Ah, Rolex. That “Paragon of Animals.” Perhaps the most recognizable watch brand in the world–known to collectors and laymen alike. However, the ubiquity of Rolex does not mean there are not further depths to plumb. While the terms Datejust, Submariner, and Sea-dweller roll easily off the tongue of watch enthusiasts everywhere, lesser know gems abound. Ever heard of the Rolex Commando? The Space-dweller? How about the Thunderbird? One of those rough cut diamonds is the 1942 Rolex Sky-rocket.
This watch was brought to me by a friend. It was given to him years ago by an uncle. It’s a bit of a rare bird. It is sometimes referred to as the “Canadian Oyster” or as a “non-oyster”—depending on who you ask. Examples of Canadian Oyster watches can be traced back early as the 1930s. The Canadian department store, Eaton’s, sold several varieties, including the Solar Aqua and the King of Wings. The American company, Zell Brothers, sold others like the Turtle Timer.
However, these Sky-rockets were made by Rolex in the 1940s to be worn by Canadian servicemen and marketed to fighter pilots, in particular. They were not standard issue. The servicemen had to pay for the watch themselves. Because of production difficulties in Europe during the war—and to avoid costly duties–the cases for these watches were fashioned in North America by either the ID Watch Case Co. of Varick Street, New York City (190-1942), or the Pioneer Watch Case Co, also of New York. As such, often casebacks–like this one–were not signed with “Rolex.” Commonly offered as gifts to departing soldiers–along with a similar model, The Victory–many of these eventually had service numbers engraved into the back.
Inside is the nickel-plated, 17-jewel Calibre 59 lever movement, with a bimetallic compensation balance (a modified ebaché movement by Fontmelon–originally referred to as the FF30). The silver dial has developed a deep patina over the years but is still clearly signed “Rolex Shockproof.” It has luminous Arabic numerals and hands (which are now partially skeletonized). The red 24-hour chapter ring has faded significantly but is still visible. I particularly like the small seconds. The crystal is domed acrylic.
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The Sky-rocket has a circular, gold-filled case with downturned lugs and a chromium, sterling silver screw back. The crown is large, in proportion to the watch, and advertised as “dust proof.” However, the piece itself is quite small, measuring only 29.5mm in diameter and 36mm lug to lug. Originally, it would have been sold on a brown leather strap for the princely sum of $32.75.
Curiously, the watch does incorporate elements that have come to characterize pilot watches, such as the 24-hour scale and luminous markers; however, unlike the German Fliegers of that era, which measured 55mm in diameter, the Sky-rocket is vastly undersized, and, as such, much less legible. One reasoning behind this development is that the smaller size was meant to keep it from damage in a cramped cockpit. Another is that the Sky-rocket was not designed according to any particular military specifications, as was the case with the Luftwaffe’s directives for the early Fliegers.
No matter. These Sky-rockets, which commonly fetch between $1500-$2000USD, remain one of the most attainable vintage Rolexes for collectors. And considering the era in which they were produced, and the intent of their production, each of these gems might well have an interesting story to tell.
A real piece of history.
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