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      History of the Rolex Bubbleback

      In Rolex's long and illustrious history, there are some vintage watches that aren't often talked about.

      One of these is Rolex's early automatic watches, nicknamed the "Bubble Back" by watch collectors.

      Although not a watch designed for any specific sport or for use in extreme conditions, the "Bubble Back" was the basis for the automatic movements that every Rolex would follow.

      Rolex "Bubble Back"

      History of the "Bubble Back"

      Produced between 1933 and 1935, this vintage Rolex has several different reference numbers and is informally known as the "Bubble Back."

      The nickname "Bubble Back" comes from the extremely rounded, bulbous shape of the case back.

      Although it is an eye-catching design, the Bubble Back was originally created as a way to more efficiently house Rolex's chunky automatic movements within the case.

      In the 1930s, Rolex began making watches with automatic movements instead of the manual calibers they had previously used.

      The added oscillating weight made the movement quite thick, and the rotor needed to have enough space inside the case to spin freely.

      So instead of making the entire case larger, Rolex decided to make the case back rounded and adopt a protruding "bubble" shape.

      The "Bubble Back" Movement

      A modern bubble

      By today's standards, the bubble back design would seem outdated.

      The case size is on the smaller side for a typical men's model, at 30mm to 32mm.

      Furthermore, the combination of the domed acrylic crystal and the rounded case back gives the bubble back a thick, egg-shaped shape that is unsuitable for a wristwatch.

      This large domed case back has been given many nicknames over the years.

      The most widely known and commonly used nickname today is "Bubble Back."

      The small case size, combined with the overall thickness, results in a rather awkward, unbalanced egg-shaped watch.

      But the Bubble Back also represents a key early period in Rolex's history: the time when Rolex first produced automatic movements.

      A side view of the "Bubble Back"

      Currently, all Rolex watches are equipped with automatic calibers.

      Tracing its roots and unravelling its DNA leads us to the first Bubble Back produced by Rolex in the early 1930s.

      Case and movement designs have since been refined, eliminating the need for a rounded caseback.

      Nevertheless, the Bubble Back has become a symbol of a turning point when watch manufacturers began to produce automatic movements at a time when hand-wound watches were the norm.

      The Bubble Back doesn't get as much attention or praise as other vintage Rolexes.

      And yet these early automatic Rolex watches have arguably played a more important role in the development and success of the brand as a whole than any other watch the brand has ever made.

      Almost every watch that Rolex currently produces has the word "Perpetual" engraved on its dial.

      The Bubble Back was the first Rolex to feature an automatic movement.