Rolex can lay claim to a number of significant watchmaking firsts, including the first waterproof watch in the world (the 1926 Oyster), the first automatic date-change (the Datejust) and the first Chronometer-certified wristwatch. Rolex’s most famous models - the Daytona, Submariner and Oyster Perpetual - are among the most sought-after timepieces in the world.
Say what you like about Rolex - its luxury watches are barely ever released in limited runs, its mechanised assembly process takes the history out of haute horlogerie - but you can’t deny the brand’s success. Where other luxury watch manufacturers create complicated timepieces for a small and discerning clientele, Rolex turns out nearly three quarters of a million spectacularly engineered watches every year. And its fans are legion.
A Rolex is more than a luxury watch: much more. The ultimate symbol of success, its luxury watches are worn on the wrists of business people, movie stars, and athletes. The iconic Oyster case, which design legend Gerald Genta once said he wished he’d come up with, is more recognisable than any other high end timepiece in the world. And while detractors claim that mechanisation has removed the personal touch from Rolex’s brand of haute horlogerie, the fact is that the Rolex manufactory is responsible for more moments of technical watchmaking brilliance than any other luxury watch maker.
With great power comes great wealth: and Rolex has used its status as the world’s most widespread and recognisable luxury watch brand to install facilities that few others have the room or money to maintain. Inside the legendary manufactory in Biel/Bienne, Rolex works with proprietary alloys in its own metal refinery. Its vast laboratory complex spans several sites, and is dedicated to developing both the watches crafted under the Rolex name, and the machines that do the crafting.
And yes, while machines play a huge part in the creation of a Rolex movement, the final assembly is done by a master watchmaker. The Rolex philosophy, which has been the same since the first Oyster was tested to be waterproof in 1926, is that the finest watches are created when humans and machines work harmoniously. For Rolex, a luxury watch is the product of technology first and foremost - but it is a technology wielded by master craftspeople, whose love of time and beauty is evident in every finished piece.
You only have to look at the bezel of a Submariner or a Yacht-Master to understand the pride Rolex takes in its luxury watches. The shine of the Cerachrom, a proprietary Rolex ceramic, is unlike any other finish - and will remain undimmed through more than a generation of hard use. Each Rolex luxury watch is tested beyond the limits a timepiece will have to endure in two lifetimes, and only the models that pass make it to the retailer.
Consider this: nearly a million watches leave the Rolex manufactory every year. Yet each one has taken a year to produce. Rolex spends almost one million person- and machine-years, every year, in developing the most technically precise timepieces on the planet. And that’s the kind of experience that creates masterpieces.