From the design of a new model to the individual testing of each watch when it comes out of production, every effort is made to ensure that the brand’s standards of excellence are met. Rolex has played a pioneering role in developing tests and protocols to guarantee the reliability and robustness of its timepieces.
Shocks or impacts, temperature variations, magnetic fields, wear and tear, humidity – Rolex watches must be able to resist even the harshest conditions over a long period without their integrity or performance being compromised or diminished. For Hans Wilsdorf, the brand’s founder, it was essential that each Rolex watch give the exact time and that its movement be protected in the best way. More than a hundred years after the first models were created, this philosophy still underpins the development and production of every watch stamped with the emblematic crown.
Guaranteeing the reliability of a Rolex watch requires the application of a multitude of skills and expertise. Engineers specialized in materials, physics, mechanics and micro technology, as well as technicians, movement constructors, prototype makers, statisticians and horologists all work together to develop optimal solutions for each model, according to its intended use.
FROM PROTOTYPE TO FINISHED WATCH
The process starts during the design phase of a new product. A list is drawn up of the stresses that the watch is likely to have to withstand. Purely virtual and based on a product-use scenario, this first step provides a broad overview of the risks, which are then organized into the order in which the issues should be approached. Simulations can then be programmed. These will serve to design the first prototypes, which will be put through a series of tests mimicking actual conditions of wear.
A watch is developed in three stages: proof-of-concept prototype, functional prototype and development prototype. Several examples of each prototype are produced and will be individually analysed and tested. Once the proof-of-principle prototype has been validated, the functional prototype will be used to perfect the functioning of the mechanism. Then begins a pre-production phase to create development prototypes. Finally, after completion of this stage, series production can begin.
To assure the efficiency of its development and production process, in 2015, Rolex introduced the Superlative Chronometer certification. To be awarded this designation, all finished watches, after coming out of production, go through a series of entirely automated checks. This high- technology control chain, exclusive to the brand, guarantees the precision of the watch to within -2/+2 seconds per day – a tolerance specific to Rolex. This is considerably more exacting than the requirement set by the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC). It also ensures that the watch’s autonomy corresponds to its stated power reserve, that it is waterproof to the required depth and that the self-winding module functions properly. If the watch passes this string of tests without a hitch, it obtains the Superlative Chronometer certification and is given the green seal, which is coupled with a five-year guarantee. This step concludes the entire reliability process.
Among the many trials performed to confirm the reliability of a Rolex watch, resistance to shocks and drops is a major area of study. What are termed “everyday” shocks are those the watch endures during normal wear, such as clapping. These forces reach a maximum of 1,000 g in terms of acceleration. “Accidental” shock tests, meanwhile, reproduce the effect of the watch being dropped, either randomly or at a predetermined angle. The sudden, rapid acceleration involved in this kind of impact can peak at 5,000 g.
Ageing tests are carried out on the watch case and bracelet as well as the movement. The resistance of the dials to UV rays, for example, is evaluated to make sure the colours remain stable over time. Robots are used to measure the progress of wear on metal bracelets where the various elements connect, such as the case with the bracelet and the links with one another. The process replicates and accelerates a Rolex wearer’s typical movements, in atmospheres polluted with abrasive substances to speed up the deterioration.
Even more specific attention is paid to the movement. Its chronometric performance, the duration of its power reserve and the capacity of its self-winding module are tested systematically, as is its endurance in terms of functioning and use. All the mechanical systems making up the movement are put to the test on equipment that reproduces the actions of setting and adjusting the watch in real-life conditions.
To fully complete the process of ensuring a watch’s reliability, aesthetic and ergonomic imperatives must also be taken into consideration. Since the design of a model cannot be altered during development to overcome a technical problem, ingenuity is of the essence to come up with solutions that take account of the many variables involved. Comfort is also key, as the wearer must be assured of a watch that is both easy to use and pleasant to wear. The weight, texture and feel on the wrist, as well as the precision and ease of function-setting are all pivotal factors that influence the design and production of a Rolex watch.
So it is that from the very first sketches of a model to the moment it emerges from production, thousands of hours are devoted to studies, tests and consultations to ensure that every detail of the watch embodies the excellence of the brand.