Bling Empire: Rolex's Bejewelled Timepieces
What does it take to make Rolex's jewelled watches?
Rolex, a brand whose market share and presence has eclipsed just about every other name in the industry, is one of the extremely rare manufactures that can truly say they make everything in-house. Whether it’s something as expansive as the dials or cases that have been outsourced, or something as miniscule as the screws holding the movement in place. While technically, the term ‘in-house’ is used to describe manufacturing processes, a loftier objective also includes the self-imposed standards of quality control, creative excellence and artisanship. And these same ambitions are also unequivocally applied in the areas of gemmology and harnessing gold, a Rolex expertise that, while seldom discussed, is another strong demonstration of its in-house prowess.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Day-Date 36 in 18K yellow gold with green ombré dial and diamond hour markers
From start to finish, great care is taken each step of the way, starting with selecting the choicest precious metals. In the early 2000s, Rolex set up its own state-of-the-art foundry where it casts its gold. This unusual step for a watchmaking brand allows Rolex to ensure that only the finest of this precious metal is used in its luxury timepieces and, with it, has mastered the art of producing the finest gold cases and bracelets with unmatched sheen and lustre.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona in 18K yellow gold with trapeze-cut diamonds on the bezel and diamond-paved black lacquer dial
Since gold, in its original 24K form, is too soft to be feasibly used in watchmaking, it has to be combined with other metals to produce a suitable alloy. Needless to say, Rolex guards its formulas like a top-secret recipe and adds various percentages of silver, copper and other elements, to create its exclusive 18K yellow, white and Everose gold.
Smelting gold alloy in Rolex's in-house foundry
Forged under an extremely high temperature of 1000°C, the molten alloy is passed through a graphite sieve where droplets are formed while descending into a vat of water. As they touch the water, these droplets cool down immediately, turning into small beads. The beads are then heated again and poured through a water-cooled die to form solid rods of 18K gold. Following this, the rods undergo a process of getting stretched, compressed and heated again to form the tubes, plates, bars and wires needed for the various watch parts. As a final step, the gold components get polished or satin-brushed for the shine that is undeniably Rolex.
Admittedly, many brands that boast competency in jewellery watches tend to have evolved from their past as jewellers. Best known for making baubles before their forays into watchmaking, it is obvious why they would be able to embrace the monumental challenges in the manufacture of jewellery timepieces. For Rolex, however, the brand’s competency in the gemological department stems from its impressive commitment to the highest quality standards. As with many of Rolex’s practices, the company has slowly evolved to fully learn the intricacies needed for gemmology, which it has co-opted into its own manufacturing processes.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust 31 in a yellow Rolesor with olive green dial and the number 'IV' set with 11 diamonds
Naturally occurring in myriad hues and forms, gemstones are unique in that, unlike other materials, they cannot be machined and shaped without losing their lustre. As such, the art of gemmology starts right from the beginning – at the source, with the right stones.
Rolex’s gemological department’s first order of business is the purchasing of such gems, and only those of the highest quality. The stones that the brand chooses undergo rigorous verification procedures to determine their chemical composition—a quality that is likely to affect the purity of the gems and consequently, their appearance. Rolex has even developed its own methods for this, one of which uses X-ray imaging to test the stones to confirm their authenticity.
Once the right stones are chosen, the process is pretty standard. The gems are passed to the gem-cutters, whose job is to ensure that the stones are cut in the best possible way to accentuate their reflectiveness and intensity. Following that, the gems are then prepared for setting in the cases or lugs of the timepieces.
Before setting, designers in Rolex’s Creation Division map out the colours and arrangements of the stones. One by one, each stone is slowly set in place. With Rolex of course, the brand distinguishes itself with a stringent standard dictating tolerances of no more than two hundredths of a millimetre - around a quarter of the diameter of a strand of human hair. This means that the setting of each stone cannot be misplaced, even by a microscopic distance.
Just as it is with all the watches in Rolex’s repertoire, there is a gem-encrusted jewellery timepiece for a wide spectrum of style persuasions. While many watch lovers acknowledge that Rolex is by far the world’s most desirable watch brand, few actually understand why. Some point to iconic creations that have stood the test of time, while others extol how its watches are great investment pieces. Beyond all that, perhaps the most obvious answer could simply be that Rolex demands the best from itself. The way the brand has embraced the worlds of gold and gemmology – not only as its own, but even surpassing it – is testament to why Rolex remains the biggest and brightest marque in modern horology to this day.
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