TAKING THE TIME TO DO THINGS WELL, AIMING FOR PERFECTION, EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.
Rolex watches are crafted thanks to thoughtfully curated expertise that is constantly enhanced and passed on from one generation to the next with great care. From traditional techniques to cutting-edge technologies, here is a closer look at the wealth of knowledge behind each Rolex watch.
Invented by Hans Wilsdorf, the Oyster Perpetual was brought to life thanks to the know-how of employees sharing a passion for excellence, innovation and improvement. They have always been united in one aim – to achieve the best possible quality while striving for perfection.
Rolex has resources that encompass a wide range of skills: watchmakers, engineers, designers and other specialists work closely at every stage on the development and manufacturing of the timepieces.
From the casting and forming of metals to machining, finishing, gem-setting and final assembly of the movement, case, dial and bracelet, here is a closer look at the key areas of Rolex expertise.
At Rolex, multi-skilled prototype makers give shape and function to newly designed components and watches for the first time. They secretly bring timepieces to life years before launch. Modellers, production planners, engineers or horologists: all are involved in the creation, research and development process.
Prototype makers transform detailed design and engineering concepts into fully functional timepieces or components, with the exacting precision and finish required of a final model. Their ability, and the demands placed on them when creating these pieces are such that they encompass practically the entire skillset and capacity of a watchmaking manufacture in a team of a few dozen people.
Many prototype makers have acquired an astonishing range of specialist skills in different aspects of craft and manufacturing related to their teams – design, case and bracelet fabrication, ceramics, or the mechanical movement – and many continue to do so during their prototyping career. Such flexibility allows them to handle a wide range of components and fabrication methods.
The manufacture of movements
Staff in white coats, computerized workbenches, an atmosphere of quiet composure and dedication to the quality of work – in a Rolex workshop, the concentration is palpable. Here, Rolex watchmakers perpetuate the time-honoured traditions of their art while every day taking it to new realms using the state-of-the-art equipment and processes at their disposal.
At Rolex, the watchmakers are present throughout the design and fabrication process of a watch. They breathe life into it, ensure its proper functioning and oversee its maintenance. In the laboratory, on the production line or in an after-sales service workshop, the watchmakers always work as part of multidisciplinary teams alongside designers, engineers and other watch specialists.
Since its beginnings, Rolex has always set great store by the know-how of its watchmakers, placing them at the very heart of its mission and assuring the quality of their training. As a result, today the brand can take pride in its outstanding command of the watchmaking art.
One of the metals used by Rolex is Oystersteel. This special steel belongs to a family of alloys that are particularly resistant to corrosion and acquire an exceptional sheen when polished. Rolex masters in-house the entire manufacturing process for its watch components made of this material.
In the early 2000s, Rolex set up its own foundry. By taking the unusual step of equipping itself with a state-of-the-art casting facility, the brand can ensure that only the finest gold alloys are used in its timepieces. The 18 ct gold – yellow, white or Everose – is cast by experienced foundry workers according to closely guarded formulas, producing noble metals of impeccable quality and radiance. The quality of the final alloy is dependent on the worker’s deft touch and strict respect for the proper formula.
Mastering the use of ceramic has allowed Rolex to equip its watches with Cerachrom bezels or bezel inserts made from this high-tech material. Such expertise, the result of applied internal research and the creation of a manufacturing process unique to Rolex, heralded the beginning of a new era for the brand.
In the field of advanced ceramics, the conventional definition of a ‘technical’ ceramic is a material made up of mineral powders and produced at very high temperature. It is primarily used in the aerospace and medical industries, and its production requires mastery of numerous specialized processes.
In the perpetual pursuit of excellence, Rolex draws on the skills of its employees working on this material to lead its own research, first to master the creation and production processes, and then to conceive new colours.
The range and richness of the colours and textures that adorn Rolex watch dials are the result of a mixture of high-level physics, exquisite judgement and pure chemistry - all mastered in-house.
The exacting skill of dial making demands command of cutting-edge surface physics and chemistry as much as mastery of a palette of paints and creative flair. The naked eye nonetheless remains the final judge of what colour may grace a Rolex dial.
The alchemy of dial colours at Rolex draws on ancestral techniques as well as on 21st century science: from classic enamelling or lacquering, to electroplating or highly advanced thin-film technology using plasma torches or electron beams to coat the dial. This allows for an immense array of dial tints: each more complex technique brings a richer finish to the brass disc that serves as the foundation for most of the watch faces.
Polishing is one of the most telling stages in the making of a Rolex watch, providing the metal surfaces with their incomparable final lustre. Despite the advent of automated technology, the process remains steeped in a highly skilled craft, combining a deft touch with calculated precision, organized steps, and the expressive movements of a performing art. At Rolex, the love of a well-crafted watch is such that even surfaces unseen by the wearer, such as the inside of some watch cases, are polished with the same care and science.
It takes several years for a polisher – nowadays known as a termineur, a finisher – to reach such a level of proficiency and assurance. A three-year apprenticeship is required to learn the trade, its principles, tools, materials, the techniques and processes in force at Rolex, and to gain the ability to implement them. This is then followed by approximately five years on the job, to master the multiple facets of polishing and acquire speed, consistency, and well-founded confidence.
Each component, shape and surface requires a unique approach. And each metal has its own character, demanding a different but no less sensitive touch in each instance. Polishing methods and criteria are now defined in the production specifications for each watch and component.
With its large number of moving parts, the mechanical wristwatch was made to measure for the young and cutting-edge science of tribology – the study of friction, wear, lubrication and how moving surfaces interact. A modern, precision timepiece might simply grind to a halt without the work of tribologists and their ability to make components spin, slide or grip to perfection.
The watch movement with its tiny moving parts, the case, bezel, crystal, the bracelet and clasp, as well as production processes, machinery, tools and lubricants, all come under the scrutiny of these interdisciplinary experts, whose intricate science combines the knowledge of the engineer, the chemist and the watchmaker. Today, dedicated teams of tribologists at Rolex are raising reliability, accuracy and comfort to unprecedented levels.
Applied to the mechanical movement, tribology has a fundamental impact on precision, longevity and the very functioning of a watch. Applied to the case and bracelet, it influences comfort, quality and aesthetics. The tribologist’s intervention begins as early as the research and development stage, when materials are chosen and parts are designed.
Gemmology and gem-setting are the two disciplines that allow Rolex watches to be endowed with diamonds, sapphires and other precious stones. Strict quality control of the gemstones, via a range of specialist methods, ensures that gem-set models sparkle with exceptional intensity.
After being rigorously selected, the precious stones are entrusted to the gem-setters. With movements as precise as watchmakers, they set each stone, one by one, into the watches. Their craft is multifaceted. They begin by deciding upon the layout and colours of the stones in collaboration with designers.
Together with the engineers in charge of the external elements of the watch, they then study the future placement of the stones, to prepare, to the nearest micron, the gold or platinum into which the stones will be set. A final polish makes the tiny metal setting shine, and highlights the stone’s intense sparkle. This step is repeated up to almost 3,000 times on certain diamond-paved dials.
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.
For Hans Wilsdorf, the brand’s founder, it was essential that each Rolex watch give the exact time and that its movement be protected in the best way. More than a hundred years after the first models were created, this philosophy still underpins the development and production of every watch stamped with the emblematic crown.
The quality of a Rolex watch is the result of a strict methodology. From the design of a new model to the individual testing of each watch when it comes out of production, every effort is made to ensure the brand’s standards of excellence are met. Rolex has played a pioneering role in developing tests and protocols to guarantee the precision, reliability and robustness of its timepieces. It created the Superlative Chronometer certification, a final testing protocol that takes place after casing in the brand’s own laboratories and according to its own criteria. This certification is carried out in addition to the Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute’s assessment of the movement.
Guaranteeing the reliability of a Rolex watch requires the application of a multitude of skills. From the first sketches to the moment it emerges from production, engineers specialized in materials, physics, mechanics and microtechnology, as well as technicians, movement constructors, prototype makers, statisticians and horologists work together to develop optimal solutions for each model according to its intended use.
Custodian of an exceptional heritage, Rolex has made knowledge transmission a priority. The company has established its own training centres for this purpose: in Geneva and Bienne for its employees in Switzerland, and in Lititz, Pennsylvania, for the qualification of skilled watchmakers in the United States. As a result, the brand can count on a highly proficient staff and ensure that the torch continues to be passed on to future generations.