March 23, 2014
by Ariel Adams
By the 1960s, Rolex had released most of the major models that would fall under the modern Rolex Oyster Professional umbrella. Additional models would come later of course, but each of them existed to build on concepts and timepieces that Rolex released from between 1953 and 1967. The most recent Rolex Oyster Professional models families are the Yacht-Master originally 1992, and the Sky-Dweller from 2012. Pretty much everything else such as the Explorer II and GMT-Master II was an evolution or update on an existing collection.
In 1971 Rolex released the Explorer II which combined the allure of the original Explorer with the GMT-Master. Rather than a rotating 24 hour bezel it has a fixed one, but offered the benefit of a second time zone. It was meant to be not just an explorer’s watch, but a more durable explorer’s watch meant for harsh conditions such as polar or underground exploration. One purpose of having a 24 hour hand on a timepiece such as this was giving explorers the ability to know whether it was day or night rather than use the GMT hand to indicate a second timezone. This was an important feature when exploring in a place where the sun didn’t go down, or deep in a cave without any sunlight.
The Yacht-Master is perhaps the odd man out because it was never developed for strictly professional use. The Yacht-Master is more a child of the times, as in the 1990s the mechanical watch industry was fully invested in moving upmarket. With sport watches being ever popular, Rolex was intent on producing a high-end, yet durable sport watch that people could use while sailing for sport or pleasure. Today, all Yacht-Master watches have either a platinum or gold bezel rather than a steel one. The Yacht-Master II was released in 2007 and was not only perhaps the largest Rolex watch produced, but also signaled an intent to delve into more complicated movements by Rolex. The Yacht-Master II contains a programmable countdown timer chronograph which is partially adjusted by turning the bezel.
I asked Rolex what year the term “Oyster Professional” began to be used in their marketing and sales materials, but they did not offer a specific response except to indicate the 1953 birth year of the pieces that began the collection. My instinct is that Rolex began to make a semantic distinction in the 1990s, or perhaps 1980s. Today Rolex Oyster Professional watches are more or less defined as their sport watches. While both men and women wear most models, only the Yacht-Master has specific versions for ladies with smaller-sized cases.
Even though Oyster Professional watches are sporty and durable by nature, I was curious as to what else, if anything separated them from Rolex’s other Oyster collection timepieces today. Specifically, I was curious about whether there were distinct production processes or tests that only Oyster Professional watches were subject to.
According to Rolex there is no specific list of features, production techniques, or tests that apply to all of the Rolex Oyster Professional watches, but overall the cases they use and the way they test the final watches are more rigorous than other watches they produce. Furthermore, the production of Oyster Professional timepieces can be more complicated than that of a Rolex Oyster Datejust or Day/Date. The Milgauss, for example, has a case that is surrounded by a magnetic shield, and the Deep Sea has extra features such as the Ringlock system, which is involved in its massive level of water resistance.
In the design phase Rolex Oyster Professional sport watches are given beefier cases and features such as crown guards to protect the crown. Even though not all professionals use mechanical timepieces today, Rolex is still invested in producing the highest-quality professional-use timepiece possible. Further, I would say that Rolex Oyster Professional watches are designed for greater longevity, but I don’t think that is true. From what I have experienced pretty much all Rolex timepieces are designed to last as long as possible given their intended use.
One area that Rolex Oyster Professional watches receive more intense durability testing is in regard to water resistance. All Rolex dive watches are tested first in an air chamber (along with other Oyster case models), and again in actual compression chambers filled with water. Rolex indicates that all of their dive watches are tested to be capable of withstanding 25% more than their posted water resistance level– an interesting bit of information for sure. The DeepSea models actually have their own special water testing chamber that Rolex developed with Comex. Because it tests so much more water pressure, the system that tests the water resistance of each DeepSea watch takes over an hour.
While Rolex offered some useful information in our discussion of the history and development of the Rolex Oyster Professional watch, aBlogtoWatch did visit Rolex’s manufacture to observe and better understand how Rolex makes its watches. Today Rolex Oyster Professional watches are luxury items that haven’t forgotten what made them popular and desirable items in the first place. Models such as the Submariner to the GMT-Master II are still so popular because they have never forgotten their tool watch origins. It is possible for novices to be confused as to why many of them share design features, but understanding their history and how Rolex built off previous models to develop new ones allows for a greater understanding of how the Rolex Oyster Professional family of watches evolved very organically.
It has been a while since Rolex has developed a new collection of watches with the professionals of today in mind. In 2012 Rolex surprised everyone by releasing the DeepSea Challenge concept watch that went down with James Cameron back to the Mariana Trench. That was very cool, more so knowing that Rolex literally had just weeks to produce it. Though it would also be interesting to see Rolex see to the needs of other modern active professionals in the creation of new members of the Rolex Oyster Professional family in the near future. So what is an Rolex Oyster Professional watch? In addition to being among the world’s most successful sport watches, they are also a signal of class and ideals that recalls Rolex’s achievements with professional wearers in the mid 20th century until today. rolex.com