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Do Vintage Rolex Tick Or Sweep?

Yes! Vintage Rolex do tick. It is a common misconception that a Rolex with a ticking second hand is an obvious sign of a fake.

If you inspect one closely under magnification with a jewelers loupe, the second's hand DOES tick many times per second. Unlike some other high-end lux watches, it is not a perfectly smooth motion. This is especially noticeable in vintage Rolex watches with their older movements.

The number of ticks per second is a function of the movements “beat rate”, usually measured in Hertz (Hz) or vibrations per hour (VpH). Hertz refers to the number of oscillations that the balance wheel in a watch’s movement makes in a single second.

A frequency of four Hz makes four full oscillations per second, or eight vibrations, which adds up to 28,800 vibrations per hour.

Vintage Rolex movements typically beat at 18VpH. More contemporary Modern Classic Rolex movements beat at 21 and 28 VpH. By comparison, quartz movements are orders of magnitude more precise with quartz crystal vibrating at 32,768 Hz.

In 2019, Zenith introduced the Defy Inventor, a limited-edition mechanical watch with a movement that hits 18 Hz (129,600 vph!)

Legitimate Rolex models DO tick. Some are more obvious than others. For example, all the Oysterquarts models tick thanks to their quartz movements. Yes, Rolex made battery-powered quartz watches!

The reference few people know about is the Rolex Tru-Beat Reference 6556, with a rare “deadbeat seconds hand”. This is a mechanical movement designed to tick once per second.

The 6556 was designed specifically for physicians and clinicians, to aid the measurement of a patient's pulse rate (heartbeat). Like the later Rolex Oysterquartz, it ticks once per second thanks to a remarkably complex mechanism, based on caliber 1040.

Deadbeat seconds also called dead seconds or jumping seconds is a mechanical marvel known only to hardcore vintage enthusiasts. Introduced in 1954, it was a commercial flop despite being a remarkable engineering achievement. Rare and relatively unknown are hallmarks of great collectible models and in 2015 the famed Philips auction house sold one for US$40K

Unlike the tourbillion which is widely recognized for its complexity, the deadbeat is a real nerd, insiders complication. It is still used in modern, high end watches today, including Habring² Erwin, Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic True Second, and A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Jumping Seconds.

YES, genuine vintage Rolex genuinely tick, while most tick imperceptibly. If you'd like to learn more about vintage Rolex and have questions like this one, you should The Vintage Rolex Field Guide and subscribe to the mailing list.