Art News & Views

Rolex : An Overview

The world of horology saw the birth of a visionary in Hans Wilsdorf who foresaw his watch beaming with accurate time on the summit of the earth and also leagues under the sea. In 1905 shunning his work of a clerk in the watch-making industry of Switzerland he, along with his brother-in-law, engaged as the founder of his own watch company, Wilsdorf & Davis, in England. He was a young man of 24, burning with a desire of making wristwatches that would outdo all the prevailing watches in accuracy, precision, endurance and reliability. His determination paid him bountifully. Within five years of the inception his company one of the models of the wristwatch he manufactured obtained the first official chronometer certificate. Yet another new feather was added to his cap in very good time when Kew Observatory awarded his wristwatch with a class A Certificate, the highest of its awards.

Wilsdorf shifted his headquarters from England to Geneva after the end of World War I and gave his company a new name, the Montres Rolex SA. The registration of the trade name “Rolex” had already been done earlier in 1908.

After years of endeavour Rolex brought out the Rolex Oyster, a real water proof wrist watch in 1926. The bezel and back of it were screwed onto the main body using a lead seal. The crown also was screwed onto the case. An artificial crystal was machined accurately and sealed to the bezel. Thus all possibilities of water seeping into the case was effectively stopped. Three weeks' trial run proved its efficacy. The watches tested underwater showed no signs of moisture penetration and there was no deviation from its accurate performance.

This watch attracted a lot of publicity when Mercedes Gleitz, a London typist swam across the English Channel wearing a Rolex Oyster on October 7, 1927. She repeated the feat again on 21st October to dispel the doubt of the onlookers. Photographers present there saw her coming out from water with the watch making excellently. It was a publicity stunt on the part of Wilsdorf producing desired result. Rolex oyster reached to a wider public.

The next target was to make his watch self-winding. The wearer of a Rolex wristwatch at that time had to unscrew the crown to wind the watch by hand. The fastidious watchmaker was not contented with the state of the art. The self winding wrist watches that were already in the market were based on Harwood's invention. It depended on an oscillating weight that consisted of a circular disc pivoted at its centre and rotating through 130 degrees with a stop at each end. Wilsdorf wanted a better process. He set his technicians the travail of innovating an entirely new principle. In 1931 it was made final and introduced in his watches. The novel process utilized a rotor with a 360 degree oscillation. Later a slipping clutch device was added to it and these two synchronized together created the Rolex perpetual system of automatic winding. It was such a roaring success as almost all the makers of self-winding wristwatches began to copy the process as soon as its patent expired in 1945.

Rolex Oyster model in “Cushion” case of the 1920s was replaced by a round case in the 1940s. The new milled edge basic design that came into being gradually became the international signature image of the Rolex Oyster. Each Rolex Oyster is encased in platinum or 18 carat gold, or stainless steel. The making of a finished case involves more than 100 painstaking processes and the renowned Oyster Crown is shaped through 35 operations in addition to it. It is interesting to note that for more than a half century the Oyster has remained more or less identical in appearance.

In 1945 another first was launched by Rolex, the “Datejust”. It was the first chronometer that showed the day of the month in an automatic date change system. The “GMT Master” model was introduced in 1954. In 1956, a “Day-Date” model was made available to the customers. It indicates the date of the month in numbers and the day of the week in letters.

In 1953 the “Submariner” was introduced. It was the first wristwatch which claimed the guarantee of water-resistance of 330 feet.

An ideal model for deep sea divers was launched in 1971. It is the “Sea Dweller” which is fitted with a helium valve to tackle decompression. It is guaranteed to a depth of 2000feet. A Triplock system was incorporated into the famous Oyster Crown and it made descending into the depth of 4,000feet possible. Earlier in 1960 during the Mariana Trench dive at a depth of 35,814 feet Jacques Piccard with his Rolex Sea Dweller Deep Sea Special came out with flying colours. He strapped the watch to the outside of his submarine.

Rolex proved its power not only in the depth of the sea but also on high mountains and even in the space. In 1953 Tenzing Norgay conquered the summit of Everest with a Rolex Oyster on his wrist while Edmund Hillary took a Rolex Explorer to its 29,028-foot height. Rolex had its odyssey in space also. Jack Swigert carried or wore a Rolex watch on the ill-fated Apollo 13 flight which never landed on the moon. He placed it into his personal preference kit (ppk) which was taken to the moon by his crewmates Gene Cerhar and Harrison Schmitt aboard the Lunar Module Challenger while he orbited the moon in the Columon Module America. It remained on the moon approximately 75 hours on the last manned lunar landing mission. This watch was sold at auction in 2009 for $131,450 through Heritage Auction of Dallas.

In 1963 Andre Heiniger succeeded Wilsdorf. He exerted all his efforts to keep up and increase its international eminence. The company was moved to a new modern building just outside the city. The present CEO of the company is Bruno Meier who took up the responsibility on 20th December 2008.

Rolex had the most comprehensive array of watches in the upper range of the Swiss watch industry. Rolex Oyster collection offers mostly men's models of simple self-winding watches in steel cases, automatic chronometers (certified by COSC) with date, day date, or dual time zone displays, and also diamond-set models in platinum. All have the famous Oyster screw down crown with double protection and all are water resistant to 330 feet. All have sapphire crystals and, excepting the Oyster Quartz, have self winding mechanical movements.

There are Oyster Perpetual models for ladies in steel or 18-karat gold, many of them with certified chronometer movements and a selection of diamond set jewelry watches.

Among the modern Rolex models here are Air King, Date, Datejust, Datejust II, Datejust & Turn-o-graph, Lady Datejust Pearlmaster, Daytona(Paul Newman Daytona), The Explorer, Explorer II, GMT Master II, Masterpiece, Millgauss, Oyster Quartz, Sea Dweller and Sea Dweller Deep Sea.

Rolex created Cellini collection in homage to the 16th century sculptor & goldsmith, Benvenuto Cellini. It exists only in 18 karat gold on a strap or gold bracelets, integrated with the finely carved cases which come in a variety of attractive designs. Here are diamond-set models for both men and women. There is small quartz collection, though the majority has hand wound mechanical movements.

One of the rarest pieces on Rolex collection is the Rolex Prince Jump Hour Extra Prima, six jewels. It features a silver dial, which looks like an ancient parchment and a separate time display for seconds. To complete the vintage look of the Rolex timepiece, the dial is enclosed in a gold case, muted for timeless appeal. It is supported by a deployable clasp, for a secure fit. Without a doubt, ingenuity in style and beauty are fitting descriptions for the Rolex Vintage Prince Jump Hour Extra Prima.

Rolex has a different collection of Tudor line models with quartz or mechanical movements. These models have the Oyster crown, water resistance to 165 feet. They come in two sizes of steel or yellow metal cases at comparatively economical prices.

The company is now beginning to introduce ceramic bezels across the range of professional sports watches. They are available on the Submariner and GMT Master II models. The ceramic bezel is not affected by UV light and is very scratch resistant.
Rolex is easily one of the most famous high end watch line in the world. It is also the most recognizable and arguably one of the most durable watches in existence. Pocket watches were more popular than wristwatches but Rolex had a vision that one day wristwatches would far surpass pocket watches in popularity. They were right.

Anindya Bandyopadhyay  


Tags: collectibles

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