10 Things That Make A Rolex Watch Unique
Rolex is arguably the most recognisable and most popular luxury watch brand in the world – and for many good reasons.
Since it was founded in London more than 115 years ago, Rolex has produced some of the most iconic timepieces in existence.
At the young age of 24, its founder Hans Wilsdorf had envisioned a luxury watch brand that was not only prestigious and recognizable, but also reliable. He needed a name that was short, easy to remember and worked in every language – but most importantly, looked good when written down.
“I tried combining the letters of the alphabet in every possible way,” Wilsdorf said.
“This gave me some hundred names, but none of them felt quite right. One morning, while riding on the upper deck of a horse-drawn omnibus along Cheapside in the City of London, a genie whispered ‘Rolex’ in my ear.“
The rest is history.
It has now become a brand that is truly desired, respected and admired all over the world. A Rolex watch has transcended the mere role of a timekeeping device and has become something greater. The Rolex brand is now synonymous with success and prestige – which is why you can see everyone from athletes, celebrities and entrepreneurs, wearing one.
But what is so unique about a Rolex watch? Surely, it can’t just be the name (although it does sound nice).
In this article we’ll look at what exactly makes a Rolex watch unique.
Ariel Adams is the founder of A Blog To Watch and one of the most influential personalities in the luxury watch market. He was invited to visit all 4 of Rolex’s manufacturing locations in Switzerland and was given an incredible insight into its watchmaking process.
The knowledge that he was able to bring back and share with the world puts things into perspective, perfectly. In this article, we will look at 10 things that make a Rolex watch unique.
Rolex lovers and watch enthusiasts, get ready. You’re in for a treat.
Rolex Uses Special Steel That No One Else Does.
Your watch is also likely to be made from stainless steel, however not all stainless steel is equal. There are different grades of quality when it comes to stainless steel. The most common type, which most watches are made from, is called SAE 316L stainless steel.
Then again, Rolex is anything BUT common. Since 1985, Rolex has been making watches using 904L stainless steel. This type of steel has superior resistance and durability. Next time you see a Rolex watch, inspect the steel on it.
So why don’t other watch brands just copy Rolex and use the same type of steel? Well, it’s largely to do with the fact that 904L is more expensive and harder to work with. Since Rolex makes its parts and components in-house, it made sense to upgrade the machinery to be suitable for working with 904L. Many other watch brands have been known to get a lot of their parts from outsourced partners and other third parties.
Since 904L is more expensive and requires special machinery to work with, it has proven to work to Rolex’s advantage – since these same reasons have prevented others from copying them.
Rolex Does Its Own Research & Development
You don’t just get to the top by simply following others. That’s why it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Rolex does all of its research & development in-house. Rolex has multiple research facilities that are designed for different purposes.
One such purpose is to research new watch components. Another is to improve its manufacturing techniques and efficiency. Rolex even has a chemistry laboratory, where scientists are researching and developing oils and other types of lubricants that can be used in the manufacturing process.
Rolex is constantly looking for ways to improve its manufacturing techniques. One way Rolex does this is by using advanced electron microscope and gas spectrometer technology to research different materials that can be used in watches and machinery.
Since Rolex prides itself with superior quality, it shouldn’t surprise you that all of the watches are rigorously tested for their durability. A typical Rolex watch undergoes multiple stress tests designed to simulate different types of wear and tear.
Craftsmanship. Rolex Watches Are Assembled By Hand
A lot of people seem to think that Rolex just uses machinery to build and assemble their watches. But the truth is, a Rolex watch is a fine hand-assembled timepiece – like you’d expect from a luxury watch brand.
It’s true that Rolex uses machinery throughout its manufacturing process. As we mentioned above, Rolex has some of the most advanced watchmaking equipment in the world. But this is mostly used for repetitive tasks that require machine-like precision, such as cataloguing, sorting and filing.
Everything, from Rolex movements to bracelets is assembled by hand. Rolex might also use machines for very specific tasks like applying the correct amount of pressure when attaching pins and aligning different parts. Regardless, Rolex watch hands are still hand-assembled by highly skilled manufacturing technicians.
Quality control is one of the pillars of the Rolex watch manufacturing process. A whole team of technicians works on every single movement that Rolex manufactures. Many of the watches are then sent to Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) for chronometer certification. Even then, the watches are still re-tested for accuracy and condition before they start to make their way to the retailers.
Shiny! Rolex Make Their Own Gold.
Rolex has perfected the use of precious metals. Naturally, the next step would be to start making your own gold – and that’s exactly what Rolex has done.
All of the gold and platinum used by Rolex is made in-house. First, the precious metal is mined, refined and purified to turn it into beautiful 24ct gold. Then, Rolex turns it into 18ct yellow, white and “everose gold” – Rolex’s non-fading version of 18ct rose gold.
Conducting its own gold production in-house gives Rolex a distinct advantage over other luxury watch brands. This way, Rolex is able to ensure the highest quality standards for all of its watch parts, including cases and bracelets.
Have you ever heard of many luxury watch brands that have an in-house gold foundry of their own?
Mixing Human Creativity With Machine Precision
It is true that Rolex has humans doing most of the work in the watchmaking process. But with that being said, Rolex also recognizes the importance of using advanced technology for tasks, which can be done better by machines.
In the master supply room at their production facility, you will find automated machinery taking on simple tasks, like retrieving trays with parts and finished watches.
This comes in handy for any watchmaker hand assembling a timepiece – whenever a new part or component is needed, they just have to “place an order” and it will arrive within 10 minutes.
Robots also come in handy for repetitive tasks that require laser precision and consistency. For example, watch cases and bracelets are first polished by a machine. This is then followed by another inspection by a human, who then does another polish by hand.
The Security At Rolex Is Top Notch
Considering the number of precious metals and other highly valuable components that circulate around the Rolex facilities, it’s no surprise that security is taken very seriously.
Employees must undergo scrutinous security checks at the Rolex facilities, including fingerprint scans and carrying ID badges at all times. Each movement, case, and bracelet of a Rolex watch has a unique serial number that is documented and accounted for.
Rolex watches are stored in an underground safe that is protected by a bank vault door that can only be opened via an iris scanner. The transportation of Rolex watches, as well as components and precious metals, happens in unmarked and armored trucks.
You can appreciate Rolex’s attention to the finer details and it’s the same when it comes to its security.
Dive Watches Get Individually Tested In Pressurized Water Tanks
The Rolex Oyster case is something special.
It was the world’s first waterproof case for a wristwatch, created back in 1926. Considering the thoroughness of testing that a Rolex watch has to undergo, you can expect the same rigorous quality controls here.
A typical waterproof watch case first undergoes an air-pressure test. The watchmaker would place the watch in an air-tight pressure tank and monitor the pressure levels. If the pressure drops, it means some air has leaked into the case. But that usually is not the case here (pardon the pun).
Yes, the Rolex Oyster case first undergoes the air pressure test (both, before and after the movement and dial are added). But the dive watches go through even more rigorous testing.
Rolex Submariner and Sea Dweller watches are placed in large tubes and filled with water to test the water resistance up to 300 meters. The watches are then heated up, followed by a drop of water being placed on the crystal. This is to see whether any condensation forms. The watches are then scanned using an optical sensor to find any trace amounts of water. Less than 1 in 1000 watches fail this test.
Additional testing is done on the Deep Sea watches. These watches are put in a specially designed high-pressure water tank and tested for over an hour at pressures equivalent to depths of 12000 meters.
Rolex Employs Its Own Fleet Of Gemologists
If you’re a supplier that’s hoping to do business with Rolex, you best make sure you can keep up with the rigorous quality standards.
Rolex has an entire department of gemologists. They are tasked with buying, inspecting, and setting precious stones such as diamonds, rubies, and emeralds into Rolex watches.
Gemologists at Rolex test every diamond and other precious stones that come in, using x-ray technology. This ensures that none of the precious stones are fake and are of the finest quality (IF in clarity, D-G in colour).
Each stone contained in a Rolex watch is hand-selected and hand-set. For its most exclusive watch models, Rolex uses highly skilled jewelers to create custom designs.
Rolex Has Its Own Custom Luminous Paint
In the past, Rolex used a luminous radium-based paint on its dials to assist the wearer with being able to tell the time in the dark. You might have already guessed it, but radium is a radioactive material, which we now know can cause serious harm.
Rolex stopped using this paint in 1960 and switched to using tritium – an element that’s still radioactive, but much less dangerous. In 1998, tritium paint in its pure form was banned and Rolex switched to using a non-radioactive paint called Luminova.
Fast forward 10 years and Rolex introduced their own non-radioactive luminous paint called Chromalight. Unlike Luminova’s green glow, Chromalight has a special blue color that lasts twice as long.
The paint is made in-house at one of Rolex’s facilities.
It Takes Around 12 Months To Make A Rolex Watch
How can it possibly take that long to assemble a wristwatch, right?
Well, Rolex produces more than 800,000 watches per year and if it isn’t clear to you by now – Rolex is obsessed with quality control. Consider all of the rigorous quality testing, production of every component, and the assembly process. It’s rather intense and time-consuming.
Once every part of a Rolex watch is ready, it gets hand-assembled and individually tested to ensure the highest quality standards.
To give you more of an idea of how much work goes into each Rolex watch, let’s look at the dials. Each watch dial is made in-house with each hour marker set individually by a human.
Lesser watch brands would simply have this done using a machine – but not Rolex. It’s a very lengthy process and it’s just one of the tasks that each Rolex watch has to undergo before it’s ready.
When you take all of this into account, it shouldn’t surprise you that on average, it takes around 12 months just to produce a single Rolex watch.
Written by Max Laird
Founder of Wristwatches360 & keen luxury watch enthusiast.