Complication is a term not commonly found in the Rolex parlance. Chronographs, water-resistance, and anti-magnetic material science are as far as Wildorf pushes these days. However, early to mid-century Rolex one century ago was another thing entirely. There were 4113 rattrapantes, 6062 moonphases (with star indices), and 8171 triple calendars just to name a few. One amongst that esteemed company which is often overlooked: this 6556 and its remarkable deadbeat seconds calibre 1040.
If the trio of watches mentioned above has not convinced you, let me state explicity the 1950s were a golden age for Rolex. Wilsdorf had started to created watches which were aimed toward the professional, specialized to a purpose. Tool watches had found their footing. In 1954, Rolex released the Tru-Beat (ref 6556 for chronometre certification and 6558 without). The watch was an 34mm with a calibre all its own, focussed on one old, noble complication: dead seconds.
Seconde morte 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. One of the more rare, less talked about, and interesting oyster-cased Rolex of all time if I may say.
Thankfully, this example has had its movement examined and recently serviced. The dial is beautiful, a light champagne tone. Its case has seen a light polish, but retains thick lugs. It is on its original riveted bracelet with not much visible stretch. Interestingly, the watch has a still-clear case back engraving that starts with TX, likely a doctor’s ID from some MD out of Texas. It comes from a reputable retailer in Amsterdam.
Find this 6556 here from Vintage Times Amsterdam for 22500 EUR.