Rolex Introduces the Perpetual 1908 Refs. 52508 and 52509

Small seconds and silicon signals.

Due to its enviable position as the leading Swiss watch brand by revenue, Rolex tends to dominate headlines for even the smallest changes to its collections. So it’s even bigger news when the brand launches an entirely new collection, the Perpetual 1908, as it has on the opening day of this year’s Watches & Wonders.

Named for the year that Hans Wilsdorf registered the Rolex trademark in Switzerland, the Perpetual 1908 is a slim, time-only watch with a display back that signals a renewed focus on the dress watch category for the giant of Geneva.

Initial thoughts

The Perpetual 1908 is a worthy replacement for the outgoing Cellini collection, which to me always felt like the forgotten child of the Rolex portfolio. Forced to use movements from their sportier siblings, the Cellini watches were never able to achieve the right proportions to be taken seriously as dress watches.

The Perpetual 1908 debuts in four references in yellow and white gold, with the option of white or black satin finish dials; the black dials look especially good. The designs are atypical for Rolex, featuring a sub-seconds dial at 6 o’clock, and a new handset. “Superlative Chronometer” drapes over the sub-seconds dial, calling to mind the Rolex Veriflat of the 1950s.

Speaking of the Veriflat, the 1908 case measures just 9.5 mm thick thanks to the new cal. 7140. This is a big improvement over the Cellini watches, which were over 12 mm thick. The 1908’s dress watch credentials are bolstered further by improved movement finishing and a sapphire crystal case back – a first for the brand.

At US$22,000 in yellow gold and US$23,300 in white gold, the Perpetual 1908 offers a compelling value proposition, at least as precious metal watches go.

It’s about 13% more expensive than a Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin (a watch with a similarly decorated but less advanced movement), but this is a reasonable premium given the excellence of Rolex engineering, particularly in terms of the case and movement, and of course the strength of its brand.

More broadly, there are a number of factors that have enabled Rolex to achieve the position that it has today atop the Swiss watch industry. Among those factors is its ability to set trends. It will be interesting to see how Rolex develops the 1908 Perpetual collection in coming years, and what effect this will have on demand for dress watches vis a vis sport watches, which have dominated the conversation in recent years.

The 1908 debuts with a new, double-fold clasp

Silicon vallee

The svelte proportions of the Perpetual 1908 are thanks to the cal. 7140, which combines two proprietary Rolex technologies, the Chronergy escapement and the Syloxi silicon hairspring, for the first time. The Chronergy escapement made its debut in 2015, and has slowly diffused through the rest of the collection, offering improved efficiency.

The Syloxi hairspring is actually older, having debuted almost ten years ago at Baselworld 2014, but it has not been rolled out as quickly as the Chronergy escapement. In contrast to Swatch Group, which has successfully deployed silicon hairsprings at industrial scale, Rolex has been more conservative with its use of silicon, sticking instead to its Parachrom overcoil hairspring for the vast majority of its movements.

For the last nine years, the Syloxi hairspring was restricted to the cal. 223x family, a diminutive 20 mm movement platform reserved primarily for ladies’ watches. The use of Syloxi in the cal. 7140 but not the new cal. 4131 chronograph movement suggests that Rolex remains committed to metallic hairsprings when the movement thickness allows for an overcoil.

In addition to its technical attributes, the cal. 7140 is surprisingly attractive, introducing a new style of movement finishing for Rolex. Featuring mechanically applied Côtes de Genève and an 18k gold oscillating weight, the movement is visible through a sapphire crystal back.

Key facts and price

Rolex Perpetual 1908
Ref. 52508 (YG)
Ref. 52509 (WG)

Diameter: 39 mm
Height: 9.5 mm
Material: 18k white gold or yellow gold
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 50 m

Movement: Cal. 7140
Features: Hours, minutes, sub-seconds
Frequency:  28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 66 hours

Strap: Alligator with folding clasp

Limited edition: No
Available at Rolex authorised dealers
Price: US$22,000 (YG); US$23,300 (WG)

Prices exclude local taxes

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