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June 21st, 2021
Rolex is unlike any other watch brands. This independently run, privately-held entity today enjoys an unparalleled global recognition and reverence. And this is the result of success in various fields over the years, from the ocean depths, mountain peaks, space explorations to associations with notable personalities like Paul Newman, James Bond, and film appearances.
The Swiss giant watchmaker has a universe of its own. It hardly permits anyone to enter its honoured walls and do not make their operations public. Rolex only produces watches. However, they work more than a mere timekeeper. The brand has taken the concept and standard of watchmaking to a new level.
Well, while you cannot head into the Rolex’s hallowed halls to see its operations, you can know about some fascinating facts that define the brand by reading this article. So, if you are a watch lover, continue reading below.
The illustrious journey of watchmaking started with the foundation of Wilsdorf & Davis Ltd in 1905 in London by Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law Alfred Davis. Later, Hans Wilsdorf opened an office in Switzerland after registering the trademark “ROLEX” in 1908.
However, the company name was officially changed from “Wilsdorf & Davis Ltd.” to Rolex in 1915. Interestingly, there are many stories behind the Rolex name origination. One says that Hans Wilsdorf adhered to George Eastman’s lead. Eastman founded the name “Kodak” for his company, and his success paved the way for short, unique brand names.
According to another story, the name “Rolex” is a type of carry-on of “Horlogerie exquise”, a French phrase. However, Hans Wilsdorf had never confirmed what the inspiration behind the name Rolex is. Nevertheless, Rolex is undoubtedly a success.
In 1910, a Rolex watch received the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision. Interestingly, it was the first-ever wristwatch globally to achieve this certificate that the Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne granted. Later, Rolex patented the first-ever waterproof Oyster watch in 1926.
Rolex introduced the Datejust in 1945 as the first self-winding watch with a date display on the dial. Another iconic creation from Rolex was the Submariner in 1953. It was the first diver’s timepiece to have a water-resistant ability to reach a 100m depth.
Other Rolex patents include a helium escape valve in 1967, a unique 904L stainless steel in 1985, and the Parachrom hairspring.
Rolex uses unique steel that no other watch brands use. Steel is available in several types and grades. However, most steel watches are crafted of 316L steel. But Rolex makes all the steel watches from 904L stainless steel.
Rolex introduced its exclusive 904L steel in 1988. This steel type is more corrosion and rust-resistant and much harder than other steels. Moreover, the 904L steel is pretty harder than other steel types and can also hold polishes exceptionally well.
Now, you may wonder why no other watchmakers use this steel in manufacturing their timepieces. The first significant reason is that the 904L steel is costlier and highly difficult to produce. It requires unique tools and expertise. Rolex is the only brand that has stepped ahead to take advantage of the 904L steel.
It’s actually no surprise to know that the watchmaker who is so particular about its watches’ quality and precision has its Research & Development department. In fact, Rolex has many professional and well-equipped science laboratories at its different facilities. In addition, the watchmaker researches its new watches, innovations, and more effective manufacturing processes.
Moreover, the brand's laboratories are outstanding, as well as diverse. And the chemistry lab is ideally the most visually fascinating, equipped with tubes and beakers carrying gases and liquids. The highly trained scientists in the chemistry lab develop and research lubricants and oils that are used during the production process.
Furthermore, the Rolex factory has a room consisting of gas spectrometers and electron microscopes. Rolex scientists use these types of machinery to examine the metals and materials closely, maintaining the quality standards they ensure to offer.
However, another exciting room in the brand’s factory is the stress test room. The watchmaker instigates wear and abuse on its watch parts and movements via customised robots and machines.
Rolex may have the most sophisticated machines and robots to help in their watch manufacturing process. But all its watches receive hands-on human attention. Rolex uses machines and robots to file, sort, catalogue, and other highly complicated works.
However, from bracelets to movements, every part in a Rolex watch is hand-assembled. Rolex is compulsive regarding quality control. The skilled artisans at the Rolex factory check, re-check and again check everything meticulously. This is also done before and after Rolex sends their movements for COSC certification.
Manufacturers used to send their handmade marine chronometers for testing at astronomical observatories like Geneva and Kew in the days gone by. Although every observatory had its specific standards, Kew was known to have the most stringent of all. Kew Observatory offered an A-class certificate only to the timepieces that performed exceptionally well. Thus, Kew tests were much more demanding than the test conducted by COSC today.
A Rolex watch earned the first Kew A certificate in 1914. However, Kew offered this certificate for the first time to a timepiece of that kind. In the 1940s, the company sent nearly 145 small watch movements for Kew testing. And surprisingly, 136 movements earned the Kew A certificates.
The watchmaker finished all these movements by hands, and its master timer Jean Matile adjusted each of them. They housed most of the movements in 32mm steel watches. In addition, however, Rolex equipped twenty-four of the movements in 34mm gold watch cases. And undoubtedly, these timepieces are among the most desirable in the world.
Rolex utilises several highly diligent security checks, and you will be fascinated to know that they possess a Bond-style safe. And the safe is situated a few floors underground. Everything is first scanned and then catalogued. Moreover, The brand attributes a unique serial number to each of its movements. Finally, they photograph the serial number and matches it with a case that also comes with a unique serial number. Now:
If anyone has to access the brand's safe, they need to enter a bank vault door and pass an iris scanner that recognises your identity through your eyes. Overall, the watchmaker is very strict and cautious about their security as we all know that Rolex watches are sound investments.
This Swiss giant has an extensive gemological department involved in buying, testing, arranging and setting precious stones, including diamonds in several Rolex watches. They meticulously check the gemstones they buy from their suppliers to confirm their authenticity. For example, they ensures the diamonds’ authenticity using x-rays.
Moreover, every batch of diamonds also undergoes testing to ensure premium quality. Thus, their diamonds are of IF clarity and range from D to G in colour grade - the watchmaker hand-choose and handset every diamond on its watches.
Rolex does not employ any shortcut techniques to manufacture its watches. The brand is very particular about its watches’ efficiency and quality. They only continue seeing how they can improve more and more. You will see that the brand upgrades its collection with a new size, movement or material but keeps the original design and aesthetics the same.
From beginning to shape the case to testing a watch for accuracy, the entire process takes nearly a year. Every model needs many parts, and almost everything is made in-house from the base. After that, expert artisans at the factory hand-assemble and hand-test every watch. Furthermore, they are checked and re-checked again intensely. Taken all these processes together, they takes nearly one year to make a watch.
Rolex makes virtually every part of its watches in its factory. The brand produces its cases, dials, bezels, bracelets, movements and gold. Besides the complicated machines, Rolex also invests in the techniques and processes. However, while they make almost everything in-house, the brand is genuinely independent.
If you love watches, you love Rolex. They are perhaps the most successful high-end watchmakers and the most successful luxury brands in the globe.
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Also Read: ‘How & When’ You Should Service Your Rolex Watch?