Instant recognition is part of the pact Rolex makes with its customers through its unmistakable, distinctive aesthetic. The crown emblem does, of course, give the brand away, but from a great distance, iconic models can be picked out even by a recently converted watch enthusiast. Be it the rise of a shirt cuff or a turn of the wrist, a mere glimpse is sufficient to identify a Rolex.
Consider the GMT-Master, for one. It was launched in 1955 as intercontinental travel expanded exponentially in the latter half of the 20th century and clever alliances thrust it into the public eye. American airline Pan American World Airways, better known as Pan Am, marked the model as its preferred timepiece when the captain of the first non-stop Pan Am Jet Clipper flight from New York to Moscow wore it as a navigation aid in 1959. “If you were flying the Concorde tomorrow, you’d wear a Rolex”, a later advertisement proclaimed. Updates in subsequent decades reflected the changing trends and technology. Its most distinguishing trait remained, however: the two-coloured 24-hour bezel, denoting daytime and night respectively to track the hours in a second time zone. The original two tones were red and blue, known to fans as the “Pepsi” bezel, and were achieved by single-coloured Plexiglas inserts with the colour, numerals and graduations painted on the reverse. Along with changes of colours, the materials and inscription processes would be upgraded with time.
One of the most anticipated launches at Baselworld 2018 took place at the Rolex booth where the new Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II was finally unveiled. The consummate globetrotter’s watch retains its travel principles: local time is told through conventional hour, minute and seconds hands while an arrow-tipped hand tells time in a second time zone. Rather than trail the hour hand on its twice-daily sweep of the dial, the second time zone hand encircles the dial just once a day, in correspondence with the 24-hour markers on the bezel. When set at neutral — with the triangle at 12 o’clock, the 24-hour hand displays the reference time (home time, for example), which can be read using the graduations on the bezel.
Local time is set through the winding crown, the hour hand jumping from hour to hour to stay on top of time in the wearer’s current location. The mechanism is powered by the new calibre 3285, a self-winding movement with 10 patents filed over the course of its development. It uses a Rolex patented Chronergy escapement and blue Parachrom hairspring fitted to the oscillator, which increases efficiency and resistance to shocks and magnetic fields. Exceptionally precise and reliable, the GMT-Master II also utilises a new barrel architecture and the escapement’s superior efficiency to extend the power reserve to approximately 70 hours.
Three new versions herald the model; the first in Oystersteel, which combines the Oyster case with a Jubilee bracelet and has a bidirectional rotatable bezel and a 24-hour graduated two-colour Cerachrom insert in red and blue ceramic, calling to mind the colours used on the original GMT-Master in 1955. The second and third versions exercise 18-carat Everose Gold and the Everose Rolesor, which is a marriage of Oystersteel and 18-carat Everose Gold. Both are fitted with two-colour Cerachrom inserts in a black and newly developed brown ceramic. The 40mm cases all feature black lacquer dials, a screw-down winding crown with the Triplock triple waterproofness system, and are waterproof to 100m.
Mechanical excellence is priority at Rolex, where all timepieces carry the Superlative Chronometer certification that testifies to its extraordinary precision and performance, but the watchmaker does not overlook craftsmanship in its quest for functional superiority. Its mastery of gem-setting, among the most demanding of crafts, exemplifies the equal attention bestowed upon both.
Beautifully employing precious stones is the new generation of the Oyster Perpetual Datejust 31. Redesigned case sides and lugs as well as the first-time use of the calibre 2236 in this series give the model a contemporary look and with improved efficiency and precision.
When the Datejust was introduced in 1945, it was the first self-winding waterproof chronometer wristwatch to display a date on the dial at 3 o’clock and consolidated within a single case all the major innovations Rolex had contributed to the modern wristwatch until then. Aesthetically, it has spanned eras and its enduring codes have secured it as an evergreen favourite in any collection.
Its latest interpretations showcase the watchmaker’s effortless versatility in addition to its dexterity with diamonds, as seen in the seamless studding of all bezels. The slender 31mm cases are crafted from a solid block of 18-carat white, yellow or Everose gold. The white gold version encases a mother-of-pearl dial studded with 10 diamonds to mark the hours. Exceptions are 12 o’clock, where the Rolex crown emblem holds court, and 3 o’clock, where the signature date window sits across all Datejust 31 models. White gold hands keep time and this entire ensemble is framed within a solid white gold bezel set with 46 brilliant-cut diamonds.
Yellow gold gives similar form to the second version, only malachite is used for the dial to provide beautiful contrast. The Rolex logo and date window again mark 12 o’clock and 3 o’clock respectively, while six and nine are in yellow gold Roman numerals set with diamonds. Finally, Everose gold plays upon its faint blush to fashion the most feminine of the Datejust 31 timepieces. Within the glittering ring of stones that bless the bezel is a pink gold dial paved with 262 diamonds and inlaid with pink mother-of-pearl butterflies. Each variation features protective sapphire crystal with a Cyclops lens over the date for easy reading and is secured with a President bracelet which benefits from a concealed attachment system.
Where Datejust 31 manipulates precious stones to evoke subtle beauty, the Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona parades them in all their glory. This cult classic, a motorsport icon since 1963, gets a scintillating makeover with the same dazzling display of boldness it is known for on racetracks.
The emblematic tachymetric scale that would have graced its 18-carat Everose gold bezel is instead replaced with a gradation of sapphires in rainbow hues. The case is adorned with 56 brilliant-cut diamonds set into the lugs and crown guard, and the dial features 11 baguette-cut sapphire hour markers, each of which matches the colour of the corresponding point on the bezel. The chronograph counters are in pink Gold Crystals that display a shimmer effect. Hands are in 18-carat pink gold with the hour and minute hands accented with luminescent Chromalight for legibility.
Lest the timepiece’s unabashed flamboyance misleads you into thinking this is not a serious watch, the new Cosmograph Daytona is equipped with the calibre 4130, a self-winding mechanical chronograph movement entirely developed and manufactured by Rolex. Clever reduction of components increase the efficacy and reliability of the movement, earning it its Superlative Chronometer certification. At the oscillator, the heart of the robust calibre, a blue Parachrom hairspring ensures insensitivity to magnetic fields while a Rolex overcoil ensures regularity in any position. A 72-hour power reserve and waterproofness up to 100m attest to its technical capabilities.
These perhaps exemplify how a watchmaker with a long, storied past preserves its standing. A cult classic can make a brand but stagnancy could just as easily break it. Rolex continues to demonstrate its high level of expertise, its capacity for innovation and its uncompromising standards in the art of watchmaking.
This article first appeared on May 14, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.