6. Fort Knox Has Nothing On Rolex
It isn’t surprising that Rolex is keen on security. At their foundry for example, I was given a bar to carry around that weighed in at just over $1,000,000 worth of Everose gold. There is a lot more of that, as well as valuable completed watches that need safekeeping. Rolex employs a series of extremely meticulous security checks and they had a James Bond-style safe that is located a few floors underground.
I noticed that rank and file watch assembly employees have an interesting system on their desks that required their ID badge be docked at all times after being identified with a fingerprint scan. Everything is scanned and cataloged. In fact, each Rolex watch movement has a unique serial number that is photographed and matched with a case that also has a different unique serial number. In the future when the watch is serviced, a watchmaker can learn everything there is to know about it.
Accessing the Rolex safe requires entering a bank vault door and passing an iris scanner that identifies you via your eyes. When Rolex parts move from location to location, they are transported in highly discreet unmarked (and likely heavily armored) trucks. Rolex is very serious about their safety, and for a really good reason since it is often said (in truth) that Rolex watches are just as good as money.
7. Rolex Dive Watches Are Individually Tested In Pressurized Tanks With Water
All Rolex Oyster case watches are thoroughly tested for water resistance. The way that this is often done at watch manufactures is with an air-pressure tank. A watch is placed in a small chamber that is filled with air, and if the pressure changes at all, it means that air leaked into the case. Each Rolex Oyster, as well as Oyster dive watches begins with this air pressure treatment. In fact, each case is tested both before and after a movement and dial are placed inside of it.
Dive watches receive a separate treatment all together. After being air pressure tested, Rolex proceeds to test the water resistance of each and every Rolex Submariner and Deep Sea watch in actual water. This type of test is much less common. Submariner watches are placed in large tubes that are filled with water to ensure that they are water resistant to 300 meters. The test is extremely complex because Rolex employs a complex system for testing if water entered the case.
After the watches exit the tank, they are heated up and a drop of cold water is placed on the crystal to see if condensation forms. An optical sensor then scans them for trace amounts of water. Less than one in a thousand watches fail the test. The story is much more intense for Deep-Sea watches. Rolex co-developed a special high-pressure water tank with COMEX to depth test each Deep-Sea watch. The pressure tank looks like something from a science fiction movie. Imagine something that looks like a several ton Gatling gun. This machine takes well over an hour and measures each watch to a pressure equivalent to 12,000 meters deep.
8. An Army Of Gemologists Work At Rolex
It has been said that Rolex has preposterous standards for the materials it buys from its suppliers. This includes things like metals as well as precious stones such as diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. Rolex has a massive gemological department whose goal it is to buy, test, arrange, and set diamonds and other precious stones in a range of Rolex models. One of the things they do is check incoming stones to ensure that they are real. Using x-rays for example, they can test diamonds to ensure they aren’t fake.
Rolex reports that in the years they have been testing diamonds, only two in 20 million have been fake. That might seem like such a small amount it isn’t even worth their time to perform the test. Nevertheless, to ensure absolute quality, Rolex tests each batch of diamonds. This should also have an illustrative effect on the diamonds they use, which happen to only be IF in clarity, and D-G in color (the four grades closest to white).
Each and every diamond or precious stone (no matter how large or small) on a Rolex watch is hand-selected and hand-set. Rolex employs traditional jewelers to create custom settings for stones in their most exclusive watches, done using the same processes employed in creating the world’s finest jewelry. It was amazing to see this level of artisanship and delicate care inside what many people believe to be a mass producer.
9. It Takes About A Year To Make One Rolex Watch
An advertisement for Rolex long ago claimed that it takes about a year to make a single Rolex watch. As suspicious as that sounds, it is true even today. Rolex produces almost a million watches a year, but surprisingly, no shortcuts are taken in the manufacturing process from what I could observe (and I’ve been to a lot of watch manufactures). Rolex is however interested in quality and efficiency. Basically, the entire company seems focused on producing the best watches, and continually seeing how they can make them better.
If you look at Rolex watches over time, they are more about evolution rather than revolution. This idea of always improving versus changing goes right into their manufacturing process as well. They are constantly learning how to improve quality through better processes and techniques. The move from aluminum to ceramic bezel inserts is a perfect example. Nevertheless, from starting to shape the parts of the case to testing a completed watch for accuracy, the process takes around one year.
Of course Rolex could speed this up for certain models if necessary, but each watch requires so many parts and virtually everything is made from base materials in-house. Once all the parts for a Rolex watch are completed, they are then mostly hand-assembled and individually tested. The testing and quality assurance process is rather intense.
A good example is how Rolex makes each of their watch dials. All of the dials are made in-house, and one of the most impressive facts is that all of the applied hour markers are set individually by hand. Often times at other brands, machines perform this process, but Rolex learned that a human eye is better trained to spot problems. So individual hour markers are applied and riveted by hand. Dials are dropped from 20cm up in the air to ensure that none of the hour markers fall out. This is a careful and time-consuming process, and it is among the many elements of making watches at Rolex that is done by a skilled human being. Taken together, because of Rolex’s rather fanatical dedication to quality across their huge production, watches take, on average, about a year to produce.
10. Rolex Makes Virtually Everything In-House
After having said all of the above, it probably doesn’t come as a big surprise that Rolex makes virtually everything in-house as a totally vertically integrated manufacturer. As of right now, the only major parts that Rolex doesn’t make for all of their watches are the synthetic sapphire crystals and many of the dial hands (though I have a feeling the latter will change in the next several years). Rolex produces their own gold, cases, bracelets, dials, bezels, and movements in-house with incredible efficiency and quality.
It isn’t just that Rolex can afford all the most useful machines, but also that Rolex invests into processes and techniques that are tightly-held trade secrets. The real value inside the Rolex factory are their tools and know-how, which no one could replicate even if they had a copy of their facilities.
Making everything in-house allows Rolex to be truly independent. Watch collectors often agree that there is the watch industry and then there is Rolex – the two just happen to make similar products. It is hard to love watches and not appreciate what Rolex is and what they produce. Traveling there I can fully understand why they aren’t only the most successful high-end watch manufacture, but why they are also one of the most successful luxury brands in the world.
If I had to say one last thing about Rolex, it is that even if you personally don’t like how their products look on your wrist (which puts you in a minority or people if, after a few years, you don’t appreciate at least some models), you simply can’t deny the absolute sense of confidence, reliability, and dignity the brand name communicates. I can personally attest to that. rolex.com