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The Base Calibre

Most of today's Swiss watch companies buy the internal movements from the manufacturing giant ETA, a consolidation of Swiss factories that is now part of the Swatch group. Even some of the most exclusive, high-end Swiss luxury watches, such as the 20,000 $ IWC DaVinci, are based on ETA movements. The Rolex brand Tudor also makes use of ETA movements.


This Oris 635 movement is derived from the ETA 2836.

When a manufacturer buys the movement, they sometimes apply their own modifications, such as using the slowest dividers to drive a moon phase indicator or 24-hour hand. These modifications are essentially further gearing laid down on plates added to the base movement, or "calibre".

One example is Oris, who publishes the "High Mech" book about their movements and base calibres they are derived from.

The Legal Bits

Rolex owners keep their watches for years, and often need replacement parts such as backs, crowns, bracelet links, etc. Buying these parts from Rolex can be very expensive, even though they're just simple bits of steel. So alternate sources of parts have sprung up to sell parts at more reasonable prices. To maintain compatibility, these parts must be drop-in replacements to fit the original Rolex. For example, a back must be able to screw in and exactly fit the Rolex case.

 

As long as these parts don't use the Rolex logo, there's nothing illegal about it and they can be freely advertised to anyone in the watch repair industry. This would include hands, date magnifiers, date wheels, bracelet parts, crystals, bezels, O-rings, backs, even the whole watch case itself.

The legal bits come from Europe (Italy and Switzerland) and Asia (Taiwan).

One time in Thailand, I found a Chinese gold shop that had produced solid, nearly 24 karat gold Presidential bracelets for Rolex. Cost on those was basically tied to the market price of Troy ounces, and they were heavy!

The Illegal Bits


This brass sheet can be glued on the watch rotor, making the rotor appear to have Rolex engraving.

Adding the Rolex logo isn't much work. For example, an existing diamond dial gets one final overprinting step for the logo, or a plain crown is struck with a die to press in the Rolex Triplock symbol. This kind of work can often be done in a small shop with the right equipment, including even the etched Rolex logo on the surface of the sapphire crystal.

Assembly of the watches is predominantly done in Taiwan, though it is illegal there and very hard to find them.

   
 
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