Rolex may be one of the most valuable and well-known luxury brand names in the world, but few are familiar with its fascinating history of being a part of record-setting adventures. Let’s take a quick look at four of these remarkable moments in history.
In the water
It all started in 1926 when, by combining a three-piece, highly durable, threaded case construction with a clever screw-down crown design, Rolex has created the first waterproof wristwatch. Called the Oyster, it was a revolutionary development in horology, transforming watches from delicate and fragile time-telling jewelry ito reliable every-durable devices.
Hans Wilsdorf, Rolex’s founder blessed with a remarkable genius for marketing, had been looking for powerful ways to advertise his waterproof watch, at the time was both new and impressive accomplishment. Beyond placing ticking watches into fish bowls in watch store windows, a stellar opportunity arose in 1927 when a young Englishwoman named Mercedes Gleitze said she would swim across the English Channel.
Wilsdorf gave her a Rolex Oyster watch to wear as a pendant on a necklace – not on her wrist, as is commonly and incorrectly quoted. Needless to say, some 10 hours later, both Gleitze and the watch emerged from the water in perfect working order. Widely covered by the press, this was both a tremendous marketing and engineering success for Rolex.
Up in the air
On October 14th, 1947, one of the lesser known – and yet absolutely remarkable – historical achievements took place, and it included a Rolex watch reliably ticking away. It was on this date that Chuck Yeager – a WWII veteran with 64 combat missions under his belt – broke the sound barrier while test piloting the Bell X-1, an experimental rocket-powered airplane.
The sound barrier is surpassed when an object moves at a speed of at least 343 meters per second (about 767mph or 1,234km/h). Yeager flew at an altitude of 45,000ft (or 13.7km) – with a Rolex Oyster on his wrist.
Scaling the heights
From the rough waters of the English Channel and near-stratospheric flights, Rolex next submitted to the fearsome heights of the tallest mountains. Starting in the 1930s the Rolex Oyster was worn on numerous Himalayan expeditions and one of them entered the annals of history when in 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, members of a British expedition led by Sir John Hunt, became the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
This remarkable human adventure served to reinforce the reputation of the Oyster watches that accompanied the expedition. Rolex launched the Oyster Perpetual Explorer in 1953 – the same year as the climb – in the wake of the successful ascent of the world’s highest mountain, ensuring the Explorer has since achieved iconic status.
Plumbing the depths
Rolex next needed to not only survive the water, but it needed to conquer the depths by reaching the deepest-known point in the Earth’s oceans, 10,916m below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, the base of the Marianas Trench.
In 1960 the bathyscaphe Trieste piloted by Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh reached the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Strapped to its exterior of their vessel was an experimental Rolex Oyster known as the Deep Sea Special designed that withstood the colossal pressure of more than one ton per square centimeter and returned to the surface in perfect working order after reaching the historic depth of 10,916m. Later in 1967, Rolex introduced the Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller, waterproof to a depth of 610 meters (2,000 feet), intended for saturation divers.
That visit to such depths was thought to be a singular achievement, never to be repeated in history, but it was.
In 2012 Rolex played an active part in filmmaker James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge expedition, when it created the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Deepsea Challenge, boasting a tested water resistance of 12,000m.
The watch was fixed to the exterior of Cameron’s bathyscaphe that descended some 10,908m below the surface to reach Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trech, the deepest-known point in the Earth’s oceans.