The brand’s ongoing quest to push the boundaries of exploration

Whether it’s sponsoring expeditions to the remotest corners of this planet, working with the National Geographic Society to restore the ecosystem, or creating the most durable and accurate timepieces, Rolex is pushing the boundaries of exploration.

When Rolex relocated operations from London – where its co-founder Hans Wilsdorf had started the company a little more than a decade earlier – to Switzerland during World War I, the company began redoubling its efforts to produce the toughest, most reliable in the world and accurate timepiece. The ultimate result was the patenting and introduction of the first Rolex Oyster in 1926, which was not only dustproof, but also the first commercially made watch that could be described as properly waterproof.

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay at the summit of Everest

As a man whose ideas for selling timepieces were, if not entirely ahead of their time, at the forefront of marketing, Wilsdorf implicitly understood how to build on innovation in order to give his brand a worldwide reputation. He promptly engaged a young British swimmer, Mercedes Gleitz, who showed how waterproof and robust the Oyster is when she – the first woman – swam through the English Channel with a Rolex on her wrist. Prominent newspaper and magazine ads highlighting Gleitz ‘achievement and Rolex’ role in it convinced Wilsdorf of the value of engaging your brand in extraordinary endeavors and explorations – all of which would also translate into the technological advantages of testing his timepieces in the USA result in “living laboratories” which were among the most extreme and demanding places on earth.

Drilling an ice core at the South Col of Everest (© ROLEX / © NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)

In the 1930s, Rolex took an active part in supporting exploration expeditions, and its watches ventured off the beaten path, for example, they visited the east coast of Greenland in 1930-31 with the aristocratic British Henry George “Gino” Watkins. Two decades later, in the early 1950s, the brand supplied watches to the British-led expedition that first climbed the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest. And in 1960, when the Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard and
US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh ascended to the deepest point on the planet at Bathyscaphe Trieste – a depth of more than 10,900 meters in the Mariana Trench – they carried an experimental Rolex Oyster, which was found in perfect condition when they arrived back on the surface of the Pacific Ocean .

At the time, Rolex did not rely solely on advertising to promote such remarkable achievements. In 1954 the Swiss brand signed a partnership with the National Geographic Society of the United States and in the same year the company’s famous yellow-framed magazine published a story – richly illustrated, of course – about the Everest expedition and the ascent to the summit by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and the Nepalese Tenzing Norgay. Piccard and Walsh’s departure from Trieste was treated similarly, as was the solo departure of filmmaker and Rolex testimone James Cameron in the Deepsea Challenger underwater vehicle some 52 years later, in 2012. Cameron took him with him – strapped to a robotic arm outside of the vehicle – a prototype of a Rolex Deepsea Challenge watch whose water resistance was tested to the utmost at 1,200 bar and which returned with perfect accuracy at sea level.

A 1947 Rolex Explorer

However, aside from the obvious benefits such activities have brought to the brand and our wider understanding of the world we live in, Rolex and National Geographic expanded their partnership in 2019 to include tangible benefits for nature as well. the environment, and indeed the earth itself, by creating the Perpetual Planet initiative. Just as the intricate automatic mechanism of a Rolex watch is designed to function perfectly and keep the time year after year, the Perpetual Planet initiative supports individuals and organizations who are committed to ensuring, restoring and long-term maintenance of the delicate balance of the ecosystems in whom we live. The ultimate goal is to equip communities with the scientific information they need to tackle the most extreme challenges of climate change.

Programs initiated since Perpetual Planet’s launch include expeditions to explore the most extreme environments on earth and provide detailed information on the effects of climate change in these regions. The first, in April-June 2019, was a return to Mount Everest led by National Geographic and Nepal’s Tribhuvan University to measure the effects of global warming on the Hindu Kush and Himalayan glaciers, which keep the lower-lying regions crucially water-filled supply. It followed early last year when a team of National Geographic scientists and explorers – equipped with Rolex Explorer II watches, among others – traveled to the Tupungato volcano in the Chilean Andes and installed the highest weather stations in the world, the priceless Would provide insights into how the dwindling resources of mountain water can be preserved.

Rolex explorer
The highest weather conditions in the southern and western hemisphere at the Tupungato volcano (© ROLEX / © NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)

By supporting National Geographic’s Explorers Festival since 2017, Rolex is also helping to foster the development of a broad international community of scientists, conservationists and educators who can share their knowledge and experience through this forum. In addition, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise program includes 24 National Geographic-related winners, either as explorers or fellows. Among them are the conservation biologist Erika Cuéllar, who worked with the people of the Gran Chaco in the Andes, and Johan Reinhard, who developed a cultural anthropological program in the mountains of South America.

Timeless masterpieces: the Rolex Explorer watches

Rolex explorer
A vintage explorer from 1953

And of course you can’t avoid mentioning the two Explorer watches, which were created from around 90 years of exploring the earth’s borders. Designed to withstand the inhospitable environments of some of the most inhospitable places on our planet, they also epitomize the precision, performance and reliability for which the brand is celebrated.

The Rolex Perpetual Explorer from 1953 and the first ascent of Everest is not only a classic, but also the classic and combines robustness and readability – and in particular the bright blue Chromalight, which is now used for the luminous hands, numbers and indexes – with the kind of refined simplicity Rolex is famous for. This year, the latest generation Explorer has returned to its original diameter of 36mm, although its new self-winding caliber 3230 has advanced technologies such as a patented Chronergy escapement, blue Parachrom hairspring and Paraflex shock absorbers, and a power reserve of 70. offers Std. Like all Rolex models, the Explorer carries the Superlative Chronometer certification, a worldwide standard for the accuracy and performance of mechanical watches. Of course, the Explorer is still available in Oystersteel with a matching Oyster bracelet, but with a dazzling touch of luxury and elegance it is now also available in a beautiful Rolesor version, with yellow gold bezel, crown, hands, numerals, indexes and middle bracelet links and at home on the roof of the world or at a stylish rooftop party.

The Rolex Explorer II

The latest Explorer II from 1971, with a diameter of 42 mm, also has a similar technology in caliber 3285, which thanks to its nickel-phosphorus construction offers high magnetism resistance and a reserve of 70 hours. In addition, it has a fourth 24-hour hand in bright orange, which enables the wearer to differentiate between day and night in the remote regions of the world, where the two can hardly be distinguished, together with the bezel indications.

The white dial of the Explorer II with hands and hour markers in white gold and blue Chromalight luminescence as well as a date window with Cyclops lens is easy to read under all conditions. The watch is supplied in an Oystersteel case with a matching Oyster bracelet and is water-resistant to 10 bar.

Explorer or Explorer II? In any case, you are equipped for the most extreme places in the world – just like Rolex itself for the past nine decades, to transcend the broadest limits of understanding our world and striving for horological excellence.

(Hero Image: Now available in a luxurious Rolex version, the Rolex Explorer is a direct descendant of the watches used in the first successful ascent of Mount Everest)

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