*Thank you to the legend Professor Stephen Hawking for the inspiration.
OK, so I’m not remotely clever enough to tell you anything about the big bang or black holes, but we are talking about the dawn of time, in a fashion.
Rolex, a name that seems to have passed everyone’s lips at some point, that feel like they’ve been around since year dot, and that have pioneered the watch industry as we know it. But did you know that Rolex was originally set up in London? By a German?
At just 24, Hans Wilsdorf created a company in London with the vision of distributing timepieces, he literally plucked the name from thin air, by playing with letters from the alphabet – he had a list of 100 names, but said that “a Genie whispered ‘Rolex’ in my ear”. That must have been some genie, especially when looking back from 2018, to see the success, the genius, the branding … rightly or wrongly, Rolex has become known as perhaps the ‘best’ watch manufacturer in the world.
And with a history littered with firsts and technical innovations, it’s quite easy to see why.
Innovative, Accurate and Technical
In 1910, a Rolex watch was the first-ever wristwatch in the world to receive the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision, followed four years later by a class ‘A’ precision certificate from the Kew Observatory – previously only issued to marine chronometers.
1926 saw the invention of the first waterproof and dustproof watch, which used a hermetically sealed case, named the Oyster. In 1927, a young English swimmer called Mercedes Gleitze wore an Oyster on a cross-channel swim – it kept perfect time.
Rolex invented and patented the world’s first self-winding watch in 1931, and the movement went on to be the key to the Rolex success story, although having ‘celebrity’ endorsements by virtually every daredevil from Sir Malcolm Campbell through to Sir Edmund Hillary didn’t harm the brand. Sir Malcolm Campbell even wrote to Rolex; “I have now been using my Rolex watch for a while, and it is keeping perfect time under somewhat strenuous conditions”.
Many of us associate the Rolex brand with deep water – we have the Submariner, the Deepsea and so on, but in 1960, Rolex Deep Sea Special, designed to withstand the most rigorous of conditions – the Challenger Deep part of the Mariana Trench. It was attached to the outside of an experimental bathyscaphe called the ‘Trieste’ and sent down deep, 10,916 metres deep to be exact, and it when the bathyscaphe was lifted from the water, the Deep Sea Special was still intact, still keeping perfect time.
In fact, Rolex has been seen at both the lowest and highest points of the Earth – the Mariana Trench and the top of Mount Everest, and not once have they failed.
I’ve mentioned my reluctance before, regarding why I’m not a Rolex fanboy – it was never about the watch itself, more about what owning a Rolex represents – “YES, I’VE MADE IT”. But when you understand a little more about the technical innovations or world firsts, it’s hard to discount them for such a petty reason. A Rolex can symbolise your wealth, power or status, but look deeper and it could be so much more – choosing a Rolex should be about the heritage, the innovations and the understanding of just what has gone into the watch, of how Rolex really could be considered as one of the best watches in the world on technical merit alone, and yes, they do have a certain style to them that just works with pretty much any outfit.
I guess that my issue is that Rolex themselves are building that gaudy ‘money money money’ reputation by creating watches like the ‘Rainbow’ Rolex, that is designed for only one thing, and that’s to tell everyone just how much money you have. Yes, it’s still a technical marvel, but dressed up with gold, diamonds and jewels – hardly the prerequisite for climbing mountains or deep-sea diving.
It seems to me that the ‘brand’ of Rolex is giving less thought to the technical innovations, and playing on their ability to attract only the wealthy, rather than the likes of the pioneers of the thirties, forties and fifties that wanted a watch that could perform in the most extreme of conditions, that could test the ability of the watch under 10,000 metres of water rather than floating atop it on a yacht.