Rolex is the most well-known and unique luxury watch brand in the world. The company has been at the pinnacle of the horology industry for decades. In short, Rolex stands in a world of its own – Valued, admired and respected.
Each and every timepiece from Rolex is more than just a time keeping device. A Rolex watch is a technological and horological engineering marvel. In today’s article, we’ll take a close look at Rolexe’s manufacturing process and the manufacturing elements that make a Rolex watch so unique and iconic.
While it’s well known that Rolex can be secretive in regards to their design and manufacturing process, the following article will reveal 9 little-known facts about Rolex that we’ve uncovered through our in-depth research and insider sources.
So without further ado….
1. Rolex uses 904L Stainless Steel for superior quality and function
While this may not be a secret revelation, you’d be surprised to find that many Rolex enthusiasts and owners are unaware of the quality and craftsmanship of the stainless steel used in modern Rolex watches.
You see, not all stainless steel bracelets are created equally. Stainless steel is commonly available in several different grades and types. Many watch manufacturers use 316L stainless steel in their timepieces.
However, Rolex uses only 904L stainless steel, which is not used by any other watch brands according to our sources.
Before using 904L stainless steel, Rolex also used lower grade stainless steel until they moved all of their steel production to 904L steel. In 1988, various versions of the Rolex Sea-Dweller were produced in 904L steel for the first time.
What makes 904L steel superior is that it’s more rust, dust and corrosion resistant and many times more solid and durable than other types of steel.
Unlike lower grade steel, 904L stainless steel can be polished to a much higher degree and finesse. It’s one of the primary reasons why Rolex steel watches have a smoother and superior quality appearance and feel compared to other luxury watches.
A question can be raised here as to why other watch makers don’t use 904L steel if it’s so much better…
The probable answer may be that because 904L steel is more complicated and expensive to manufacture.
In 1988, Rolex had to replace their steel working tools and machines to deal with the new and more complicated 904L steel. Due to the amount of watches produced by Rolex (about 2,000 a day) and the fact that their watch parts are made in-house, Rolex had to upgrade their tools and machinery to accommodate 904L steel which requires special tools and skills to work with.
2. The Rolex Laboratory Is a Technological Marvel
With multiple breakthroughs and achievements in the horology world, it’s no surprise to find that Rolex has its own internal research and development department.
Rolex has not just one but several types of well equipped professional scientific labs. These labs mostly work on research for new watch models and the parts used in them. They also work on crafting more efficient and more effective watch making techniques.
In-fact, it’s no stretch to say that Rolex is the most competent and obsessively organized wristwatch manufacturing company of all. Rolex labs are not only diverse but they are also amazing to observe, especially the chemistry lab, which is probably the most visually interesting.
It’s full of tubes and beakers that carry gases and liquids along with professionally trained scientists.
In case you’re wondering about the role of a chemistry lab inside a watch making facility, Rolex’s chemistry lab exists for the sole purpose of research and development of lubricants and oils that are used in the machines involved in the watchmaking process.
Rolex has a separate room equipped with multiple microscopes and various spectrometers. They have the ability of taking a very close look at the metals and materials to investigate the effects of manufacturing and machining techniques.
These large areas are seriously impressive and are used on regular basis to prevent possible problems in the manufacturing process.
Rolex also uses its science labs on timepieces themselves. The stress room is another interesting part of a Rolex lab where watch movements, cases and bracelets undergo simulated wear and abuse on custom made robots and machines. You can safely assume that a typical Rolex is designed to last for a lifetime.
3. All Rolex Movements Are Entirely Hand-Assembled and Tested
A Rolex 3135 Caliber Movement
One main misconception about Rolex is that their watches are machine made, which is not true.
The fact is that all Rolex watches are hand assembled and tested, which you can expect from a quality Swiss made watch. Of course, machines are used during some parts of the manufacturing process for tasks that would be very difficult and time consuming if done by humans.
These include cataloging, filing, sorting and various other delicate procedures that involves intricate and precise care that only a machine can handle.
That being said, these machines and robots still need the supervision of a human, which means each and every piece from the movement to the bracelet is assembled by a Rolex watchmaker. Machines are only used in performing tasks such as applying the appropriate pressure while attaching pins, pressing down hands and aligning parts.
Rolex watch hands are still set by hand by highly trained technicians. It would not be an exaggeration or stretch to say that Rolex is obsessive about quality control. Everything is carefully checked, re-checked and then checked again.
Multiple tests are performed to ensure perfection in every part and in the event a watch fails a test, it does not leave the factory.
Rolex watches are sent to COSC before and after production for official chronometer certification. Before sending them out to retailers, re-rests are performed of the movements to ensure precise function and accuracy.
4. Rolex Has an In-House Foundry for Making Gold
Yes, it is true, Rolex makes its own gold. Although they have small handful of suppliers for 904L stainless steel, platinum and gold are entirely made in-house.
A few exceptions to this are the gold which Rolex uses in its 18k white gold bracelets and ever rose gold bracelets which are made and refined from imported 24 karat gold.
Huge kilns under hot flames are used for melting and mixing precious metals, which are then turned into bracelets and cases. As Rolex controls the production and machining of its gold, they have the ability to guarantee quality.
Rolex is the only watch brand that makes its own gold and also has a genuine foundry in-house.
5. Technology is The Best Friend Of a Rolex Watchmaker
The philosophy of Rolex is very practical; if a human is best at carrying out a particular a task, then let a human do it. If machine is best, then let the machine do it. Two primary reasons why many watch manufacturers don’t use machines are;
Sophisticated machinery and robots require large investments and regular maintenance by trained technicians.
They do not have the same (large) production demand as Rolex
Rolex has the ability to equip its facilities with robotic help in time of need. The master supply room is the epicenter of Rolex’s automation prowess. Huge columns of parts are attended to by robotic servants who store and retrieve trays with parts or complete the final steps of assembly.
6. Fort Knox has Nothing on Rolex
Rolex is very keen about security. Rolex has a series of strict meticulous security checks and even a James Bond-Style safe located on few floors underground.
Every Rolex movement has a unique serial number which is photographed and then matched with a case that also has a different and unique serial number.
If someone needs access to the Rolex safe, he/she has to enter into a bank vault door and pass an iris scanner which identifies via eyes. Secure & armored, unmarked trucks are used to move Rolex parts from location to location, which reveals how serious Rolex is about security.
7. Rolex Divers Watches are Individually Tested Inside Pressurized Water Tanks
Rolex Oyster Case timepieces are meticulously tested for water resistance. Air-Pressure Tanks are mainly used for these testing procedures.
A timepiece is placed in a small chamber filled with air. The pressure is then bumped up which reveals if any air is leaking into the case. Every Rolex Oyster and also Oyster diver watch starts its life with the air pressure test.
Each case is well tested before and after a dial and movement are placed in it. Dive watches are exposed to separate treatment all together. After the air pressure test, Rolex proceeds towards the water resistance test of every Rolex Deep Sea and Rolex Submariner watch in real water.
Rolex Submariners are placed in large tubes filled with water to ensure water resistance is 300 meters. The test is very complex as Rolex uses a complex system to test if water entered the case.
After leaving the tank, watches are heated up and a cold water drop is placed on the crystal to observe if any condensation forms.
An optical sensor is used to scan for any trace amounts of water. The most interesting fact about the perfection of a Rolex is that less than one in one thousand timepieces fails this test. The case is much more intense for Rolex Deep-Sea watches.
A special high-pressure water tank is co-developed by Rolex and COMEX for the depth test of each Deep-Sea timepiece. The special machine takes more than an hour to measure each watch to a pressure equal to 12,000 meters in the ocean.
8. Rolex Has an Army of Gemologists
Rolex has very precise and meticulous standards for the material it obtains from its suppliers. This includes things such as precious metals like emeralds, rubies and diamonds.
Rolex owns an army of Gemologists that work to buy, arrange, test and set diamonds and other expensive precious stones which are used in Rolex watches.
Rolex administered several quality control tests to ensure only the highest quality materials end up in their watches. For example, X-rays are used to test the authenticity of diamonds.
According to Rolex reports in the years since they have been testing diamonds obtained from suppliers, only two diamonds out of twenty million were found to be fake. Every diamond and precious stone on a Rolex wristwatch is hand-set and hand-selected.
9. A New Rolex Model Takes an Entire Year to Make
Rolex has demonstrated that each Rolex timepiece takes almost a year to be produced.
Rolex believes in efficiency and quality. The main goal is to produce the best watch possible and to consistently work on it after production to make it even better. If you pay attention to the design and function of a Rolex model over time, you’ll note that it’s more about evolution rather than revolution.
The idea of consistently improving versus changing helps Rolex in the manufacturing process as well. Rolex continuously works to improve the quality of their timepieces via better manufacturing techniques and processes. The journey from aluminum to ceramic bezel inserts is a primary example of this process.
From starting point to completing the watch perfectly, the process takes about one year. Rolex can speed up the manufacturing process if needed but every watch needs so many parts and virtually everything is manufactured from base materials in-house.
When all Rolex watch parts are completed, they are then hand-assembled and tested individually. Making watch dials is a good example. All Rolex watch dials are manufactured in-house and the hour markers are set by hand individually.
Other brands use machines to complete the dial hand insert process, but Rolex believes in the fact that only a human eye can spot the tiniest of problems/errors, and a human can do so better than any machine.
Hour markers are riveted and applied individually by hand. To ensure the hour markers never fall out, during the testing period dials are dropped from a height of 20cm. It’s a seriously careful and time-consuming process during the manufacturing a Rolex watch.
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About the Author:
Dan Aventolli is a watch collector and senior watchmaker at Premium Quality Watches. Over the past few years, his information has been featured in multiple horological publications across the world. In his spare time, he enjoys swimming, reading, golf, cooking and traveling.