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Rolex
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Rolex Watches
 
History | Basics | Why are they so expensive ? | What is a Chronometer ? | Rolex anatomy | What is Rolesor ? | What to ask for | Fakes
 
History
In 1908 Hans Wilsdorf started a business based in London which imported Swiss watch movements and fitted them into English made watch cases. He created the name 'ROLEX' a name that was supposed to be easily spoken in all languages. However, during the first world war heavy duties were laid down on non-essential imports, such as Swiss watch movements, so Hans Wilsdorf moved his business back to Geneva in 1915, concentrating on the less popular, but potentially new market of wrist worn time pieces. The two most significant milestones were in 1926 when Rolex invented the first ever waterproof watchcase, and named it the Oyster. Machined from a single piece of metal, this reduced the number of areas of potential water ingress to three, the winder, the glass, and the case back. The next significant milestone was in 1931 when Rolex patented their first self winding wristwatch. The Perpetual movement consists of a weighted rotor that swings inside the watch case, caused by the movement of the wearer. This rotating movement is transferred by a series of gears to the mainspring, and keeps it wound up.
The Rolex watch range consists of two main collections, the Cellini collection, inspired by the Italian goldsmith and sculptor Benvenito Cellini, consisting mainly of 18 carat gold dress watches. Some of them with mechanical manual wind movements, and some with quartz movements, and are made to the same superlative quality as with all Rolex watches, but to be worn as dress watches. The more popular and instantly recognizable range is the Oyster collection. The Oyster name derives from the watertight case, as previously mentioned, and are built to withstand the demands put on them under extraordinary conditions.
vintage Rolex
 
Basics
For centuries man has tried to mark the passage of time as accurately as possible. The ancient Egyptians noticed that the sun threw lengthening shadows throughout the day, and built huge sundials like Cleopatra's needle. They also marked the passage of time with water clocks called Clepsydra. In more modern times it was the pendulum that slowly released a series of gears powered by a coiled spring or heavy weight. Today most mechanical timepieces are regulated by an oscillating wheel called a balance wheel, that is attached to a tiny spring called a hairspring. When the balance wheel turns in one direction, the hairspring tightens to a point where it cannot go any further, and wants to un-coil, this makes the balance stop, and then rotate in the other direction, un-coiling the hairspring to a point where it cannot go any further, and wants to re-coil, again stopping the balance wheel and sending it off in the other direction, and so on, and so on. The clever thing is to make this regular oscillation as accurate as possible. There are two tiny jewelled levers that engage in a toothed wheel called an escapement wheel, this does two things, it allows the gears to release at a rate governed by the rotation of the balance wheel, and gives the balance wheel a little push on each turn to keep it going. This is the tick, tick, tick you can hear, and is called the oscillation, pulse, or vibration.
The higher the number of pulses per second reduces the amount of error in each second. Less expensive mechanical watches vibrate 4 times a second, but for more accuracy, Rolex watches, (and most other high quality movements) vibrate at 8 times per second, which can be seen as the smooth rotation of the second hand round the dial.
As mentioned above, the number of vibrations per second is vital to the accuracy of a watch, as early as 1880 it was discovered by Pierre and Jacques Curie, that a Quartz crystal will vibrate at a regular and high rate when an electric current was passed through it. This discovery was implemented in the 1960's, and the first watches using a small battery instead of a coiled spring for power were produced. The Quartz crystals oscillate constantly at 32,768 vibrations per second, giving accuracy measured in seconds per year, rater than seconds per day. This almost caused the death of the mechanical watch industry. The argument was perfect. Why spend hundreds, if not thousands of pounds on a watch, when you could buy a Quartz watch for £10.00, which was far more accurate? Luckily, there are people who appreciate the skill and craftsmanship it takes to make a timepiece as accurate as they are today, and who enjoy wearing items of high quality.
Rolex Movement
Why are they
so expensive ?
It is said that it takes roughly one year to make a Rolex watch, with more than 220 parts in the movement, and about 200 parts in the bracelet alone. The main plate alone takes up to 400 operations to make. All components are made to a staggeringly high degree of tolerance and finish. Once assembled each individually numbered watch is rigorously tested to ensure the accuracy, and water resistance. Models which can boast 'Superlative Chronometer' status are tested to higher level of accuracy under various conditions. (See 'what is a Chronometer ?' below)
Only the highest quality materials are used. Rolex use the highest quality stainless steel, and all metal coming into the factory is x-rayed for imperfections. Precious metals are alloyed in Rolex's own in house foundry, and are the largest user of gold and platinum in Switzerland, not surprising when each gold or platinum case is hewn from one solid ingot of metal. Not forgetting that each gold link in the bracelet is again machined from a single piece of gold, which is in turn linked with a specially hardened alloy of gold wire for the screw. On the gold, platinum, or steel and gold models, the figures on the dial are gold or platinum, and so are the hands.
Some models are adorned with Diamonds and other precious stones, Mother of Pearl, and other gem materials are used for the dials. Being an ex-goldsmith, I have looked very closely at the setting of Diamonds and gem stones in Rolex watches, and I have never seen better setting in any jewellery. Personally I prefer stainless steel models for their simplicity, I am drawn to them for their engineering qualities, and ergonomic design, but I can fully accept that a lot of people buy them as a piece of jewellery, with timekeeping as a secondary requirement.
One thing that is so clear to me after working in the retail jewellery trade is that out of so many watch brands, the one that stand the test of time is the Rolex. They are expensive, but they are one of the few watch brands that meet the demands that customers put on them. Robustness, people expect them to perform under very extreme conditions. Reliability, with regular servicing they will be accurate, and waterproof for many years. Longevity, I have seen Rolex watches that have been handed down through generations. Style, the basic design has remained unchanged for years, they are elegant and practical, while being classic and modern.
Lady-DateJust
What is a
Chronometer ?
The term Chronometer is applied to any timepiece that performs within a very high tolerance. In the watch making industry for a watch to be given the status of chronometer, it must pass stringent testing in a controlled environment for a given period of time. All Swiss Chronometers whether they be Rolex or any other brand are submitted to the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (C.O.S.C). It is important to understand that this is an independent body regulated by the Swiss government, and not a part of the Rolex company. So any watch that has been given Chronometer status has passed the same timekeeping tests as any other brand.
The watch movements are tested before they are cased up, and are fitted with a plain white dial and single timing seconds hand. They are then placed in racks along with hundreds of similar movements. These racks are then subjected to testing in five positions, i,e button down, button up, face down, face up, and 12 o'clock down. They are tested at room temperature, then at 8°c. and then heated to 38°c. All this time the dials are monitored by camera for 15 days and nights. After this period if the average positional error is no more than gaining 6 seconds, or losing 4 seconds per day (that's 99.994% accuracy!), the movement is given its Chronometer status. The Chronometer is returned to the manufacturer who then fit their own dial and hands, and then fit it into its case, and then test it again in their own laboratories for time keeping and water resistance. Most companies then produce their own Chronometer certificates which usually correspond to an individual number engraved on the case. All Rolex watches that have Chronometer status are given a red swing tag with the words 'Officially certified Swiss Chronometer' and more importantly on the dial should be the words 'Superlative Chronometer officially certified'. It is worth mentioning here that since 2007 Rolex have now discontinued all of their non-Chrometer movements from their range.
This degree of time keeping however, is only a guide to a watch's real accuracy. There is one major factor to take into account, and that is the wearer of the watch. A watch is at its most accurate when the mainspring is fully wound, so if it is only worn occasionally, or the wearer is not active enough, then the watch will not be as accurate as it could be. Also watches tend to be adjusted so that its most accurate position is button down (i.e. as if it is on your left wrist with your arm by your side). If you wear it on your right side it will possibly be button up, or if you leave it flat on a table or in its box for long periods, not only will it be in a less accurate position, it will also not be winding its self.
Rolex submit more movements for testing than any other manufacturer, in fact the total of Rolex submissions is more than the sum of all the others, this is mostly due to the higher number of Chronometers produced in comparison to any other brand. In 2003 over 1.3 million submissions were made to the C.O.S.H, of these Rolex made over 815,000 submissions, followed by Omega with over 165,000 submissions, and Breitling with over 132,000 submissions.
I have asked the question at various product training seminars at Rolex and Breitling if every single movement that is given Chronometer status is tested. The answer has always been a definite YES.
Chronometer Tag

Rolex anatomy

 

 

 

(For more information,
click on each heading, or click directly on the area of interest on the main image)

Rolex anatomy
 
 
What is Rolesor ?

Rolex only use high quality stainless steel, 18 carat yellow, white or rose gold, or platinum to make their watch cases and bracelets. Cases and bracelets made totally of gold or platinum are hallmarked, so can be described as such. Some models combine steel and either yellow, white or rose gold together to make a two tone or bi-colour look. In most countries this combination can legally be described as steel and gold. In the U.K. however, our ancient hallmarking laws state that we cannot describe the precious metal in this combination as gold, because it can not be hallmarked. To get round this Rolex invented the word 'Rolesor' a combination of the word 'Rolex' and 'Or' the French word for gold. A watch that is described as Yellow Rolesor has a stainless steel case, with an 18 carat yellow gold bezel and crown, and a stainless steel bracelet, with an 18 carat yellow gold middle section. A watch described as White Rolesor has a stainless steel case and a white gold bezel, a steel crown, and a bracelet made of steel only.
The Yellow Rolesor is designed to give a full bi-colour look, whereas the White Rolesor is designed mainly to give the stainless steel model a brighter fluted bezel.
In Addition to yellow and white Rolesor, Rolex have re-introduced Pink Rolesor, similar to yellow Rolesor, but using rose gold. This combination now appears on the new 'Turn-O-Graph' watches, and the new updated gents and ladies DateJust models.
In the Yacht-Master models, a combination of steel and platinum is used, the name given to this combination is 'Rolesium'.

Rolesor
What to ask for
A Rolex watch is a major purchase to most people. Whether you are buying it for yourself, or a loved one, careful thought should be made as to which model suits you best. There is no substitute for visiting a reputable Rolex retailer, they can advise you, and offer you a wide choice, with guarantee of genuine Rolex products.
Apart from the Cellini range, all other Rolex watches are from the Oyster range, (which refers to the design of the waterproof case), and are all are mechanical automatic winding movements, meaning that they are self winding by means of an internal rotating weight. This is called the perpetual rotor (Rolex did make a range of Quartz models, but they are now discontinued). Therefore they are all called 'Rolex Oyster Perpetual' followed by the particular model, for example, 'Air King' or 'Submariner'.
There are many gents models to choose from, the most popular are probably the 'Gents Rolex Oyster Perpetual DateJust' in either steel, or Rolesor, and the 'Gents 18 carat yellow gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual Day-Date'.
The professional models, such as the 'Oyster Perpetual Submariner' or the 'Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona' are more popular in stainless steel. The 'Daytona' is probably the most sought after model, and like the Submariner, there will be a long waiting list of people wanting one. The Cosmograph is the only Chronograph made by Rolex. A Chronograph is a movement that has additional hands and sub dials, used for timing purposes. Two push pieces one above, and one below the winding crown, either start, stop, or re-set the sweep seconds hand. The minutes and hours are shown on two of the smaller dials, while the continuous seconds are shown on the third small dial. The word Chronograph is sometimes confused with Chronometer, which is explained in a previous section. A Chronograph is a stopwatch, and a Chronometer is an accurate time piece. The Daytona is both.
There are no ladies professional models except for the 'Oyster Perpetual Lady Yacht-Master'. The most popular ladies model is possibly the 'Oyster Perpetual Lady-DateJust', in either 18 carat gold or Rolesor. There are many more Diamond set pieces in the ladies range, and possibly more dials to choose from. Rolex have also extended the range of 18 carat gold DateJusts to include the 'Pearlmaster' range. these pieces are a little larger than the basic models, and are all Diamond set, with some of them retailing at more than £45,000.
It would be impossible for a retailer to stock every model with all the dial variations, so if you are looking for a certain model, but the one in the window has a different dial in to the one you want, most retailers will change the dial for you free of charge. The retailer should have a catalogue of all the dial variations for each model. It is worth noting though, that not all dials will fit into every model.
White Gold Cosmograph
Fakes

As with all expensive and desirable items there will always be people who will make counterfeits in order to make quick money. Unfortunately, because they are so desirable, people can be easily duped into buying a watch at an attractive price which has the Rolex name on the dial.
By far the safest way to buy a guaranteed genuine Rolex is to visit an official Rolex retailer, it is not in their interest to try to sell you an imitation. New Rolex watches should only be available through such a retailer, however the sale of 'pre-owned' Rolex watches is not so regulated.
The internet is an ideal medium for fraudulent dealers to exploit, due to its huge access to the public, and its lack of regulation. I would be very wary of buying a watch that I could not inspect before buying, especially if they are offering hard to get models such as stainless steel Submariners, or Daytonas. There are a few checks you can make before buying a 'pre-owned' watch that has the Rolex logo and/or name on the dial. After checking it, if you still have any doubts, don't buy it.
Check 1 This should always be the first check! See how the second hand moves round the dial, if it steps in one second intervals, it is fitted with a quartz movement. The vast majority of Rolex movements are mechanical and beat at 8 times a second giving the second hand an almost smooth motion round the dial like the one at the top of this page. Nowerdays, this only applies to the more obvious fakes, the more sophisticated counterfeits use automatic movements, but its a good first check.
Check 2 Ask if the watch comes with its box, and more importantly its guarantee papers. The guarantees issued before and around late 2002 early 2003 were roughly 8 inches square, and printed in green, with some gold headings, and the crown logo all round the outside. After early 2003 the guarantees changed to a more modern design, but were essentially similar in format. They are worded in French. They should be completed with the name of the first owner, the name of the shop, and the date it was purchased. Most importantly they should have a series of digits formed from small punched holes in the top right hand corner. Since late 2007, new Rolex watches have been issued with a new Plastic 'Credit Card' type guarantee. If you have any of these documents, you can move on to check 3.

Older Rolex Guarantee
Recent Rolex Guarantee
Current Rolex Guarantee
Pre 2002 Guarantee (click to enlarge)
Pre 2008 Guarantee (click to enlarge)
Current Guarantee (click to enlarge)

Check 3 Ask to have the bracelet removed, because engraved on the case between the lugs at the 12 o'clock position should be the words 'ORIG. ROLEX DESIGN' followed by the model number, for example for a steel Submariner '16610'. Engraved on the case between the lugs at the 6 o'clock position should be the 7 digit alpha-numeric case number, which should be identical to the punched number on the guarantee. On Pre 2007/2008 models the only way to see these numbers is to remove the bracelet (On more modern models with Rolex inscribed on the inner bezel between the dial and the inside of the glass, the serial number is visible at the 6 o'clock position. If the numbers are not there, or they do not match the guarantee, do not buy it.
Check 4 If you are looking at watch reported to be gold, i.e. a gents Oyster Perpetual Day-Date, or a ladies all gold Lady-DateJust, the case and the bracelet should be made of nothing less than 18 carat gold, either in all yellow, all white or all rose gold. It MUST be stamped on the back of the case AND on the bracelet with the 18K international mark for 18 carat, and one or more of the marks on the right, either the international import mark, (The much rarer platinum watch will have a 950 mark rather than the usual 750). Or the Swiss Helvetia hallmark for 18ct gold. Also most newer gold models have the St. Bernard dog's head mark, which was introduced in 1995. This mark is for an item of any grade of precious metal made for export. All Rolex bracelets, whether steel, gold or 'Rolesor' should have the correct Rolex logo embossed into the metal of the folding part of the clasp.
Check 5 Newer models are now coming through with more anti-counterfeit measures, such as the Rolex crown etched into the sapphire glass at the 6 o'clock position. This can only bee seen with a 10x jewellers loupe. The most recent update is the inner bezel round the dial below the glass, which has the word 'ROLEX' and the crown logo inscribed all round, exept at the 6 o'clock position, where the case number is inscribed. Also, new models now no longer have the green hologram on the case back, so if there is no hologram, this doesn't mean it is fake.
Check 6 Finally, if the watch has passed the previous tests, it is still worth holding the watch in your hands, it should feel satisfyingly heavy, solid, and not loose and rattley. Look at the dial, the Rolex crown at the top, (With the exception of the sports models that have a triangular baton at the 12 o'clock position) and the hour markers should be applied to the dial, not just printed on (except for older models). With the exception of non-chronometer models, the words 'Superlative Chronometer officially certified' should be printed near the bottom of the dial. Right at the bottom of the dial split by the 6 o'clock hour marker it should say 'Swiss Made' (some older models also say T<25). If the watch has a yellow metal bezel, it should have yellow hour markers, and hands. If it has a white metal bezel, it should have white hour markers, and hands. Most sports models should have luminous 'Mercedes' style hands, except for the Daytona which has straight hands. All genuine Rolex watches and accessories are made in Geneva, and should say Swiss made, if the origin is anywhere else i.e. Made in USA, it is not genuine. (Although I once told a man that his watch was a fake because the bracelet said 'Made in USA' on the clasp, only to find later that for a brief time Rolex had their bracelets made in USA on licence from Rolex).

International Import Mark

International import mark

The Swiss Hallmark

The Swiss Helvetia hallmark

st bernard dogs head hallmark

St. Bernard hallmark

The Rolex Logo

The Rolex Logo ©

Me
If you have any questions about buying Rolex watches, please contact me by clicking on the e-mail button at the top of this page on your left. Unfortunately I cannot supply any watches from this site, but I am very happy to give advice.