italian watch lover asking me about the early bubbleback issues.


1) Is this dial true? Besides the Rolex mark, this dial is also printed with FAB SUISSE and SWISS MADE on the 6 position?

2) The whole bb is not printed with Ref,#, just the serial number on the outside of the case, while the fixed gold spring bars is vaguely engraved with numbers.

3) The roto is engraved with "☆" on its outside.


And here are the pics




The answers are:


1) Firstly, on the dial of early Rolex we can see the distribution firm's name besides the Rolex's trade mark, its called double name. But the name is not clear after so many years.


And many old dials, produced in 3,40s, were also printed with French words "FAB SUISSE" and English words "SWISS MADE" to convenient the distribution to all over the world.




2) There were no Ref.# on the early bubbleback, such as 1858, 2295,etc. The last three watches' fixed gold spring bars are also engraved with the serial number. I belive that this friend's watch is also worn on the lug. Following pic is a well kept lug.




3) This is the most interesting question. I searched the history documents of Rolex, i found that the first generation of 520 movement has two edition. Lets call it mark I's first generation, besides the rotor was engraved with "☆", the SWISS MADE mark's position is different as well.




mark I on the left, mark II on the right




And mark I is engraved with 5 TOURS (TURNS), while mark II is engraved with 5,5 TOURS (TURNS)!






Another mark I, but the screw has been changed 




The inside engraving of early bbs' case is different either.




The second generation movements has no decomposition method




In conclusion, this friend's gold bb with big crown is a rare thing, according to the production year of 33, 34, this watch is nearly 80-year-old!


the new bubbleback dial with archaized long crown








The back engraving of the original bubbleback dial



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Vintage 6304 big bubbleback datejust with gilt dial (Explorer style)


Tthis a funny 6304, has the date movement of big bubbleback and the elements of early Explorer(6150) at the same. And the lugs have no holes. It supposed to be a trial target that Rolex released in 50s. Rare!!















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The crown mark of big bubbleback datejust


The big bubbleback datejust is the indispensable part of bb's history. In 1945, for the 40th anniversary of Rolex's establishment, Rolex first released the A295 movement- Ref. 4467, paired with the full gold case, calendar performace and the inhouse 18k jubliee bracelet. The crown mark slao appeared on the big bubbleback datejust.




The big bubbleback date just wasn't using the cyclops magnifying lens, because the cyclops magnifying lens hasn't appeared untill 1954.


From 4467(1945-1949) to 5030,5031,5075,6031(1949 - 1950),6075,6074(1950 - 1953),6104,6105(modified A296,1951 - 1953) and early 6304 and 6305(A296,1953 - 1956) all once has the crown mark.




In the early 50s, on the brochures, publications and newspaper ads, we can still find the crown mark on the big bubbleback.



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