18 Sep 2018

Explaining Rolex’s watches’ enduring appeal

What makes a Rolex timepiece so sought after?

Rolex isn’t just the single largest luxury watch brand in the world, but also maintains an unassailable lead when it comes to brand equity – as one of the most beloved luxury watch brands in the world, Rolex watches are sought after worldwide. The brand has managed to achieve this feat with a combination of relentless product improvement, seamless vertical integration, and unparalleled quality assurance.

Constant improvements – redefining “the best” from Rolex

Rolex’s singular obsession with making the best watches that it can has long set the brand on a path towards greatness. This is, in turn, enabled by the brand’s unending innovation that allows it to constantly improve every part of its watch.

Consider the Rolex Oyster, for example. Introduced in 1926, it was the world’s first waterproof wristwatch, thanks to a patented system where the case back and crown are screwed into the case. The Oyster case has gone on to receive a host of other new developments. These include the Twinlock and Triplock crowns for greater security in water resistance, the helium escape valve to enable saturation diving, and the Ringlock System for extreme pressures.

The Rolex Oyster is the first waterproof wristwatch introduced in 1926, marking a revolution in watchmaking history
The Rolex Sea-Dweller from 1967, which introduced the helium escape valve to the world

Rolex has a similar modus operandi for every other part of its watches. Its calibres are being constantly improved on, with the latest major innovations including 2014’s Syloxi hairspring and 2015’s Chronergy escapement. The bezel for its professional watches has, meanwhile, gone from aluminium to Cerachrom, an ultra-hard ceramic that’s scratchproof and corrosion-proof. What’s more, Cerachrom’s colour is also immutable, and will not fade over time. Even something as simple as the bracelet has not been neglected. Just look at the Oysterflex, an innovative bracelet from Rolex that combines the robustness and reliability of a metal bracelet with the flexibility, comfort and aesthetics of an elastomer strap. Equipped with a patented cushion system that stabilises the watch on the wrist, it’s a sporty alternative to metal bracelets that does not compromise on robustness, waterproofness or reliability.

The GMT-Master II in 18 ct white gold with 24-hour graduated two-colour Cerachrom insert in red and blue ceramic
 

The Oysterflex bracelet developed and patented by Rolex
 

Interestingly, this penchant for constant advancement comes paired with a watchmaking philosophy – Rolex does not do “throwbacks” or “reissues” of past watches. Instead, only the latest version of each model is in production, thus ensuring that only the best possible iteration is being made at each point in time.

Vertical integration – ensuring uniqueness and control

Rolex’s ability to innovate and improve its watches constantly is backed by an army of engineers and researchers. To translate such developments into its watches, on the other hand, requires a keen mastery of every stage of production – which the brand does, of course.

Inside one of the workshops at Rolex’s Chêne-Bourg SITE

Rolex is almost completely vertically integrated, with its manufacture spread among four sites within Switzerland. One facility in Bienne is responsible for movement production and assembly, including the production of hairsprings, one of the most difficult components to manufacture. The other three sites are within Geneva: one at Plan-les-Ouates is in charge of case and bracelet production, another in Chêne-Bourg manages dial production and gem-setting, while the headquarters in Acacias undertakes final assembly.

The level of control that Rolex has over its production extends to owning and operating its own foundry, where Rolex creates the 18 ct gold alloys used for its watches – yellow gold, white gold and Everose gold (an exclusive pink gold alloy developed by Rolex). This doesn’t just allow new developments to be scaled up into production quickly and efficiently compared to working with an external supplier, but also enables a high level of quality control, described below.

Everose gold, which Rolex smelts in its own foundry

Quality assured – the Superlative Chronometer certification

One other reason for Rolex’s appeal is the peace of mind that comes with the purchase of a new Rolex watch, because every single one has a two-tiered certification – first as COSC-certified chronometers, then as Rolex-certified Superlative Chronometers. The latter is particularly important, because it comes backed by the brand’s industry leading five-year international guarantee.

Rolex has developed unparalleled testing methodologies and new high-technology equipment to certify each of its watches and award them the status of superlative chronometer.

The process begins with Rolex sending all its movements to COSC for them to be certified as chronometers, before they are returned to the manufacture and cased up into complete watches. These watches then undergo a second round of testing in-house under the manufacture’s own guidelines. In terms of precision, for instance, the Superlative Chronometer prescribes a tolerance of -2/+2 seconds a day for the complete watch, which is significantly stricter than COSC’s -4/+6 seconds a day for just the uncased movement. Other areas that are tested include waterproofness, the self-winding mechanism, as well as the power reserve.

The above, of course, just describes the final steps within Rolex’s overall quality control; the process begins much further upstream, from the screening of raw materials to the production of every individual component. The choice of materials is essential in manufacturing an exceptional timepiece. Rolex rigorously selects the materials for its watches, and constantly re-evaluates them to guarantee performance and impeccable aesthetics. The demand for perfection always dictates the choice of ideal material, even if Rolex engineers have to invent it because it does not yet exist.

 

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