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March 15th, 2019
The Kew Observatory is located in the Old Deer Park near to the River Thames, Richmond Surrey. It was a hub of activity during its heydays. Initially, the Kew Observatory was built for King George III in 1769 to see the passage of Venus. However, the building accommodated the National Physical Laboratory in the following century.
The National Physical Laboratory was in charge of testing watch movements, and here, the Kew Observatory (also named as the King’s Observatory) played a vital part in the history of Rolex.
A truly accurate and reliable wristwatch was not yet available in the first decade of the 20th century. To earn a Kew ‘Class A’ Certificate, a watch was put through forty-five days of rigorous tests with a precision tolerance of only a few seconds each day. Moreover, a watch was tested in three different temperatures as well as five different positions.
Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, was determined to give legitimacy to his wristwatches. A Rolex watch was indeed the first in the world to achieve the Swiss Certificate of Chronometer Precision, Bienne in 1910. However, Wilsdorf had a bigger mission, and that is, passing the Kew test.
After four years, a Rolex ladies watch was sent to the Kew Observatory for testing. The watch was the first ever wristwatch in the world that earned the Kew ‘Class A’ Certification on 15th July 1914.
It was indeed a momentous milestone for Rolex to receive the ‘Class A’ Kew Certificate. The ladies Rolex watch featured a uniquely designed movement. Thus, over the subsequent decades, the manufacturer tried to obtain Kew Certificate for the serially produced movements. The aim was to be the brand that could manufacture chronometric watches for both men and women on a higher scale.
Rolex is known to have designed nearly 145 movements over the four years for submitting to Kew testing. While nine of the watches failed the test, the rest 136 timepieces attained the ‘Class A’ Kew Certificate. Among these 136 Rolex timepieces, 112 Speed-king watches were in ‘men’s size’, whereas 24 models were of 18ct gold.
Today, Rolex timepieces undergo strict, Superlative Chronometer in-house testing and also, chronometer-certified by the COSC. However, the English Kew Observatory played a significant role in hoisting the lifelong quest of Rolex to produce the most precise and accurate mechanical watches possible.
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