A Manufacture At The Service Of Excellence

18 Sep 2023


Watchmaking, Final Assembly, 2022.
Watchmaker during the final assembly. Detail.

Since 1905, Rolex has maintained the founding vision of its creator, Hans Wilsdorf, who saw the wristwatch as an object of the future, emblematic of the modern era. At a time when standard timepieces were pocket watches, which by their very nature always remain in the same position, he decided to develop a wristwatch capable of keeping up with the movements of its wearers and the vagaries of their increasingly active daily life.

In the early 20th century, wristwatches were imprecise, fragile and cumbersome, regarded more as jewellery than reliable timepieces. Hans Wilsdorf revolutionised watchmaking by overcoming three major challenges and turned wristwatches into instruments for everyday use.

The first was to be able to produce small movements as precise as marine chronometers, the absolute references of the period. The second was to develop a robust and waterproof case to protect the movements from dust, moisture, splashes and perspiration. And the third, to fit the watch with a self-winding system that offered the wearer greater convenience on a daily basis.

For Hans Wilsdorf, there was no doubt that his brand’s superior watchmaking would benefit the wearer by guaranteeing the performance and reliability of every watch for as long as possible.

This desire to always push beyond the limits could not be achieved without the guarantee of total industrial independence. By integrating and developing all areas of watchmaking expertise, Rolex is able to impose its own rules and perpetuate its quest for excellence. The choice of autonomy has shaped the identity of a brand at the crossroads of pure tradition and state-of-the-art technology, and is expressed at its four production sites, all located in Switzerland.

Rolex has always been committed to demonstrating the superlative ‘performance under pressure’ of its watchmaking creations. Tests under real-life conditions subject the watches to extremes on the wrists of pioneering explorers, adventurers and elite athletes who are constantly pushing back the boundaries of their discipline.

During the Deepsea Challenge expedition in 2012, filmmaker James Cameron descended to a depth of 10,908 metres in the Mariana Trench. An experimental Rolex Deepsea Challenge watch was attached to the submersible. It resisted phenomenal pressure, equivalent to a weight of approximately 12 tonnes on the crystal of the watch, returning intact.

This use of the world as a ‘living laboratory’, in accordance with the wishes of Hans Wilsdorf, is one of the brand’s founding principles.

Watchmaking, Movement Assembly, Parachrom hairspring, 2022.
Watchmaker fitting the Parachrom hairspring into movement. Detail.

Every Rolex watch is designed, produced and tested with constant attention to the tiniest of details. This ‘superlative’ approach is expressed through eight fundamental qualities that characterise every Rolex
watch: precision, waterproofness, autonomy, robustness, simplicity, craftsmanship, comfort and durability – major technical and aesthetic principles that have always guided the work of the Rolex Manufacture. They also promise the wearer the experience of an exceptional watch, whose features express the excellence of unique expertise.

The foundryman at work

The uniqueness of the Rolex Manufacture is expressed in the promise of unfailing reliability. It is a pledge of trust between the brand and its wearers, symbolised by the green seal and accompanied by a five-year international guarantee.

But the brand’s staunch pursuit of reliability is also expressed throughout the manufacturing process. To guarantee the performance of the watch once assembled, meticulous checks are carried out at every stage of the manufacturing process. These exacting standards are also apparent in the kind of constant communication that takes place between the various departments. The requirements and constraints of the after-sales service watchmakers, for example, form an integral part of the creation process, as early as the design phase.

The ‘Superlative’ signature, which appears today on the dials of Rolex watches, is therefore much more than a promise of quality and reliability. It is also a perfectionist mindset that permeates every department of the company and drives every individual working for Rolex, whatever their role.

Historic model, Oyster octoganal of 1926

Committed to designing and manufacturing watches of the highest quality, the dial of each Rolex watch is inscribed with the word ‘Superlative’, which testifies to its high level of performance. This designation confirms that every watch has passed a series of particularly demanding tests conducted by Rolex in its own laboratories, according to its own, very particular criteria.

This inscription on the dial – ‘Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified’ or simply ‘Superlative Chronometer’ as on the Perpetual 1908 model, launched in 2023 – perpetuates the notion that Rolex chronometers surpass existing standards. They are the result of the brand’s expertise and technical advances as well as its unparalleled testing methods.

The notion of ‘Superlative Chronometer’, first formulated in the late 1950s, was reinforced in 2015 with the application of stricter criteria in order to establish a new standard of excellence for mechanical watches. Rolex has developed unparalleled testing methodologies and high-technology equipment to certify every one of its watches and guarantee their reliability in all circumstances, both in everyday life and in the most extreme conditions.

The tests are conducted by Rolex in its own laboratories, following the official certification of the movements by the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC). They not only apply to the calibre, but to the fully assembled watch after casing the movement, guaranteeing superlative performance on the wrist.

Setting diamonds into the bracelet of the Lady-Datejust.

Today, all Rolex models enjoy the Superlative Chronometer certification, redefined in 2015, which covers the areas of expertise relating to key performances: chronometric precision, waterproofness, self-winding and the power reserve.

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