Legacy of Rolex
By Alex Starace
In 1905, he set about developing a precise, well-designed wristwatch; he and a partner founded the watch company Wilsdorf & Davis in London and formed business relationships with Swiss craftsmen. They quickly had success: By pushing their manufacturer in Bienne, Switzerland, to make better, smaller parts, Wilsdorf was able to achieve his goal of a high quality wristwatch. In 1910, his company’s wristwatch was awarded a certificate of accuracy by the Official Watch Rating Center, and in 1914, one of Wilsdorf’s models received the prestigious “Class A” certificate from the Kew Observatory in England – the first wristwatch given the designation.
The dawn of Rolex
But Wilsdorf was forward-thinking in more ways than one: He created an effective corporate brand when, in 1908, he came up with the name “Rolex” for his company. His criteria for the new name were simple: The name must be easy to pronounce in any language, easy to remember, pleasant on the ear, and short enough (five letters or less) that he could inscribe it on the dial of the watch. And so “Rolex” was chosen, and the legendary brand, as we know it, was created.The simple, elegant name no doubt contributed to the brand’s popularity and worldwide appeal. But Wilsdorf was not content to stop there: His next goal was to create the world’s first waterproof wristwatch. And he did it in 1926 when he developed the Rolex Oyster. Wilsdorf, who was a genius at combining high-functioning technical aptitude with sensational stunts, had a young swimmer, Ms. Mercedes Gleitze, wear the Oyster while swimming across the English Channel – and then he took out a front-page advertisement in London’s Daily Mail proclaiming the feat.
Achieving amazing heights
Still not content to rest on his laurels, Wilsdorf tackled his next challenge: He came out with the world’s first self-winding wristwatch in 1931 by using an innovative system of oscillating weights attached to a central axle. The system, which was dubbed the “perpetual rotor,” is the forebear of today’s contemporary self-winding technology. As the years rolled by, Rolex developed watches that displayed the date and month, and continued to make smaller innovations. To demonstrate the watch’s ability to function in high-stress situations, Rolex was worn by men and women who were achieving incredible feats throughout the 20th century: Sir Malcolm Campbell wore a Rolex when he became the first man to travel 300 mph in a car; Chuck Yeager wore a Rolex when he broke the sound barrier; Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first humans to reach the summit of Everest – and they did it wearing Rolexes. A special Rolex was sent underwater to the Marianas Trench (at a depth of 10,916 meters) and survived to tell the tale, while another Rolex product was developed that resisted magnetic fields – and became the unofficial watch of nuclear scientists conducting research at CERN in Geneva.
Wilsdorf, who remained a visionary to the very end, created a foundation that now runs Rolex – and which allowed Rolex to maintain its financial and creative independence, even after Wilsdorf’s death in 1960. The company, which had long since moved to Switzerland, was by this time famous for its quality and cache. In order to maintain this standard, in 1992 Rolex decided to vertically integrate its manufacturing and development processes by purchasing their suppliers and becoming a fully independent company. In a sense, this transition wasn’t complete until October 2012, when Rolex inaugurated its new 92,000 square-meter facility in Bienne, Switzerland – the location of its first high-quality manufacturer. The cutting-edge facility, which allows for complete in-house production and optimum industrial efficiency, ensures that the Rolex brand will continue to create brilliant watches for years to come.
The Exceptional Components of a Rolex Watch
Rolex has long been a world-renowned brand; what many don’t realize is that the company’s excellence stems from an unstinting belief in continued innovation. See below for some of the most impressive technologies and ideas incorporated into Rolex’s watches.
➊The Parachrom Hairspring This remarkable timekeeping component is only one centimeter in diameter, and is composed of a curled ribbon that is only 45 microns thick. It is insensitive to magnetic fields, and was created from a patented alloy of niobium, zirconium and oxygen.
➋➎Oyster Case The Oyster case is one of the determining factors in the reputation for excellence of Rolex watches. Symbol of robustness and water proofness, this perfectly proportioned and elegant watch case is a superb blend of form and function.
➌Gold Crystals Dials These exquisite dials are created by putting a special treatment on an 18-carat gold watch dial – the result is visible crystals in the metal, with each timepiece’s interplay of crystals totally unique.
➍➑Precious Stones and Gem-Setting Through their unique brilliance and the extreme care taken in their setting, the high-quality precious stones selected by Rolex endow the gem-set watches with unparalleled prestige.
➏Perpetual Movements Not only was Rolex the first company to develop a self-winding wristwatch – Rolex’s self-winding product remains the most precise and durable because of the combination of interlocking pieces that form Rolex’s current line of self-winding watches.
➐904L Stainless Steel The 904L superalloy is corrosion-resistant and commonly used in the aerospace and chemical industries. Rolex’s 904L manufacturing process is extremely rigorous: a first casting, a re-cast in a vacuum for purification purposes, and then inspection with an electron microscope to confirm no structural or surface defects.
➒Cerachrom Bezel The bezel is one of the parts of a watch most exposed to shocks, scratches, corrosion and other environmental factors. With the robustness and durability of its watches in mind, Rolex developed and patented the cerachrom bezel for specific models in the Oyster collection, which thus retain all of their beauty and functionality even in the most extreme conditions.
➓UV-LiGA This manufacturing technology, which involves ultra- violet lithography, electroforming and molding, allows Rolex to manufacture extremely precise components for its watches; the process is so precise that it must be conducted in a controlled atmosphere totally free of dust.
Paraflex Shock Absorbers These absorbers keep the watch functioning in perfect precision, even after it’s dropped, or otherwise jolted. The Paraflex technology is 50 percent more effective than previous shock-absorbing technologies.
Rolex Epic Adventure:
Deep Sea Under the Pole Project
Ever since Mercedes Gleitze (wearing a Rolex) became the first Englishwoman to swim the Channel in 1927, Rolex has been involved in boundary-stretching human exploits. The company sponsored the Deep Sea Under the Pole project. The goal was ambitious: to capture underwater footage of Arctic ice during the summertime. Because the ice covering the North Pole is melting at increasingly accelerated rates, scientists predict that possibly as early as 2015 the North Pole will no longer have a year-round ice covering. As a result, both scientists and filmmakers want to document what currently remains before the ecosystem vanishes entirely.
So, the Deep Sea Under the Pole project was launched. It was an epic adventure: Eight individuals skilled in Arctic survival were air-dropped at the North Pole in March 2010, equipped with supplies, skis, scuba gear, and underwater video cameras. They were asked to cross-country ski toward the north coast of Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada, while intermittently stopping to scuba dive and take underwater footage of what they saw. It was planned as an 80-day, 100-dive trip – however, the summer was one of the warmest in Arctic recorded history (temperatures got as high as -10 degrees Celsius), which caused fragmented ice, a higher frequency of storms, and difficult travel conditions. After 45 days, the team was airlifted out of the site.
Regardless, the expedition has to be considered a success: The team was able to travel 170 kilometers, conduct 51 dives, and capture 40 hours of underwater video footage. The project, which was done in collaboration with European scientists who are conducting a long-term environmental study of the Arctic (DAMOCLES), has yielded valuable documentary evidence. And, not surprisingly, five members of the expedition did it wearing Rolexes.