A Brief History of the Rolex Precision - Time Rediscovered

A Brief History of the Rolex Precision - Time Rediscovered

You may be used to seeing “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” on a vintage Rolex dial, but what does it mean when this is replaced by the word “Precision”? In this article we look at the history behind the use of “Precision” on Rolex dials as well as the two main types of watches to feature this wording.

In short, Rolex used “Precision” on watches that are not certified by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC). This being said, it’s important to note that COSC certification has no bearing on the watch itself. Non-certified watches didn’t fail certification, they simply didn’t apply for the certification.

These Precision labelled watches were introduced by Rolex to offer a lower priced product whilst still protecting their main product lines by the differentiation in the labelling. For those who couldn’t quite afford the traditional lines, a Rolex Precision offered a great first step on the ladder…. in a similar way the Tudor brand did. 

These watches were first introduced in two styles. The first were simple dress watches, often in gold but sometimes steel. Rolex first introduced these pieces in the 40s, with the latest examples coming from the 70s. These were available in simple snapback cases, with most examples dating from the 50’s and 60’s.

The second style debuted in the classic Rolex Oyster case, appearing on the scene in circa 1953. The most famous of these are the Oysterdate and Oyster Precision models. While these made up the majority of “Precision” labelled watches, it’s interesting to note that some models of the Rolex Air King also included this label.

A Precision dial as seen on a Rolex Oysterdate 6694, 1969 Men's Vintage Watch

About the Oyster/Oysterdate Precision

The key difference between the Oyster and Oysterdate Precision is the date function. The Oyster Precision was focused solely on time. Whereas (you guessed it!) the Oysterdate,  launched in circa 1953, featured a date function. The Oysterdate would go on to feature in the Rolex lineup until the late 1980’s.

Debuting with the manually-wound Cal. 1215 movement, the original Oysterdates were released with the dial reading “precision” instead of “Superlative Chronometer, Officially Certified”. This reflected the lack of certification we mentioned earlier.

Continuing with it’s groundbreaking features, the case was 2mm narrower than its Datejust counterpart. At 34mm, the Waterproof Oyster Case was considered thin for the time. 

The introduction of this range at a lower retail price, opened the Rolex brand to a wider range of people. Today, when most vintage Rolex’s are automatics, there is something very pleasing about having a manual wind Precision on your wrist. 

A Precision dial as seen on a Rolex Oysterdate 6694, 1969 Men's Vintage Watch

The Ultimate Vintage Dress watch?

Whilst the Oysterdate range may take the headlines when it comes to the use of the word Precision, we believe that some of the most underrated Rolex watches to bear the name are the simple, snap back dress watches dating from the 40’s through to the 70’s. Often cased in gold, with a classy and understated design, these watches embody all the beauty of vintage watches, while carrying the unmistakable Rolex name.  

The majority of these watches were released in Gold, with a number of variations in case and dial design. Unlike modern Rolexes though they were subtle and understated. A watch for the gentleman that didn’t need to shout to be heard. 

Today, they are perhaps one of the most requested sub £5k watches in the market and its easy to see why. They offer the perfect combination of style, heritage and affordability when it comes to a timeless vintage Rolex watch.

If you’re looking for one of these stunning Rolex Precision dress watches, you can expect case sizes to range from 30-33mm, although these occasionally reached 35mm, which were considered oversized at the time.

For those in the UK, many models feature Dennison branded cases, as Rolex along with several other brands used to case their watches locally for tax reasons. This has added to the complexity of establishing a clear and accurate history of the Precision line but makes the search all the more interesting.

There’s more history here though, with Dennison ceasing its operations in 1967, Rolex purchased their gold housings, as they were regarded by Rolex to be of superior quality. This was purchased from David Shackman & Sons, marking an interesting chapter in the Precision history books.

A Precision dial as seen on a Rolex Precision 9k Gold Dennison Case, 1955

Precision as an Investment

As interest in dress watches has soared in recent years, the Precision has been caught up in this wave of demand. For this reason, we regard these watches as a fantastic investment opportunity. Not only will you own a stunning watch, with rich heritage, you can be safe in the knowledge that demand for these pieces is unlikely to slow any time soon.

That said, do be careful when it comes to pricing, especially when it comes to the simpler gold dress watches examples. Whereas most vintage Rolexes which are in essence commodities with known prices, the lack of information and comparability of these dress watches makes it harder to pin down the right price. Unfortunately some dealers take advantage of this and you can see the same watch in the same condition that we would sell for £1,995 selling at some dealers in excess of £4k. 

To conclude, the Precision marks an interesting point in the history of Rolex watches. Moving into lower price brackets opened the brand to a new audience and today a Rolex Precision remains an excellent entry point into the world of vintage Rolex. 

Whether you’re looking to get into the market for a Rolex Oysterdate, or simply want to know more about the Precision line, we hope you now feel more confident and able to make informed decisions when it’s time to buy.

As always if we can help with anything please feel free to reach out.

Back to blog

1 comment

I purchased a manual wind Rolex Precision in 1965, from the ships store of the USS Sierra in Naples, Italy. I paid $60.00 for it brand new. I gave it my father who enjoyed it until I lost him in 1983. I don’t think that I ever gave him anything that he enjoyed more! It was sent back to Rolex for service several years ago, and they charged me $1000.00 for the service. It looks just like it did in 1965!

James McIlvaine

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.