Watch enthusiast or not, you would be hard-pressed to find an individual that has never come across the Rolex name in their life. The five-pointed coronet is easily one of the most identifiable logos on the face of the Earth, and at first glance, beseeches the sense of luxury and aspiration.
A lot can happen in a century, and with Rolex’s 115 years as an established watch company, there’s no shortage of notable watch inventions and major horological breakthroughs under its belt. The world of vintage Rolex watches has already been well documented and celebrated with some of the rarest sports wristwatches fetching millions of dollars USD at auction houses but this time around, we are looking to address some of Rolex’s achievements in more recent times.
Tasking a step back from the deep and esoteric history of vintage Rolex watches, we are taking a look at some of the more modern and contemporary aspects of the brand – going down the list from A to Z on some advancements you may not have known about. Take a look below for 26 details that have worked its way into Rolex watches in the modern era.
A – Anti-Magnetism
In 1956 Rolex succeeded in outsmarting the effects of magnetic fields by designing a watch that resists interference of 1,000 gauss (0.1 tesla, or 80,000 A/m) while preserving its exceptional chronometric performance. Today, several innovations contribute to the resistance of this technological gem. The first line of defense is the magnetic shield inside the Oyster case. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the world’s pre-eminent particle physics laboratory, is at the cutting edge of scientific research into the fundamental secrets of the universe. It hosts the world’s highest-energy particle accelerator. In the 1950s, CERN was also one of the first scientific institutions to confirm that the Milgauss watch could indeed resist magnetic fields of up to 1,000 gauss.
B – Bracelet
Bracelets and clasps play a full part in the unique pleasure of wearing a Rolex watch. Its ergonomics are carefully studied while maintaining robustness and reliability. Each bracelet’s aesthetics and luster are all inherent to the personality of the timepiece. Meticulous care and attention has been given to the design of Rolex bracelets and clasps. Rounded edges, polished or satin-finished surfaces, safety clasps or concealed clasps, effortless systems for adjusting the bracelet length to perfectly fit the wrist: the quest for comfort, elegance and reliability knows no bounds.
C – Cerachrom
Rolex developed and patented the Cerachrom bezel for specific Professional models to ensure lasting beauty and functionality even after exposure to the most extreme conditions. Fashioned from extremely hard ceramic material, it is virtually impervious to scratches, and its color is unaffected by ultraviolet rays. This exclusive ceramic material, made from zirconium dioxide or aluminum oxide powder, was introduced by Rolex in 2005 to replace its aluminum bezel inserts which were prone to fading and could easily be scratched.
D – Deepsea
Waterproof to an extreme depth of 3,900 meters (12,800 feet), the Oyster Perpetual Rolex Deepsea illustrates the supremacy of Rolex in mastering waterproofness. The Rolex Deepsea benefits from the Rolex-patented Ringlock System case architecture that allows the watch to resist the colossal pressure exerted by water at the depth of 3,900 meters, equivalent to a weight of approximately three tonnes on the crystal. The Ringlock System is based on a combination of three elements: A slightly domed 5.5 mm-thick sapphire crystal; a high-performance nitrogen-alloyed steel ring, positioned inside the middle case of the watch between the crystal and the case back, which withstands the water pressure; and a case back made from grade 5 titanium held tight against the high-performance ring by a screw-down Oystersteel ring.
E – Easylink
Patented by Rolex in 1996, the Easylink rapid extension system allows the wearer to easily adjust the bracelet length for additional comfort. Discreetly integrated and tucked beneath the clasp, this extension system comprises a link that is easily pulled out or folded back on itself to lengthen or shorten the bracelet by approximately 5mm. While the concept has its roots in diving, the feature is extremely practical in areas where the temperature can go from hot to cold in an instant, allowing for a quick adjustment as your wrist swells or contracts.
F – Fundamental
The fundamental mechanism of every Oyster and Rolex signature piece par excellence, the Perpetual rotor, developed and patented by Rolex in 1931, has marked the history of modern watchmaking. By capturing the energy generated by even the slightest movement of the wrist, this self-winding system breathes life into the movement so that the heartbeat of the watch never stops.
G – GMT
In function as well as in name, the GMT-Master II evokes long-distance travel across time zones. Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) marks mean solar time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London – historically the location of the official prime meridian used for calculating longitude and determining different time zones around the world. Not just reserved for Pan Am pilots anymore, this functional model has long been a popular model for those that travel or wish to keep track of multiple timezones.
H – Helium Escape Valve
The helium escape valve works to protect the Sea-Dweller and the Rolex Deepsea — watches created for the deep. Developed and patented by Rolex in 1967, this ingenious safety valve allows excess pressure built up in the watch case to escape during a diver’s decompression phase in a hyperbaric chamber, without compromising the waterproofness of the watch. This innovation has played a key role in the conquest of the deep since the late 1960s, accompanying a new professional diving technique: saturation diving.
I – Invention
The invention of the name “Rolex”. Foreseeing the importance of the brand concept, in 1908 Hans Wilsdorf coined the name “Rolex” to sign his creations. The criteria behind his choice still sound incredibly modern today. He sought a name that would be: Short, five letters maximum, easy to pronounce in any language, pleasant-sounding, easy to remember, and possible to inscribe elegantly on the dial and movement of a watch.
J – Jubilee
This supple and comfortable five-piece link metal bracelet was designed specifically for the launch of the Oyster Perpetual Datejust in 1945. It is fitted with an Oysterclasp or a Crownclasp, the concealed clasp. A little more classy than it’s sporty counterparts, this bracelet is often seen in a two-toned variation. It’s the go-to bracelet when you’re thinking of going business casual, or if you’re just feeling nostalgic.
K – Kermit
The Oyster Perpetual Submariner Date in Oystersteel with a Green Cerachrom bezel and a black dial with large luminescent hour markers. It features a unidirectional rotatable bezel with a Cerachrom insert and a solid-link Oyster bracelet. The latest generation Submariner and Submariner Date remain faithful to the original model launched in 1953. In watchmaking, the Submariner represented a historic turning point; it set the standard for divers’ watches. Based on the model that was to celebrate Rolex’s 50th anniversary (red. 16610LV), which led to the ceramic version this year, the success of Kermit has helped capture the attention of a new generation of enthusiasts.
L – Lady Datejust
The Oyster Perpetual Lady-Datejust is Rolex’s classic feminine watch par excellence. It is one of the most varied lines in the Oyster Perpetual collection, distinguished by its elegance and refinement. The Lady-Datejust comes in a wealth of versions to perfectly reflect the different personalities of its wearers.
M – Milgauss
Created in 1956 for engineers and technicians who are exposed in their work to magnetic fields that disrupt the performance of mechanical watches, the Milgauss was designed to resist strong interference of up to 1,000 gauss thanks to a magnetic shield patented by Rolex protecting the movement. Hence the name of the watch, mille being French for thousand. The Milgauss became known notably as the watch worn by scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva.
N – Norgay
Rolex watches have taken part in some of humanity’s greatest adventures. One such occasion was the 1953 expedition to Everest, led by Sir John Hunt, which saw Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay become the first to summit the world’s highest mountain. The same year, to honor this historic exploit, Rolex officially launched the Explorer model. The Explorer has since been established as the quintessential tool watch, and an entry point for a lot of individuals starting their watch collecting journey.
O – Oyster (Oystersteel)
In 1985, Rolex became the first watchmaking brand to use a 904L stainless steel for the cases of all its steel watches. 904L steels are superalloys whose excellent anti-corrosion properties are comparable to those of precious metals. Specially developed by Rolex, Oystersteel is not only extremely resistant but also offers exceptional sheen. Rolex watches manufactured with this special steel retain their beauty even when exposed to the most extreme conditions.
P – Parachrom Hairspring
In a mechanical watch, the oscillator is the guardian of time. Comprising a hairspring and a balance wheel, this organ determines the precision of the watch by the regularity of its oscillations. To guarantee excellent precision, in 2000 Rolex introduced a hairspring in an exclusive alloy of niobium, zirconium and oxygen. The Parachrom hairspring is finer than a human hair. Uncoiled, it forms a 20 cm long ribbon with a rectangular cross-section, approximately 50 microns thick by 150 microns wide.
Q – Quartz
The first Rolex Quartz watch was unveiled in 1970 and the first Oysterquartz was unveiled in 1977. Rolex only produced two quartz battery-powered watches which ceased production shortly after. The watches had fully-integrated bracelets, and for once, this was the only time that you would want your Rolex to tick.
R – Reliability
Shocks or impacts, temperature variations, magnetic fields, wear and tear, humidity – Rolex watches must be able to resist even the harshest conditions over a long period without their integrity or performance being compromised or diminished. Guaranteeing the reliability of a Rolex watch requires the application of a multitude of skills and expertise.
S – Superlative Chronometers
The Oyster has always been known for its superlative performance. The notion of Superlative Chronometer, first formulated in the late 1950s, forms a centerpiece on the dials of all watches in the Oyster collection. This designation was reinforced in 2015 as part of a Rolex certification. More rigorous than existing watchmaking norms and standards, the Superlative Chronometer certification is applied to all of the brand’s watches.
T – Twinlock/Triplock
The Twinlock screw-down winding crown, patented by Rolex in 1953, comprises a double system of seals. The Triplock winding crown, introduced in 1970, comprises an additional sealed zone; it was developed to ensure reinforced waterproofness for the Submariner, Submariner Date, Sea-Dweller and Rolex Deepsea divers’ watches. The Twinlock and Triplock winding crowns comprise around 10 components made of materials selected for their inherent qualities. Once assembled, these winding crowns are screwed down firmly against the Oyster case, providing watertight security akin to the hermetic seal on a submarine’s hatch. Remember, two dots on the crown – Twinlock, three dots – Triplock.
U – Underwater
In 1926, Hans Wilsdorf’s efforts to achieve waterproofness proved successful with the invention of the Oyster, the first waterproof wristwatch in the world, thanks to a case equipped with an ingenious patented system consisting of a screw-down bezel, case back and winding crown. Hermetically sealed, it offered optimal protection for the movement. If you want to see something special, look up the original Rolex deep-dive record holder, the Deep Sea Special. This funky looking watch was fixed to the Bathyscaphe Trieste where it reached a depth of 35,800 feet. 52 years later, James Cameron would take the Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea Challenge 35,787 feet to Challenger Deep.
V – Vertical Integration
The arrival of the Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master reinforced the ties between Rolex and the sailing world. The Oyster Perpetual Pearlmaster, a new range of watches designed specifically for women, also joined the Oyster collection. Independent and vertically integrated, Rolex was now equipped with unrivaled industrial facilities in which watchmakers, engineers, designers and other specialists could work in close collaboration on the design and manufacture of the watches. Within this context, the company also decided to install a foundry in which it could create its own gold alloys. Through years of surgical partnerships and crucial acquisitions, Rolex is now able to produce and test a number of components in-house. The quest for self-sufficiency was more or less achieved a decade ago, and its supply chain management is second to none.
W – Wilsdorf
Few individuals can be said to have been both of their time and ahead of their time. And yet, Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex and visionary par excellence, was precisely that. This rare and timeless mix epitomizes both the man and the brand he created. The prodigious and prolific innovator, who died in 1960, left an invaluable legacy to watchmaking in general and to Rolex in particular.
X – X-Factor
The status of Rolex and the unique identity of the brand are products of a history driven by a passion for innovation and a constant quest for excellence. A fascinating succession of pioneering achievements encompassing a watchmaking, industrial and human adventure, this story is interwoven with the history of the Oyster, the first waterproof wristwatch. Since its launch in 1926, the Oyster has become the pillar of a collection of legendary watches, among the most recognizable in the world.
Y – Yacht-Master
Launched in 1992, the Yacht-Master was designed specifically for navigators and skippers. Carrying the rich heritage that has bound Rolex and the world of sailing since the 1950s, this Professional watch provides a perfect blend of functionality and nautical style, making it equally at home on and off the water. This watch also solidifies Rolex’s dedication to the world of sailing.
Z – Z-Blue Dial
Green sapphire crystal marked a first in watchmaking when it was introduced on the Milgauss in 2007. Now, this crystal is combined with an electric blue dial, an allusion to the emblematic lightning-bolt-shaped seconds hand. If you look throughout Rolex’s history, you will find a number of colorful iterations that continue to make its offerings stand out in the sea of watches.
From the Mariana Trench to the summit of Mount Everest, Rolex has not only proven the capabilities of its innovations mentioned above but improves upon all details with each new iteration. A touch of luxury combined with long-lasting functionality is what has kept Rolex a household name for over a hundred years — something that we do not see changing anytime soon.