A wartime Rolex Oyster with radium lume dial and hands. Model reference 3980.


From the serial number on the case back we can accurately date this watch to being made in 1942.


Rolex Oyster cases were launched in 1927 and became known as the waterproof watch to have. We have to remember that this watch was made in the middle of WW2, and 11 years before the Rolex Submariner became one of the first divers watches. Having a watch that is both waterproof and able to be read in darkness would have been very desirable if the wearer was being posted into action, but we have no way of knowing if this watch was worn by a serviceman. One possible link is the year this watch was made. In 1942 (the year this watch was produced) Switzerland was surrounded by Axis nations and the route to international markets severed. Rolex’s founder, Hans Wilsdorf, found a captive market – literally. British officers if captured and sent to PoW camps had their watches confiscated by the guards, but they did allow the prisoners to order a new watch from Rolex via the Red Cross. Incredibly, officers were told to order any watch they wanted and not consider paying for it until after the hostilities had finished. Rolex took a huge gamble on the Allies winning the war, and thousands of watches were shipped to PoW’s on the promise of being paid at a later date.

The 30mm stainless steel case is small by modern standards but correct for the time. There are some marks on the case, and the screw down case back has notches in it to help open it up (but a Bergeon rubber ball works a treat). The crown screws down correctly and is marked PATENT +OYSTER, showing it is original. The dial has patina all over it which shows up at different angles, and the hands and dial both have radium lume on them – refinished dials would not use radium, so that is reassuring. The movement is the Rolex 700, a fifteen jewel in house movement with manual winding that is still working well. Some watches of this period might be just marked Oyster, and used FHF movements to make them cheaper but this is a proper Rolex. The leather strap is new, and could be swapped for a different colour if preferred.

This watch will be supplied with our branded presentation box and our Certificate of Authenticity.

Please see the HD video for more detail. All photos and videos are part of the description and are of the actual watch unless mentioned. We do not photoshop any pictures, and the images are copyright of birthyearwatches.com and should not be used without permission.


Width with crown 33.2 mm

Width without crown 30.0 mm

Between lugs 16 mm

Lug to lug length 38.6 mm

Case Thickness 11.8 mm

All sizes are approximate.

Included with this watch is a 3 month guarantee and free delivery to UK addresses. If you live outside the UK we can still deliver to most countries. Please see our Worldwide Shipping information, or Contact Us. Payment can be made by most credit or debit cards, bank transfer or PayPal.

From 1st September 2021 we will be planting a tree for every watch we sell, working with the International Tree Foundation (Est 1922) to make this business positive on carbon. By buying anything pre owned you are effectively reusing what already exists, but this takes it further and makes us feel good.