Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Rolex Oyster Worlds First Waterproof Watch Put to the Test

Mercedes Gleitze Rolex Oyster
Mercedes Gleitze
In 1926, Rolex unveiled the "Oyster" which claimed to be the first "waterproof" and "dust-proof" watch.  The term "waterproof" has now been replaced by "water resistance", but back in the Roaring Twenties sweeping statements were all the rage.  Rolex had placed the movement in an hermetically (air tight) sealed case providing maximum protection and for further security added a screw-off front and case back and a screw down winding crown making the watch completely water tight.  However, just by saying a watch is waterproof does not vouch for its credibility until tested... and tested it was - around the neck of a typist. A typist who successfully swam across the English Channel in 10 challenging hours.
Her name: Mercedes Gleitze The Date: October 7th, 1927.  When she first broached the subject of swimming the English Channel - an arm of the Atlantic Ocean separating Southern England and Northern France - her friends were quite doubtful to say the least, but Mercedes Gleitze - who was after all an excellent typist- was adamant.  She wasn't successful at first, not for the first seven times that is... and then at 2:55am on a the foggy morning of October 7th, 1927,  Mercedes Gleitze swam stroke by stroke across the English Channel with trainer ,Mr. G. H. Allan, in a row boat alongside her.  
Unfortunately there was not much fanfare surrounding the victorious swim and not as much proof as the public wanted. Mercedes Gleitze was furious, and said if the people wanted proof, the people would get proof.  Thus on October 21st, 2 weeks after her swim of victory, she entered the water again.  What she did not realize, or maybe she did, was that two weeks in October meant two weeks closer to winter, and the water may have cooled down quite a bit.
Rolex Oyster Famous Fish Bowl Add
  The controversy surrounding her swim caught the attention of Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex, who had one of the best publicity ideas in horological history. He would put the "Waterproofness" of the Rolex Oyster to the test around the neck of the much publicized Mercedes Gleitze as she set out to cross the English Channel for the second time in two weeks. On October 21st, at  4:21am,  a large cheering crowd saw Mercedes Gleitze wade into the Channel.  She started off well in water that was a good 6 degrees lower than her victorious swim, smiling and acknowledging her onlookers, but by 1pm exhaustion and hypothermia began to set in.  She wanted to sleep. She begged to sleep.  By 2pm her condition worsened and at 2:45, 7 miles from the English  coastline, she was pulled onto the boat unable to complete her challenge. This could have been a great disappointment for Mercedes Gleitze, but Hans Wilsdorf would have none of that. The Rolex Oyster HAD been successful and maintained its mechanical integrity for ten long hours submerged in water. He had plans for Mercedes Gleitze.  With Hans Wilsdorf's assistance, she became a sports celebrity.
Men's Daytona Paul Newman Special Edition
After all she was the one who tested the Rolex Oyster for over 10 long wet cold hours in the English channel.   Mercedes Gleitze became one of the first athletes to endorse the Rolex brand or any brand for that matter.  She graced Rolex advertisements and thanks to her "engagement by mail " saga spent years in the limelight. Rolex still acknowledges Mercedes Gleitze and her role in the promulgation of the Rolex Oyster. The Rolex Oyster has become a testament of endurance used by athletes and adventurers.


  1. Thanks for sharing this piece of history with us. It was very interesting.

  2. Rolex has made history that is a reality.

    The Paul Newman Ed. is just WOW !!!!! I'm loving it!!!

  3. i like your article. Thanks for sharing this article.