In 1957, Rolex participated in the International Geophysical Year when, for the first time, scientists from around the world pooled their knowledge to help comprehend our planet. It was a time that saw exploration take off and a new era of scientific expeditions. Volcanologist Haroun Tazieff, biologist Nigel Winser, geologist Francesco Sauro and explorer Alain Hubert number among the adventure scientists that Rolex has supported in the tireless quest to broaden knowledge about the planet in order to preserve it and to give it a future. In 2019, Rolex went further and launched Perpetual Planet, an initiative that supports several projects designed to advance knowledge, improve human well-being and protect the environment.
Rolex and the International Geophysical Year
The brand’s commitment to scientific knowledge is a cornerstone of its history and identity. The International Geophysical Year provided an opportunity for Rolex to demonstrate this interest.
The Sun is a ball of very hot gas, with cycles of varying magnetic activity. During very active phases, it emits strong radiation. In the early 20th century, how the phenomenon impacted Earth was still little understood and this triggered one of the biggest scientific research operations ever led: the International Geophysical Year. The project, which lasted from July 1957 to December 1958, a period of maximum solar magnetic activity, was directed towards developing human knowledge in a number of branches of earth science and about Earth’s interaction with its planetary environment, including the Sun. It encompassed 11 different scientific fields, from the study of cosmic rays to the aurora borealis, and from seismology to oceanography.
Rolex took part in the International Geophysical Year by loaning several watches to the British expedition in charge of establishing a scientific base – the Halley Research Station – in Antarctica and carrying out meteorological observations of the earth, the atmosphere and space. From 1955, when the first men set out to build the station, until they returned following a successful mission, the watches performed perfectly.
“When I first put on my own watch [...] it became part of me – an unquestioned, reliable part – doing no more than gain a matter of seconds per week, although exposed to such extremes of temperature as a hot cooking stove, or digging out stores in minus 60° Fahrenheit,” wrote surgeon commander David Dalgliesh. And Doug Prior, the expedition’s carpenter, commented shortly before the end of the project, “With regard to the performance of the watch, I honestly could not find a single fault with it. I had hundreds of mortises to cut with mallet and chisel; so not only did the watch have to contend with the extreme cold temperatures but also with the terrific jarring every time I hit the chisel.” Once again, Rolex watches stood out for their ability to endure harsh conditions without compromising their performance.
Rolex and National Geographic
Discovering the world to better protect it. This, in essence, sums up Rolex and National Geographic’s shared commitment towards the planet for future generations.
With the aim of helping to protect ecosystems – notably oceans, rainforests and mountain environments – the brand’s concrete involvement alongside National Geographic extends to the four corners of the globe. This recently strengthened partnership was originally forged in 1954, almost seven decades ago. Synonymous with exploration, National Geographic can count on Rolex as a valuable ally in its long-term commitment to pioneering initiatives in exploration and protecting nature; two complementary areas of activity for building a sustainable future.
Volcanology benefits the planet
Many explorers and scientists from around the world have become Rolex Testimonees. Renowned French volcanologist and speleologist Haroun Tazieff was one of them. His thirst for a deeper understanding of the world repeatedly took him to the rims of volcanoes to analyse the temperature changes in the gases and magma caused by eruptions. His celebrated expeditions were fuelled by a desire to collect essential data for understanding natural sites; information that today helps raise awareness about the planet’s fragility. Already back in 1979, Tazieff had warned about the dangerous role of huge CO2 emissions in the global warming that Earth now faces.
Speleology helps us understand the evolution of life
Francesco Sauro is an Italian geologist and 2014 Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureate. He organizes speleological expeditions to remote, lesser-known regions of South America, among others. From the table-top mountains between Brazil and Venezuela, he abseils with his team deep into the bowels of the Earth. As he explores these subterranean caves, where no human being has ever ventured, he gathers precious evidence that gives greater insight into the world. His expeditions have led him to prove the existence of unique life forms – such as colonies of bacteria in some of the deepest caves – which give a window into the evolution of life on the planet.
Studying the Desert to Plan for the Future
For Nigel Winser, a researcher who participated in a Royal Geographical Society mission that was supported by Rolex, understanding nature is the key to our future. He says that if we are to make the right decisions about climate change, field scientists must gather and share data on our fast-changing ecosystems. This Kenya-born life scientist directs scientific research programmes studying the natural world, aiming to ensure a safe, sustainable planet. As a field scientist, he has carried out important biological surveys in the Sahara, West Ethiopia, and Kenya, and sees the desert sands as living laboratories for biodiversity and climate change studies.
Science and exploration to protect the planet
Alain Hubert is a Belgian explorer and a Rolex Testimonee. His many accomplishments include the longest crossing of Antarctica, a trek of over 4,000 km. During his various explorations of the poles, he has always called on science to bring attention to the devastating effects of global warming.
He created an international research station in Antarctica for this very reason. His work consists of taking measurements and samples in extreme environments.
The data gathered are used to understand the evolution of ecosystems and confirm the nature and speed of climate change. Hubert considers exploration and observation in the field crucial for obtaining scientific data to build up prediction models.
Rolex: a Perpetual Drive for Innovation
In order to design and manufacture watches that are precise and reliable in any situation, Rolex has always given high priority to research and development.
Spurred by its founder Hans Wilsdorf, Rolex has focused since its early days on producing ever more precise and reliable watches. Constantly geared towards innovation, the brand gained unique expertise as it found technical solutions to watchmaking challenges. Over time, the brand achieved substantial research and development potential, with the result today that Rolex can call on the expert knowledge and proficiency of in-house specialists in statistics, astrophysics and materials science to continually enhance the quality of its watches. This never-ending quest for excellence was demonstrated for example in 2015, when Rolex redefined its exclusive Superlative Chronometer certification.
Originally created to certify the chronometric precision of a Rolex watch movement, it is now applied to the performance of the watch after casing. Every watch produced in the brand’s workshops systematically undergoes a series of tests conducted by Rolex in its own laboratories and according to its own criteria. This testing is carried out to ensure superlative performance from a watch on the wrist in terms of precision, power reserve, waterproofness and self-winding. After successful completion of the test protocol, the watch receives a green seal symbolizing its Superlative Chronometer status, as well as an international five-year guarantee.