October 2, 2016
by David Bredan
To this day, Rolex still makes some extremely rare watches. And when you encounter one, things start as unassumingly as a green box, hardly at all different from the one most of their watches come in, with a Rolex crown at “6 o’clock.” You might agree that this is the typical presentation of a watch built The Rolex Way. What we are looking at today, however, is not your well-known Rolex, but one so rare it is not even listed on the official website or any catalogue. It is extremely hard to come by, mind-bendingly expensive, impeccably made, and shall remain aspirational even for the majority of “one-percenters.” This is the all-factory, solid-platinum Rolex Day-Date 40 Green Emerald Reference 228396TEM, priced very close to the half-a-million-dollar mark. This model is based on the updated Rolex “President” (Day-Date) watch family that debuted in 2015.
Rolex has never failed to remain the most well-known aspirational watch, the marker of a certain achievement or milestone in one’s life; and even when those are moments in the past, a bog-standard Rolex will still stand out as “the Rolex” even in the largest watch collections of the world. Once you lift the decidedly heavy, green presentation box lid, you are greeted with the most simple and yet complex views of all: some soft padding in beige, a green Rolex tag that indicates an extended Rolex warranty and a more stringent accuracy of -2/+2 seconds per day… and, bang in the middle, one of the rarest watches available today – or, in fact, in a very long time – from Rolex.
You may remember seeing some “blinged-out” Rolexes on the wrists of C-list rappers and other, untypical Rolex clientele, but those watches have as much on this, as said “musicians” on anyone who can actually read sheet music – not much. Given the types of watches we cover on aBlogtoWatch, we very scarcely have to highlight the fact that a watch (and especially a modern one) is “all-factory.” The reason it matters so much in this case is because Rolex watches, even original ones in precious metals, are sometimes subjected to aftermarket bling-treatments, where their dials and bezels are modified by fitting stones to them. Needless to say, the resulting aftermarket pieces are almost exclusively horrendous in their execution, and even if they weren’t, they couldn’t come close to the work attainable only by Rolex and its army of gemologists (see point 8 here for more details on that).
An important reason these high-jewelry watches from Rolex are so rare is that they do actually take a very long time to make – to craft a gem-set bezel (just the bezel) can take between one and two weeks, depending on the color scheme and how challenging the stones are to work with. We talked about this a bit more after visiting the Rolex manufacture that included a visit to their gem-setting department. With the Rolex Day-Date 40 Green Emerald, we are looking at a combination of diamonds and emeralds, so let us briefly discuss how Rolex chooses and applies stones for use in such high-jewelry pieces.
As for color, Rolex says it only sets superior quality diamonds in the colorless category. In terms of cut, which is a decisive factor for the brilliance of a diamond, Rolex uses full cut (or brilliant cut), 8/8, trapeze or baguette cut stones selected from the first two categories of the professional classification scale. In this instance, the full pavé dial features brilliant cut diamonds both around the periphery of the dial, framing the indices (a particularly neat detail that I just noticed when looking at the images like the one above), and – well – pretty much everywhere else there was available space on the dial. We will add that while there are other good gem-setters out there, most after-market precious stone setting on Rolex timepieces is not nearly as good as what comes from the Rolex factory.
For models set with colored gemstones – rubies, sapphires, or, in this case, emeralds – Rolex takes particular care in ensuring that all the stones on a given watch are of the same hue, using a combination of a long sorting process carried out by hand, stone by stone in the Rolex workshops, as well as by using one of Rolex’s several sophisticated machines that are, Rolex says, usually only found in independent gemological laboratories. The result is genuinely incredible – if one is familiar with precious stones and gems, it is no secret that it takes sorting through hundreds, if not thousands of pieces to find a bezel-worth of stones that are such a perfect match in color. If anything, it is almost (I said almost!) too perfect as, frankly, I hitherto thought such impeccable matching of colors and shapes would only be possible if every stone were entirely artificial.