Rolex dares you to destroy its watches

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on August 13, 2018.

Long-time Explorers Club member Dr Sylvia Earle wearing her trusty Datejust. Photos by Hodinkee

(From left) The Explorer II, Explorer and Submariner will be part of the Expedition Watch Programme.

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If you ever get the chance to visit the headquarters of The Explorers Club on Manhattan’s Upper East side, and can get past the giant stuffed polar bear and a sled from a 1909 North Pole expedition, be sure to look at the flags. These sometimes-tattered scraps of colourful cloth have extraordinary stories to tell. There, framed behind glass, are flags that have accompanied the club’s members to the top of Everest, the bottom of the ocean, and even to the surface of the moon on every Apollo mission (a smaller flag was carried on Apollo 11). The Explorers Club counts as members such luminaries as Dr Sylvia Earle, Captain James Lovell, James Cameron, and many, many more names you would likely recognise. The club’s library even holds the original application for membership of one Theodore Roosevelt, in which he lists as a qualification, “President of the United States”. He was accepted.

So-called “flag expeditions” are a long-held Explorers Club tradition. Members mounting significant scientific or exploratory expeditions can apply to carry one of the club’s flags, promising in return to file a detailed report of the expedition’s results and findings, and snapping a photo or two of the flag in the field. The flags that are sent into the field are typically rotated, so, for example, a flag that went to the top of Everest was the same one that travelled to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. Only after particularly significant expeditions, or once a flag is simply too tattered to be reused, it is retired, to live on behind glass on the walls of the Club’s headquarters on East 70th Street. Now joining these flags, both in the field, and on display at The Explorers Club, will be Rolex wristwatches, thanks to a new programme devised by the club and Rolex as part of their long-standing partnership.

Rolex has been a supporting partner of The Explorers Club for decades and, in addition to financial support through event underwriting and grants, has provided three watches to be worn on expeditions: an Explorer (duh!), an Explorer II and a Submariner. These watches are the subject of what is being called the “Rolex Expedition Watch Program” and will piggyback on existing flag expeditions. Watches will be awarded to worthy expeditions, based on detailed applications submitted to a selection committee that includes the first American woman to walk in space and one of the first men to the deepest spot in the ocean.


Club chairman a watch enthusiast

The chairman of the selection committee is David Concannon, a long-time Explorers Club member who was the organiser of the expeditions that found and recovered the F-1 rocket engines that powered the Apollo 11 moon mission. Concannon himself is something of a watch enthusiast. He wore his pre-Moon Speedy while on the Apollo F-1 recovery expedition and various Rolex watches on submarine dives to Titanic. He thinks the Rolex watch programme is a perfect fit for The Explorers Club.

“Many of the greatest triumphs in exploration, from finding the Titanic to breaking the sound barrier and reaching the deepest point in the world’s ocean, have been accomplished by Explorers Club members wearing Rolex watches,” Concannon said. “The Explorers Club is thrilled to be partnering with Rolex to further these achievements.”

The Explorer II, Explorer and Submariner will be part of the Expedition Watch Programme. As part of the programme, each selected expedition leader will wear the chosen Rolex for the duration of their mission, capturing photographic evidence of it for posterity and then returning the watch to the Club. Rolex will engrave the back of the watch to commemorate each expedition, a plaque will keep a running history of each watch’s use, and then the given watch will remain at the Explorers Club until the next assigned expedition. Like the flags, each watch will eventually be retired after a number of expeditions to be left on permanent display at the Explorers Club.

It is no secret that Rolex has a long history in exploration, having been on the wrists of Edmund Hillary, Reinhold Messner and Ed Viesturs in the mountains, Will Steger, Wally Herbert and Ranulph Fiennes at the Poles, and countless ocean explorers from Cameron and Earle to Jacques Cousteau. Who does not remember the full-page Rolex ads depicting adventurers in caves, on polar ice, or in volcano craters? Many of the explorers featured in those ads, including the aforementioned Hillary, Viesturs, Steger, Herbert, Cameron and Earle, were or are Explorers Club members.

Though it was advertising, there was something more authentic in that imagery than we tend to see these days. Rolex is trying to recapture that vibe and is refocusing some of its marketing on the brand’s history on wrists in harm’s way. — Bloomberg

This article was originally published on Hodinkee.