At first glance one would say it’s a simple, almost modest “Day-Date” in yellow gold, lying in a display case in the Beyer Watch Museum, surrounded by a bunch of glamorous colleagues from the 1950s. But it certainly deserves its place of honour, as a glance at the case back reveals. The text engraved there reads: “To dear Mr. Th. Beyer as a memento of our pleasant association since 1932, Hans Wilsdorf.” It must have been around 1956 that the Rolex founder (1881–1960) thanked two Th. Beyers with his gift: the acting patron Theodor René Beyer (1926–2002), who had already acquired the reputation of an accomplished watch connoisseur in his younger years and was summoned halfway around the world to appraise valuable collections. And to no less a degree his late father, Theodor Julius Beyer (1887–1952), a critical mind with a penchant for mechanical inventions.
BEYER PUTS IT TO THE TEST
It was the latter of the two who had added the then little-known Rolex brand to the Beyer range in 1932, and for a long time was the only one in Zurich to stock it. Adopting a British idea, he placed a huge trophy in the shop window, in which exotic fish swam around the “Oyster”, the world’s first waterproof wristwatch. Public interest was so great that the police had to be called. Also, it was Theodor Julius Beyer who simply had to find out: in 1933, he developed a vacuum apparatus that made it possible to test the “Oyster” in higher pressure conditions, such as those prevailing at a depth of several metres at sea or at an altitude of several thousand metres. Theodor Julius Beyer presented Hans Wilsdorf with
the vacuum device along with the results so that the Rolex boss could check the experiments himself. In a letter dated 25 August 1933, Wilsdorf wrote: “I am very happy to inform you that the vacuum apparatus, which you have constructed with so much knowledge and skill, works 100%, indeed fabulously well. The downside of this invention is that we are only now finding out how imperfect our Oyster watches have been. We have to improve everything from A to Z, everything has to be worked much, much more precisely. We are confident of achieving a 100% satisfactory result, but it is demanding a huge amount of effort.”
In 1934, Hans Wilsdorf then applied for his own patent for such an apparatus. As we now know, the effort was worth it: today, the “Oyster Perpetual” is synonymous with unshakeable ruggedness and accuracy. Wilsdorf’s vision came to fruition, in part because the charismatic innovator never gave up throughout his life, always striving for ever higher levels of quality. For more than a quarter of a century, he was also able to count on the assessments of the Beyer family. The deep personal bond is expressed in more than one letter. It came across in most detail in the 1956 letter to Theodor R. Beyer, in which Hans Wilsdorf praised the trusting collaboration with Beyer Chronometrie and emphasised its positive development after somewhat more stormy times: “You have the interesting task of carrying forwards the now brightly burning torch. I have no doubt that you will reach your goal victoriously. And today I give you my assurance that we will do our bit to help.” Unfortunately, despite efforts to update our archives, it is not possible to trace whether Hans Wilsdorf followed these words up with the watch mentioned at the beginning (or whether the watch found its way to Beyer before the letter). In any case, the three handwritten pages end with a warm invitation that Beyer still looks at with an element of pride today: “When are you coming to Geneva? I would be delighted to welcome you to our home. Old friendship never dies.”