Sunday, 14 December 2008

Rolex - Masters of Time

Within horological history, 75 years is a mere tick. But the same period represents a significant chunk of pioneering efforts, indeed three-quarters of the total evolutionary period, of the wristwatch. During this time, Rolex has enhanced the basic function of time-keeping to embrace expansive parameters of precise accuracy, definitive luxury and awe-inspiring durability. Whatever its merits interpreted by users in the realm of conspicuous spending - their values must be relative to individual snobbery - Rolex still stands tall in the firmament of horological achievements.

First among the pioneers to create a timepiece small enough to be worn on the wrist without it becoming an encumbrance, Rolex in 1914 created a watch of such superlative function that the Kew Observatory in England saw fit to award it the eminent Class A certificate normally reserved for marine chronometers.

With this yardstick to uphold, Rolex went on to win more accolades and to set the level of time-keeping excellence that has rarely ever been matched to this day. And once the level of the watch's basic function had reached its zenith, Rolex did not wallow in complacency. Being innovators, it turned its attention to other features that served to embellish the already applauded technical brillance.

At the beginning of last century, watches still remained an indulgence of the affluent who had the financial security of spending most of their leisure time on feats of daring-do. Aviators, divers and assorted adventurers demanded that their watches should be functional and hardy enough to scale breathtaking heights, plump enormous depths and generally be subjected to the capricious elements they chose to pit themselves against.

Rolex rose to the challenge and perfected the Oyster case carved from a solid block of metal. The winding crown, generally the most vulnerable point on a watch, screws down tightly using a Twin-lock system that seals the system completely giving total protection against water, dust and dirt.

As a result, this metal oyster is perfectly at home in depths down to 100 metres. And greater depths were plumped with the later specialist watch, the Submariner, which, with a helium escape valve, makes it waterproof to 1,220 metres. Professional divers made it an integral part of their equipment.

In 1927, an intrepid young English lady swam the English Channel, not the most salubrious stretches of water by any means, putting her Rolex to the test. Journalists covering her aquatic triumph were equally impressed with the fact that her watch was still functioning without missing a tick and her Olympian achievement.

Down in the gloomy depths of mumbling cold oceans or the rarefied atmosphere of soaring mountains, Rolex has been the choice of many world-renowned adventurers. It was not a coincidence that Sir Edmund Hillary wore a Rolex when he conquered the hitherto unconquerable Kanchenjunga - Mount Everest. At 27,002 feet, this awesome range is daunting to man and machine unprotected by pressurised cover. At 55,000 feet and in a balloon, the elements can be positively fearsome even for Jules Verne's most intrepid explorer. One Julian Holt was undaunted and floated up in his balloon with his Rolex. Both descended to terra firma in ticking triumph.

As the ultimate test of withstanding tremendous undersea pressure, Professor Jacques Piccard attached a Rolex Oyster to the outside of his bathyscape Trieste when he dived to the bottom of the Marinas Trench in the Pacific Ocean. At the mindboggling depth of 10,916 metres - more than one ton of pressure per square centimetre and enough to crush a human skull to pulp - the oyster proved itself equal to the challenge.

This could only be capped but something really revolutionary which Rolex did in the invention of the Perpetual self-winding rotor mechanism, a principle which was adopted by the rest of the industry. The slightest movement of the wrist is enough to activate the system.

And other "firsts" followed. The Rolex Datejust showing the date in a window cut in the dial was a breakthrough in time management schedules. Later came the Day-Date and in a choice of 26 languages.

The GMT-Master and Explorer show the time in two different time zones simultaneously - a boon for long distance travellers and jet-setters.

Even the Oyster-quartz - this electronic innovation was not regarded with reverence by watch-makers of the classical mould - is of a calibre to be regarded as a certified chronometer.

As with any superlative product, hype and brand snobbery are apt to tinge the true reputation, but the kudos that Rolex has earned comes with it the sterling name of Swiss precision and dependability.

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