Single Family-Owned 6556 Rolex Tru-Beat
You don’t get to put the word complicated ahead of Rolex very often. When one does think complicated Rolex, it’s always the Padellone and Jean-Claude Killy that come to mind. But that’s not quite right, because there’s the 4113 split seconds. And, more attainably, the other one everyone forgets: the Tru-Beat (ref 6556 with chronometre certification and 6558 without), a deadbeat seconds intended for the medical professional. In the 1950s, Rolex’s product development was on fire, creating watches for professionals, tools to be used, many of which are lines still in production today. But the Tru-Beat isn’t, it folded, a market failure. The Tru-Beat looks just like any other nondescript Oyster Perpetual. But its calibre 1040 creates discreet stops for its seconds hand, which is wildly un-Rolex.
Deadbeat seconds is exactly what is sounds like. The center-seconds hand does not have its familiar sweep, but instead ticks. If this seems like a lot of mechanical technology to make your watch seem quartz, you’d be right. However, this predates quartz significantly. So what was the purpose of such a bizarre complication? Well, the intention (and history of the complication) reaches far back in lock step with medicine. The precise seconds stop was intended to simplify calculation for doctors to take pulse and blood pressure metrics (amongst others) more easily and more precisely.
The 1040 was a derivative of the lauded 1030 with an additional gear train. That train comprised an anchor which swings for and aft to engage a gear tethered to the seconds hand. Pray it doesn’t swing too far because I imagine replacements available from Rolex are close to zero. Sales were slow and Rolex made few in total relative to any other major model at the time. The 1040 movement is famously so difficult to service that Hodinkee, back when they weren’t Jean Arnault’s personal PR arm, had Aaron Berlow write about restoring one. Most are steel but you can also find a few examples in yellow and pink gold, all a curious footnote to Rolex history and equally beautiful.
This example is a bit special as its from the original family. I don’t get to write that very often these days. It was bought in the early 1960s by the seller’s grandmother at Bucherer as a present for his father. In the early 2000s, it became the grandson’s and was worn daily. The watch has never been out of the family until now. Its sector dial is beautiful and faded to a light champagne, red seconds hand intact. A very honest anti-safe-queen. If you’re an MD who loves watches, or have one close in your life, there may be no more thoughtfully appropriate watch. It comes from a well-regarded Dutch retailer.