In-Depth: A Side-By-Side Look At The Rolex Oyster Perpetual 41 And Oyster Perpetual 39
It’s bigger – but is it better?
I’m not going to mince words here or try to play both sides: When the newest batch of Rolex releases came out, I was gutted to see that the Oyster Perpetual 39 had been removed from the collection. It was my favorite modern Rolex, hands-down, and the watch I recommended to first time “nice watch” buyers more than any other. Come to think of it, it’s one of the watches I recommended to any watch buyer more than any other. It’s a Rolex through and through: It’s a fantastic size that works for almost any wrist, and the white dial gave it a special something that set it apart from most of Rolex’s black-dialed sport watches. And they killed it. With no notice and no fanfare. The King is dead.
What replaced the OP 39 is the new OP 41. Instead of offering Oyster Perpetuals in 28, 31, 34, 36, and 39mm, there is now a 5mm jump between the 36mm and the 41mm. I happen to love the OP 36 and think it’s basically the perfect size for my wrist, but that does leave a large chasm right in prime watch-size territory for the OP.
When people started freaking out online over the Submariner gaining one millimeter on paper, we were among the commentators who pointed out that the actual size difference is less than one millimeter, but that the rounding done for the spec sheets created an illusion of a bigger change. With the Oyster Perpetuals, there’s no such mathematical equivocation to look to. The OP 41 is substantially larger than the OP 39 and worth considering as a totally new watch, not a small modification to an existing one.
With that in mind, I wanted to get an OP 39 and an OP 41 in-hand to do a proper side-by-side comparison and to see if I was maybe having a mini watch meltdown over nothing.
The Newest OP
First off, let’s give this watch a fair chance on its own merits. It is still an Oyster Perpetual, which means that it’s an overbuilt, over-engineered take on a basic three-hand wristwatch in the Rolex style. The case is robust like a tank but elegantly polished in just the right ways, the Oyster bracelet is both comfortable and sturdy, and you’ve got Rolex’s distinct combination of quality and precision in everything from the top of the crystal straight through to the brushing on the caseback. So, despite my reservations, this is still a pretty fantastic watch at first glance.
And that early impression really does hold up. The watch feels great in the hand and on the wrist, and I think Rolex did an outstanding job with the new dial configuration and updated colorways for the OP 41. The double markers at three, six, and nine are much better balanced than on previous double-marker iterations (old OP 36, I’m looking at you), and from the silver-and-gold to the bright turquoise, the color options are plentiful and on-point. One interesting note is that Rolex chose not to offer the candy pink dial in the 41mm size, presumably because they expect the pink appeals mostly to female customers, and the 41 appeals mostly to male customers. Possible market research aside, that’s some pretty antiquated thinking, so I’m hoping the line gets updated at some point (but I won’t be holding my breath).
The new dials are a huge part of what the OP 41 has to offer. There are two new “basic” dial options, one a new silver sunburst finish with gold hands and markers and the other a new black that also has a subtle sunburst finish to it. The silver essentially replaces the white dial found on the OP 39, but more on that in a minute. There are also brighter options, including the new turquoise, coral red, yellow, green, and sunburst blue that debuted across the OP collection this year. We’ll have more coming on these bright new dial colors soon, but I think they’re pretty exceptional across the board and have already talked myself into and out of buying both yellow and coral OPs over the last few weeks. We’ll see where I finally end up there….
Underneath the surface, Rolex put a new-generation movement in the OP 41, the caliber 3230. This is the same movement you’ll find in the new no-date Submariner, and it’s a powerhouse. It has a Chronergy escapement for better precision and longevity, it has a 70-hour power reserve, and it carries both COSC and Rolex certifications for performance. It’s basically everything you want in a modern movement meant for daily wear.
The OP 39 Effect
On its own, the Oyster Perpetual 41 represents a fantastic addition to Rolex’s line-up. I don’t really have anything bad to say about the watch itself. Judging from the reactions of friends and acquaintances who have bought them and shown them off on Instagram, there are already loads of happy customers in nearly every corner of the globe, too. It’s tough to argue with that.
But then we have the Oyster Perpetual 39 to consider. The OP 41 isn’t just a new watch, it’s a new watch that replaces a beloved watch that had a far-too-short run in the Rolex catalog. Does that color my perception of the OP 41? You bet it does.
Quick disclaimer here: Rolex has in no way suggested that the OP 41 is a “replacement” for my dearly departed OP 39. As far as their communication is concerned, the OP 41 is a new watch and the OP 39 has been removed from the catalog. Zero explanations have been given, and the two aren’t directly connected to one another at all. I say this mostly to cover my own ass here, but I also think it’s a perspective worth floating. Lineups change, we draw our own conclusions.
OK, back to business. Side-by-side with the OP 39 is where I start to feel a bit conflicted about the OP 41. Yes, it’s a great watch, but to my mind, it’s not an improvement on the 39 so much as a totally different thing. And I don’t think I prefer it.
When it comes to the diameters of the two watches, you get what Rolex says you get – there is a 2mm difference between the two, and you can see it just by looking at the watches side-by-side. But that’s not the only measurement that matters, especially when you’re looking at watches with the slightly tonneau shape that Rolex utilizes. The lug-to-lug measurements are critical, too, and at 47.35mm, the OP 41 is definitely larger than the OP 39, which measures 44.06mm top to bottom. That’s more than a 3mm difference in terms of how the watch sits on the wrist. Thickness, on the other hand, isn’t a huge concern, as the difference is a fraction of a millimeter, with both coming in around the 12mm mark. To be clear, both of these watches are extremely wearable, and I like the proportions of both as well, but one is unequivocally larger than the other, and that’s likely going to be the thing that makes or breaks your relationship with the OP 41.
Digging a little deeper, you’ll notice that the dial architecture is different as well. While I do like the design and layout of the new OP 41, I can’t help but prefer the OP 39 when you put the two side by side. The perfectly even parade of 11 markers around the outer edge of the dial, the understated minutes track, and the ever-so-slightly-pearlescent finish of the white dial all give the watch a cleanliness and clarity that is unmatched. To my eye, the OP 39 with the white dial is the most purely distilled form of “Rolex” that you could get. It was one perfect unit of exceptional watch. While the OP 41 is, almost inarguably, a better watch due to that new movement, it’s not as pleasing a watch to me.
On The Wrist
Ultimately, what really matters though is how the watch performs on the wrist. And, in that department, the OP 41 is pretty great. Yes, it’s larger than I’d like for myself, but you already know that. I’m not going to belabor that point any further. If a 41mm watch with a sporty, everyday feel is what you’re after, Rolex has something really great for you here. The watch feels even slimmer than the other OP models due to the greater diameter-to-thickness ratio, and even with a tiny bit of lug overhang, it’s still plenty comfortable due to the smooth connection between the case and bracelet.
When it comes to the different color options, I think that the softer colors like the silver and the turquoise work a little better than the harsher colors. There’s just so much dial with this watch that too much red or yellow (or even black) ends up being a bit overpowering. With the OP, I want to enjoy the whole package, the harmony, more than any one detail. The hints of gold on the silver dial give it a warm, almost champagne impression that reminds me of a nicely aged vintage Datejust in a great way.
In the name of horological science, I figured I’d try the OP 39 on too, immediately after taking off the OP 41. It felt like taking off a pair of new bench-made shoes and throwing on a comfy pair of sneakers. Both are great, but one just wears much easier. If you want more on the OP 39, definitely go check out this story I wrote when the white-dial version came out, but I’ll say it one more time for good measure: I love this watch, and it’s damn near perfect on the wrist.
I don’t want anyone who’s made it this far to misconstrue what I’m saying here, so I’ll put it as bluntly as possible: The Oyster Perpetual 41 is a fantastic watch that puts Rolex’s best assets forward in a relatively affordable package with diverse dial options to suit lots of different tastes. That’s not up for debate here. The rub is that Rolex happened to phase out a very similar and beloved watch in the Oyster Perpetual 39, which casts a bit of a shadow over the new drop.
If you were a fan of the Oyster Perpetual 39, there’s no use crying over discontinued watches. You have a few choices. You could find a pre-owned OP39 (white-dialed versions are traded for north of $8,000 online these days), or you could choose between the OP 36 and OP 41. If you’re dead set on a white dial, you’re going to have to hunt and shell out that extra cash, but if you’re not, I’d highly recommend trying on both the OP 41 and OP 36 to discover which direction suits you better.
While it might be one of the less-talked-about watches in Rolex’s portfolio of indelible icons, I think the Oyster Perpetual deserves its place on the horological Mt. Rushmore. As I said earlier, it’s one perfect unit of Rolex watch, paring down the brand’s most essential qualities – restrained design, over-engineered details, and performance-driven movements – into an easy-to-understand watch that’s perfect for nearly any setting.
No matter what size works for you, the Oyster Perpetual was, is, and will continue to be one hell of a watch.
For more on the Oyster Perpetual 41, visit Rolex online.