Collecting ROLEX Watches

November 3, 2015 by  
Filed under Collectibles, The Den

ROLEX Watches

When the subject of luxury time-pieces comes up ROLEX watches may come to mind. But it’s actually much more than that. In the case of the ROLEX brand it goes way beyond luxury.

First off I have to state, I’m a huge fan of the ROLEX brand and their line of watches. And I have been from the time I was quite young. My first exposure to a luxury watch, or a luxury brand at all, was ROLEX.

I remember being heavily influenced by the movies and references to ROLEX watches surfaced now and again. I saw every secret agent or hero as a ROLEX wearer. But my fascination lasted long after I saw behind the curtain of movie fantasy.

Especially as I began to learn more about their engineering. It’s not often I admit to being impressed by a product but when you read through you may understand.

It’s a fascinating story of cutting-edge engineering and a dedication to perfection. Even while writing this article I can’t help but feel I’m still under-stating their achievements.

At the time of this writing the ROLEX brand has just over 100 years of history. Even more incredibly most of their biggest engineering strides took place within their first 50 years of operation. Incredible in itself when you consider some of the turbulent history they have traversed.

Now, that’s not to say they’ve been sitting idle for the second 50 years.  In fact it’s the contrary. They’ve continued to push the limits of engineering to this day. And  ROLEX has never looked back.

It all started in 1905, when the ROLEX brand was founded by Hans Wilsdorf.
At the time the ROLEX brand was being conceived the typical timepiece of the day was a pocket-watch design and not especially reliable.  Hans decided he would create a watch that could be worn on the wrist.

He also believed that precision time-keeping was not only attainable but that the ROLEX brand would achieve it.

Hans was true to his word on both accounts. The wristwatch style was not only created first by ROLEX but in 1914 his development had received a Class A Precision Certificate from the Kew Observatory of Great Britain. This was the first time such a distinction had been granted to anything other than a marine chronometer.

“ROLEX watches were now synonymous with precision”.

ROLEX pushed forward.
If that was the only benchmark of this product it would have been a great accomplishment but ROLEX had continued to push forward. In 1926 they had succeeded in creating a hermetically sealed case for the wristwatch. This led to the world’s first waterproof designed timepiece and the Oyster line was born.

To prove their claims of being water tight the Oyster was worn throughout a long-distance swim across the English Channel. It was 10 hours after she began that the swimmer emerged. Her ROLEX Oyster was then scrutinized and found to be in perfect working condition. What followed was a full-page ad in the Daily Mail. This published testimonial was a marketing first.

Something we take for granted in our modern automatic watch is the self-winding mechanism. But this feat of engineering genius was invented and patented by ROLEX back in 1931.

During the world’s first flight over Mount Everest in 1933 all crew members wore ROLEX watches. As exciting as that must have been for the watchmaker it was still just the beginning.

The year was 1935.
One of the fastest drivers in the world at the time was Sir Malcolm Campbell. He already had a string of record breaking land speed trials. His latest was 300 miles per hour (485 km per hour), while wearing his ROLEX Oyster.

He followed his latest record by penning a testimonial letter to the watch maker. Could this have been one of the first celebrity endorsements? This too was published becoming part of the marketing campaign.

The next development of note was in 1945. Again for a feature we take for granted today. The datejust – the tiny calendar ‘day’ – visible on the dial. It was another first for the self-winding watch.

So far, ROLEX  had ventured into the oceans and the skies. The hostile terrain of Everest was next. In 1953, Sir John Hunt and all of the expedition team members were wearing their ROLEX watches as they reached the summit. The brand status was now iconic.

Even with those bigger than life accomplishments and professional associations the watchmaker was just getting started. In 1953 we saw the introduction of the Submariner model.

ROLEX had once again pushed the engineering envelope by developing a model that was now waterproof to 300 feet (100 metres). Being designed for divers, the bezel was now able to rotate allowing divers to track how long they had been under.

As the 1950s continued to unfold so did the introduction to the jet age.
Inter-continental flights were now a reality. As pilots and travelers crossed time zones it became necessary to track those changes. The watchmaker, always with an eye to the future, introduced the GMT Master in 1955.

Specific to the needs of the professional pilot, the GMT Master displayed both day and night time hours on the bezel. This became the official watch of several airlines including Pan Am.

It was only 1956 when the next new feature appeared. The Oyster Perpetual Day-Date arrived. Along with all the other features this model now had not only the date but the day of the week on the dial. The watch was available only in platinum or 18 kt gold. Elegance was now on the table.

The scientific community now took notice.
It followed with a report that an Oyster model was able to resist magnetic interference of up to 1,000 gauss. As tested and reported by the European Organization For Nuclear Research (CERN). In 1956 the Oyster MILGAUSS had arrived.

Note: CERN is the world’s leading institution when it comes to solving mysteries of the universe. They host the world’s highest-energy particle accelerator.

By the 50s ROLEX watches were considered specialty tools for the greatest achievers.

While the world’s boldest individuals conquered the planet, so too the watchmaker with it’s philosophy of perfection.
It was 1967 when the Oyster Sea Dweller made it’s debut. The model was specifically engineered to address the demands of professional deep-sea diving.

This newest design could remain waterproof to 610 metres. The engineers also considered the forces of the decompression chamber. The watch was fitted with a special gas release valve to prevent damage during a diver’s decompression.

As more of the world was being explored ROLEX watches were there each step of the way. Explorers were navigating the earth’s poles and it’s secrets below the surface.

In 1971 the Oyster Perpetual Explorer II met the challenge. It was developed with a 24 hour dial. Exactly what one would need while exploring the planet, or below it, where you can’t distinguish day from night.

A new Sea Dweller.
In 1978 the company had re-visited their waterproof benchmark and surpassed it. The Sea Dweller 4000 set the new waterproof limit at 1220 metres / 4,000 feet.

The Yacht Master debuted in 1992. It reconfirmed the watchmaker’s association with the open sea. It was also the first time a watch in the Oyster collection had been made available in three sizes.

With most of the planet’s environments having been studied or challenged, ROLEX now looked within for improvement. Advancements in efficiency and craftsmanship soon followed. It was 2000 when the company re-engineered the 4130 movement. They had reduced the total number of parts to just 290 – far less than the standard chronograph.

The year was now 2007.
In answer to the needs of competitive yachtsmen the watchmaker created the Yacht Master II. The newest model utilized the same rotating bezel but described it as a programmable countdown with a mechanical memory. The new feature allowed for time-saving and race winning calculations.

The quest for perfection pushed ahead.
And just a year later, in 2008, the ROLEX Deep Sea arrived. The tolerances for pressure were incredible. A new innovation referred to as a ring-lock system allowed for pressures of 3 tonnes on the crystal itself. This watch could travel more than 100 times the depth any human could survive.

ROLEX watches were now firmly associated with sportsmen and the spirit of adventure.

A watch for the world traveler.
The Oyster Perpetual Sky Dweller was introduced in 2012. The dual time-zones were a design cornerstone. It also required only a single date adjustment per year. Convenience and perfection.

When you take a moment to consider some of the engineering feats ROLEX watches have displayed, it’s hard to not be impressed. So many features that today we consider standard were actually developed at times of limited resource and harsh historical periods. Yet the brand not only endured but they pushed forward. They scaled every challenge and delivered an engineering masterpiece. All that and they still had room to become a luxury watch as well.

Best of luck and collect well.


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