“He patted Smiley on the shoulder: ‘Maybe you should have more fun in life.’ ‘Maybe I should have done,’ Smiley agreed.”
– Smiley’s People, John le Carré
The Rolex Oyster 36 came out in 2014, and was, almost immediately, taken for granted, which if you stop and think about it, is in a funny way a compliment to the watch. No one gets on a five-year waiting list for the Oyster 36; no one sputters in indignation about the font; no one says they’d eagerly knife their own mother to get one. It’s simply a very solid watch, and since its whole identity is to be the paradigmatic everyday watch – reliable, classic, versatile, accurate, and dependable; the sort of thing an actual spy might wear, especially the sort whose stock in trade is to go unnoticed – flying under the radar is sort of exactly what it’s supposed to do. But like so many steady, steadfast things in life, there’s a lot of dignity and even beauty in the Oyster 36, if you pay attention.
This is one of those watches about which on a certain level, there is not a whole heck of a lot to say. It’s about as stripped-down as a Rolex gets – no complications, no sub-dials, plain-Jane stainless steel, and at 36 mm, it’s a little on the conservative side. You wouldn’t call it exactly a small watch, but God knows it’s not assertively large, either. There is nothing especially eye-catching about the design; the steel finishing is good, solid steelwork but nothing to evoke the usual hyperbole we watch writers usually trot out when we see a brushed surface hard up against a polished one (gorgeous contrast! stunning alternation! Brancusi-esque!).
The movement’s certainly a solid one, and a reminder of just how much more you get from Rolex at this price point chronometrically than you do from virtually all their competition: the manufacture caliber 3130, chronometer certified, with Parachrom balance with Breguet overcoil, adjustable balance bridge, and free-sprung balance with Microstella balance screws for adjustment of rate. It’s a top-notch engine that keeps an extremely close rate, but you’d never know it looking at the watch from the outside. In some Rolexes, the RolexRolexRolex on the rehaut (inner bezel) seems a proud declaration of luxury status; here it has all the opulence of a fence topped with concertina wire. Its sole purpose is to say counterfeiters not welcome.
Now if you want a version of this watch that has all the understated, just-the-facts-ma’am, poker faced, Joe Friday quality for which so many Rolexes are famous, you can have this watch in steel with a grey dial and you won’t have a moment’s regret; you’ll own a watch you can look at every day for the rest of your life, with a fantastic movement that’s all sorts of bang for the buck, that will give you all the pride of ownership you could possibly ask for in a mechanical watch. But why not have, you know, a little fun.
Somewhat miraculously, you can get the Oyster 36 in several rather frisky dial colors, and I personally happen to very much like Red Grape. The color is pretty seductive – the deep garnet of that first full glass of wine that promises the unwinding of the day’s tendrils of care and if not a roisterous, at least a relaxing evening ahead. But to be honest I think that a big part of what I like about the watch in Red Grape is the name Rolex has given to the color – Red Grape Rolex; you can’t say it without smiling (well, you probably can but you probably have to work at it a little).
It comes in White Grape, and Blue, as well, but blue is a little too easy to like these days and in general I find yellow dials a little jaundiced. No, Red Grape it is, for just a little injection of the Dionysian in your otherwise by-the-book wristwatch.
At $5,050 it’s one of the nicest Red Grape flavored wristwatches out there. Go ahead, let yourself go and have a little fun. It’s too late for George Smiley, but it’s not too late for you.
The Rolex Oyster 36, 36 mm in steel, Oysterlock clasp and 904L case and bracelet. Screw-down crown, 48-hour power reserve, water resistant to 100 meters. Read all about the Grapest of watches right here on Rolex.com.
Don’t have the HODINKEE App yet? Get years of amazing watch content plus new stories, breaking news, and access to great new features like HODINKEE Live, free on iOS.