Did I Abuse my Vintage Rolex Oyster by Painting the Dial? It’s Wild!

Twenty years ago, watch discussion forums were the only social media, and they were places where I spent a lot of time. Apart from conversations about watch-related topics, there was also usually a sales forum that I probably visited more frequently than I should. As a watch collector just starting my journey, the sales pages were full of temptation, as there were a lot of brands and types of watches that I had yet to experience.

One of them was Rolex. While I followed topics on models like the legendary ‘Seamaster vs Submariner’ posts, a Rolex was way out of my price range.

However, this turned out to be not entirely true: on one of the sales forums, a seller had a hard time offloading a vintage Rolex Oyster. The reason was that the dial had been redone, which the seller disclosed upfront. With no takers, the price had already been lowered a few times before it caught my attention.

Martin Green’s vintage Rolex Oyster before his modifications

As I liked how the dial was done, and the price was around $600 – surprisingly within my budget – I decided to take the plunge. It also happened to be my birthday then, so all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place.



Did not disappoint

The Oyster did not disappoint when it was delivered. While the dial had been redone and was not perfect, the case was in good shape and only modestly polished during its lifetime. The movement was also up for the task, winding smoothly and running precisely. The sword hands seemed to have been filled with Lumi-Nova at some point, but it was well done.

After fitting it with a new strap, my first Rolex was ready to be worn.

The Oyster accompanied me on my journey developing as both a collector and a professional within the industry. Even after a few years, it remained a watch I wore quite frequently. While others have come and gone, including different Rolex, this Oyster stayed with me.

While it was not the perfect Rolex, it had a few benefits. As an old Oyster it had that vintage Rolex feel, which is easy to recognize yet hard to put into words. There is simply something about the way that they were made and feel on the wrist that seems slightly different from other vintage watches.

With the redone dial, it suited my style, but it was less obviously a Rolex.

The fact that it lacked a date function and was fitted with a strap helped as well. It made it sort of a stealth watch; one for me to enjoy, but less obvious to the outside world. While it was a staple in my collection, because it was not equipped with an original dial I never wore it to any (watch) events, making it a very private part of my collection.

I hardly even photographed it, which is somewhat of a regret in relation to this article.



Spicing things up

A good friend trades in vintage watches for a living but also has an artistic side. A while back, he showed me images of a Nomos that he had decorated with dots of different sizes and colors. The result was playful and fun, and the concept suited the Nomos perfectly. That planted a seed in my mind regarding my old Oyster. I had owned the watch for over two decades and my view of it had shifted.

With my collection evolving, so did the position of this Rolex. As the dial was not original anyway, a unique opportunity emerged: modify it again and, by doing so, add something both fresh and unique to my collection to enjoy for decades to come.

My friend was willing to work on the dial of the Rolex and began by stripping it of its previous printing. This resulted in quite a surprise: gone were the badly printed railroad track and Rolex name, but the gold tone circle in the middle remained.

Martin Green’s vintage Rolex Oyster dial before painting

I decided on a bold choice of colors, including several hues of green (as a nod to my last name) combined with coral, light blue, and fluorescent yellow Super-Luminova.

Mixing the paint for Martin Green’s vintage Rolex Oyster

While it may look simple, each dot had to be carefully positioned, painted, and then dry before continuing to the next. This was a tedious task because he wanted to ensure that the result would look random but balanced and pre-determined.

Painting the dial of Martin Green’s vintage Rolex Oyster

The result is not for everybody, its exuberant character is a private pleasure.

The dial of Martin Green’s modified vintage Rolex Oyster

Martin Green’s vintage Rolex Oyster



Going all in

Martin Green’s vintage Rolex Oyster

In my opinion, modifying a vintage Rolex means you have to go all in. In my case this meant a custom strap to match the outgoing character of the dial. For this, I turned to Atelier Petrov, a high-end leather goods specialist based in Basel, Switzerland. What I wanted was that all the colors of the dial would find a way into the strap, with green dominating them all.

The back and colorful strap of Martin Green’s vintage Rolex Oyster

This resulted in one of the craziest straps I have ever ordered!

For the top leather, we selected lizard in British racing green. The hand stitching was done in gold wire, while the sides of the strap were coated in fluorescent yellow. The calfskin lining is done in two colors, coral and light blue.

Strap and buckle of Martin Green’s modified vintage Rolex Oyster

While all this is as outrageous as it sounds, the result brings it all together. While this Rolex was quite under the radar in its previous configuration, now the opposite is true.

Martin Green’s vintage Rolex Oyster

You might love it or hate it, but it doesn’t make much of a difference as it is mine to enjoy.

For more information, please visit  www.watchworkshaarlem.com and/or www.atelierpetrov.com.

Quick facts: Vintage Rolex Oyster ‘Modified’
Case: 34 x 9.5 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manual wind Caliber 1210, 2.5 Hz/18,800 vph frequency, 58-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Dial: ‘Explorer-style’ with gold tone center and dot-motive by WatchWorks Haarlem
Strap: custom-made to suit the dial by Atelier Petrov

You might also enjoy:

Why I Pimped My Rolex Explorer II

So, You Want to Buy a Rolex? Well, Daddy-O, I’m here to Talk you Out of It!

Rolex Submariner vs. GMT Master II: Small Differences, Difficult Decision

Why I’ve Never Owned A Rolex – And Why I Might Yet (Update: I Do Now!)

21 replies
      • Gavin
        Gavin says:

        My first nice watch was a brand new Rolex Sub that had been fully customized by Bamford. I won the watch in a competition. I have yet to meet someone who likes it, but I love it and I can wear it anywhere as nobody recognizes it as a Rolex.

      • Stu
        Stu says:

        I was a bit harsh, of course it is subjective and you did a good job. As long as you love it, it doesn’t matter what an idiot on the internet thinks 🙂 *Probably better than most of Bamford’s efforts, certainly more imaginative.

  1. Robert Powalka
    Robert Powalka says:

    I actually think you have done an amazing thing. Taken something you love and enjoy to entirely different level – even more love and enjoyment. And personality, too!
    Your watch is your watch alone.
    You have given this watch a true soul.
    Well done and congratulations!

    …I also appreciate that you resisted trying to mimic the recent ”random bubbles” Rolex. Your dots remain unique 😉

    • Martin Green
      Martin Green says:

      Thank you, Robert, thats exactly how I feel about the watch. Funny thing is that it was in the making before Rolex introduced the bubble dial. I was a bit worried that it would look too similar, but I am happy with the outcome.

  2. Ian Skellern
    Ian Skellern says:

    I like it Martin, it doesn’t look like a vintage Rolex, but then it didn’t really look like a vintage Rolex before you had the dial painted. Now it looks like an eye-catching fun watch 🙂
    Regards, Ian

    • Martin Green
      Martin Green says:

      I guess this was always a bit of an under the radar Rolex, which it funny enough still is, although it generally draws more attention now.

  3. Mike
    Mike says:

    Great watch! Loved the article as well. Seems like Stu says AD a lot when talking about watches. You put an incredible amount of feeling into both the article and the watch, thanks!

  4. Ed
    Ed says:

    I like the concept, I like the strap, I like your story, I like watches that get worn and are loved. The execution is more artistic than art but that’s a personal opinion and shouldn’t ever distract from your enjoyment.

  5. Michael Friedberg
    Michael Friedberg says:

    I normally eschew painted dials because the art is really not great art— it is only the fact that it’s painted that’s remarkable.

    However, your painting is very good art.


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