Skip to main content

Vintage Rolex Mid Size Oysterdate 6518

Rolex Oysterdate 6518 with arrowhead markers. 

An unusual embossed dial coronet and logo. 
A rare and unusual reference is reemerging as a desirable collectible.
Unless you’ve been off the grid, you’ll have noticed the reawakening of interest in smaller and mid-sized watches. Interest seems to be growing out of the vintage collector community thanks in part to commentators like Hodinkee and Revolution. Unusual and authentic vintage references make for great copy and essential background material when covering new homage, limited-edition reissues (one a week it seems!).

The universe of social influencers (mainly IG, bloggers, and vloggers) have been advocating for a return to smaller, mid-sized watches. Oversize is passé.
These vintage references were born of an era when small (and thin) was cool. Think Cartier Tank, JLC Reverso, PP Calatrava and even AP’s original Royal Oak 5402.

Fig. 3
Another example (albeit more affordable) is this amazing Rolex Oysterdate 6518. Of all my collection it consistently gets the most love and admiration on social media outings (IG and WRUW posts).

It is considered a transitional reference and sometimes referred to as a semi-bubbleback.

Rolex introduced the 6518 at Basel World in 1954. It was one of the very first references to include the new automatic calibre 1035 (cal 1030 is the no Date version).

Rolex OYSTERDATE RITE TIME with shark tooth style markers on waffle dial
Development of the 1030 series had begun in the early 1950s. In addition to reference 6518, cal. 1030 also appeared in early Submariners and Explorers.
(See Refs, 6500, 6502, 6532, 6536, 6538, 6540, 6552, 6564, 6565, 6566, 6567, 6569, 6580, 6581, 6582, 6583, 6584, 6585, 6586, 6587, 6590, 6592, 6593, 6594, 6598, 6599, 6610, 6614, 6634)

The 6518 is a mid sized gents (aka boys-size) watch at 34 mm (ex. crown) with 19 mm lug width. It has several atypical characteristics.

It has unusual case finishing with polished surfaces and brushed sides, the inverse of today’s finish styles. The sides are cut straight as are the lug tips. Later Datejusts featured slightly bulged sides and curved lug ends.

Combined with the polished smooth bezel, the overall shininess lends to the illusion of being larger than its modest 34mm.

Rolex appears to have experimented with several branding and naming options for the 6518. Some of the earliest were marked OYSTERDATE PERPETUAL, others featured Tru-Date (6534), Rite Time and -DATE-.

Given the age and transitional nature of the ref. 6518, it is rare to find an example with an original dial. Those that exist have not aged well (IMO). While vendor hyperbole may describe them as tropic and patina’d, they appear mostly mildewed and crufty. This detracts significantly from the sophisticated and elegant spirit of the original watch.

Most examples on the market have been refinished making it almost impossible to tell what branding they would have originally featured. However, a skilled vintage expert will be able to make an informed guess based on the inferred age from the case and movement serial number. The numbers for the example above place it in the last quarter of 1953 or the first quarter of 1954.

Shark tooth waffle dial (guilloche). This is a poor refinish with paint covering the gold surrounding of the date window. Also the 6 o'clock Swiss marking is cut off under the edge of the rehaut. Lume pips are also missing.
Dial variations appeared in white and black (with gilt lettering) on matte, linen and waffle textures. This white dial example in Fig.1 features arrow-head hour markers. Shark tooth markers were also common.

Original hands would have been dauphine style with a tritium lume strip. The second hand is blued with a distinctive pip on the trailing end. Hour makers were lumed with a dot or pip.

The baton style hands in Fig. 4 would appear to be later service replacements and their style would suggest circa 1960.

The roulette date wheel (alternating red for odd-numbered dates and black for even-numbered dates) were an attractive and curious design feature. These were also introduced in the 1945 Oyster Perpetual Datejust. Urban legend claims these were references to wartime food rationing (every other day).

Disassembled 1030 movement
Finding all original collector grade versions of the 6518 is almost impossible. 70+ years of wear and tear will take their toll on all parts, not just those in motion. A running example will have been opened and serviced at least a half dozen times in its lifetime.

Beautiful butterfly auto-winding rotor.
Finding skilled watchmakers with experience working on the 1030/1035 is increasingly challenging. As is finding spare parts and lubricants. My watch was overhauled in January 2016 by Oyster Time Service of Austin, TX. In addition to the movement overhaul (Fig.6) work included some case refinishing to correct a warped bezel and incorrect case finishing.

Why this is in my collection

Despite the diminutive size, the 6518 wears larger than one might expect and doesn’t look out of place on my 6.75" wrist. While it won’t scream for attention, it’s polished surfaces will make itself known.

It is discreet and unassuming and pairs well with business casual attire.
The 6518 is both rare and transitional (themes of my collection). Low production volume combined with mysterious design variations make it interesting. It is also historically significant marking the transition from the antique Bubbleback to the contemporary Oyster.

My example keeps excellent time (runs to COSC specification) and rarely needs winding. It’s both robust and reliable as a daily wearer.

The lack of quick set date makes it awkward to set if left unworn for long periods. Winding and setting it the long way round is a nostalgic reminder of how far watchmaking has come and what watch ownership would have been like for my grandparents. Some might see this as an irritation, I think it’s quaint and charming.

The 6518 is a classy and sophisticated dress watch for an older discerning owner (man or woman). It’s nostalgic, authentic, unusual and a delight to wear. If you come across one in good running order, I’d recommend you jump at the chance to own it.