Here’s something I didn’t expect. In my first meeting at my first Watches & Wonders, it was an entirely new dressy Rolex that I couldn’t take off my wrist. Sure, we passed around a bunch of updated sport models – stay tuned for coverage of those too – but the new Rolex Perpetual 1908 might be Rolex’s best dressy watch in years.
First, what is the Rolex Perpetual 1908? It’s a quartet of new watches in 18-karat yellow or white gold cases, each paired with a black or white dial. But it’s more than four watches: With the Perpetual 1908, Rolex is actually launching its new Perpetual collection. It’s the dressy answer to Rolex’s professional models, and it replaces the Cellini line, which had felt a bit neglected over the last few years. Now, we know why. And man, if the first Rolex Perpetual 1908 is what we can expect for the future of the collection, we might be in for a whole new side of Rolex. The Perpetual 1908 immediately grabs your attention with its dial. Rolex calls the white dial an “intense white.” While no such adjective is given for the black dial, the surprise when seeing it in person is that it’s actually a matte black. It’s similar to what we’ve seen in some other Rolex models – it looks similar to the dial in this year’s new titanium Yacht-Master, for example – but in a dress watch it’s a subtle little surprise. Really, a dressy watch isn’t supposed to grab too much attention – it’s supposed to be slim and sleek and elegant (and without complication and in precious metal if you’re a purist), and the matte black doesn’t scream at you. In a certain light and at certain angles, it even looks a little grey.
Meanwhile, the white dial has a slight graining effect that seems to give it just a bit of texture. After wearing both for about an equal amount of time – that’s about 30 minutes each, for the entirety of our one-hour meeting with Rolex – the black paired with the yellow gold was my favorite of the bunch. This surprised even me, as someone who thinks precious white metals tend to be the most elegant of metals (Rolex, for its part, calls platinum the noblest of metals). Sure, the white gold and black makes me want to go out and spend a stupid amount of money on a Tom Ford tux just to wear something half as dignified as the 1908. But there’s something about a yellow-gold Rolex with a black dial that feels like giving order to a chaotic world. It kind of reminds me of those vintage Day-Dates with jet-black Onyx dials that I love. It’s whispering and shouting at the same time, making a statement that only a yellow-gold Rolex can. Rolex says it based the dial of the 1908 on a vintage model it found from 1931 – something like the model it features here, perhaps? – and it shows, but in a wonderfully updated way. The 12-3-9 is in a sans-serif font that’s as Art Deco as it is modern, perfectly complemented by a more ornate font in the subdial at 6 o’clock. The observatory-style hour hand is another era-appropriate touch. The By the way, 1908 is a reference to the year one Hans Wilsdorf trademarked the term Rolex, because what’s a brand, especially a brand like Rolex, without a trademark? (Just ask Jean-Claude Biver.)
It’s time to talk about the case of the 1908, all 39mm of it. It looks kind of like the old Cellini case, but it’s been updated (most notably there’s the sapphire caseback now, more on that in a moment). The bezel is half domed and half fluted. Don’t have the confidence to go full-fluted on the daily like me? You’re in luck. It’s dressed up but not audacious. The case is polished, and while we weren’t able to get any other measurements from Rolex, the watch is thin (maybe 9mm?) and has a slim profile on wrist. The lug-to-lug is equally manageable: noticeably smaller than the Black Bay 58 I wore into the room (also 39mm, with 47mm lug-to-lug). I’ll drone on about the need for smaller dress watches as much as the next guy, but I’ve gotta admit: I didn’t mind the case size one bit. Would I have liked it even more with 1, 2, or 3mm taken off? Maybe, but I get that there are many reasons, many of them commercial, why Rolex won’t do that. And I say this as a guy who’s got a smallish 6.3-inch wrist, maybe 6.5 in the stuffy and sparsely air-conditioned halls of Geneva’s Palexpo. The Perpetual 1908 has 50m of water resistance, more than enough for a watch that comes on an alligator strap, I’d hope.
Even the movement of the 1908 requires a closer look. And now, in a first for Rolex, the new automatic caliber 7140 can be seen through a sapphire caseback. It’s something Rolex is also doing with the new platinum Daytona, making it known it’s happy to show off what it calls Côtes de Genève Rolex finishing on the movement. The Rolex caliber 7140 uses Rolex’s Syloxi silicon hairspring, something that, until now, had been reserved for smaller models like the 31mm Datejust. As Danny explored before, it’s notable to see Rolex continue down the path of using two different kinds of hairsprings across its models, and today we’re seeing the Syloxi in a larger watch for the first time. Oh, and it’s the first time Rolex’s pairing a Syloxi hairspring with its Chronergy escapement. Other than that, the caliber 7140 has everything you might expect from Rolex: Superlative chronometer, 66 hours of power reserve, and a gold automatic rotor. Another detail you pick up on as soon as you try on the Perpetual 1908 that, honestly, you might not even think about otherwise: The alligator strap comes on Rolex’s “Dualclasp” (like a butterfly clasp) that seems to drape the wrist a little more nicely than a standard single-blade clasp. But by now, I might just be drinking that precision-engineered Rolex Kool-Aid a little too much! On the inside, the strap is green, another simple “Rolex being Rolex” touch. But I’d still throw this thing on a more casual strap and wear the shit out of it, pretty much anywhere and with anything.
The Rolex Perpetual 1908 will cost $22,000 in yellow gold and $23,300 in white gold, with availability beginning in October. At first brush, that feels about right for a dressy Rolex. Much lower than, say Patek’s new Calatrava 6007G ($37,850) or 6119 ($31,940), but more than a comparably fancy watch from a brand like Jaeger-LeCoultre, because, well, Rolex. The price puts the 1908 in the same neighborhood as an A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia – some buyers will prefer hand-engraved balance bridges and others will look first to the name on the dial. Neither is right or wrong. Twenty-four hours ago I wouldn’t have guessed the first watch I’d be writing up from Rolex would be a new dressy watch that’s ushering in an entirely new collection of dressy watches from the brand. But that’s exactly what makes the new Perpetual 1908 so exciting. Besides the 1908, we (the Hodinkee “we”) passed around a lot of sport watches from a handful of brands today at Watches & Wonders – Rolex, Tudor, IWC, even Lange (though in that case, it’s a hell of a “sport watch”). And a lot of them are great! But here’s Rolex, the ultimate maker of sport watches – professional watches, to have them tell it – dedicating its nearly infinite resources to a completely new line of dressed-up watches, and nailing it. In the same way the Rolex Submariner of 2023 feels kind of like the consistent evolution of the original Rolex Submariner of 1953, the new Perpetual 1908 line feels like the modern evolution of what a dressy collection from Rolex should look like, even if we skipped many of the years in between. Not a re-issue at all, just the modern iteration of a watch that’s always been. Rolex calls this the Perpetual 1908, but really it takes inspiration from a watch made in 1931. This era of Rolex, from the 1930s through the 1950s, is when Rolex came into its own. First came the Oyster case, then the first automatic movement. Before long, Rolex watches were joining climbers on Everest and divers in the ocean. But these watches were still subtle and elegant in a way many modern Rolex watches aren’t. With the new 1908, Rolex has captured this heritage in a way I haven’t seen it do in years. And that’s what’s got me so excited about it.