The Rolex Bubbleback 3131 is truly a vintage watch, as it is one of the brand’s very first fully-functional automatic timepieces produced in the 1930s and one of the earliest models from the iconic Rolex Oyster Perpetual collection. The watch gets its name from its protruding, bubble-shaped caseback that is emblematic of the brand’s early self-winding models. Rolex Bubbleback watches were most frequently crafted from either yellow or rose gold (9k, 14k, or 18k), and surviving examples can be found with various different styles of dials and hands.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Bubbleback 3131
Rolex Bubbleback 3131 Key Details:
- Production Years: 1930s – 1940s
- Reference Number: 3131
- Case Size: 32mm
- Materials: Yellow or Rose Gold (9k, 14k, or 18k)
- Functions: Time w/ Running Seconds
- Dial: Multiple Options Available
- Bezel: Fixed, Yellow or Rose Gold, Smooth Style
- Crystal: Acrylic (Domed)
- Movement: Automatic (Self-Winding)
- Strap/Bracelet: Leather Strap or Metal Bracelet
History Of The Rolex Bubbleback
The Rolex Bubbleback was launched in 1933 (following the advent of the self-winding “Perpetual” movement in 1931) and it featured the first auto-rotor. Rolex was not the first company to create the automatic-winding movement, but it was the first to create a wristwatch with a winding weight that is able to rotate a full 360 degrees, which now serves as the foundation for nearly all automatic movement designs.
Rolex created the auto-rotor movement based on the Aegler movement in Hunter watches that featured a “perpetual motion” winding mass. Rolex patented its first successful Perpetual self-winding wristwatch in 1932 and introduced the Bubbleback to the public the following year. Like most authentic vintage Rolex timepieces a Bubbleback is sure to spark the hearts of vintage watch collectors.
Rolex Bubbleback Development
Despite the ubiquitous name, Rolex never engraved “Bubbleback” anywhere on the watch or officially recognized the name. However, the thick auto-rotor required a fatter case, and the decision was made to move the case out in the back rather than make the entire watch itself larger. This led not only to the English designation of “Bubbleback” but the Italian nickname “Ovettone” (meaning “Little Egg”), as well as the more sinister “Little Coffin” name in Hong Kong. Nicknames are often given to a watch for their unusual appearance, or the colors of something similar, and for the Rolex Bubbleback, it is simply due to the shape of its case.
The first Rolex Bubbleback model was 1858, powered by the cal. 520 movement. Early Bubblebacks featured a three-piece case. However, in 1936, Rolex introduced a two-piece case with the references 3131 and 3132. In 1941, a ladies version of the Bubbleback was introduced with a cal. 420 movement. The Rolex Bubbleback was marketed in three sizes to appeal to both men and women, and multiple case sizes remains an offering for the current Oyster Perpetual watches that Rolex produces today. The culmination of the line was the “Big Bubbleback,” which would ultimately lead to the development of the 36mm Datejust once a date display was added in 1945.
The Bubbleback 3131 – True Vintage
Collectors covet the Rolex Bubbleback 3131 because it was not only one of the first Bubbleback watches but also because it has a deep history and it is the first with a two-piece rather than a three-piece case. It offers a distinctly vintage aesthetic, while simultaneously occupying an incredibly important place within the history and development of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual collection.
This beautiful watch makes a wonderful addition to any luxury timepiece collection and is truly unlike any of the models that Rolex produces today. Rolex’s two greatest contributions to the greater wristwatch industry have been its waterproof “Oyster” case the self-winding “Perpetual” movement – and the Rolex Bubbleback ref. 3131 represent the merging of these two key innovations and offers a timeless aesthetic with the build quality necessary to last a lifetime.