In uncharted territory

This article first appeared in Options, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on July 19, 2021 - July 25, 2021.
In uncharted territory
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Rolex presents timepieces that take us from the deepest caves to the highest mountain peaks, from the outer reaches of the solar system to isolated polar regions, and from ultra-precise technology to exacting artisanal craftsmanship

Since the beginning of time, humankind has pushed itself to the brink of the unknown, propelled in equal parts by curiosity and courage. It has stood at the very periphery of possibility and each step forward has cumulatively allowed for radical advancements in fields ranging from the Fourth Industrial Revolution to the space race.

Rolex has borne witness to some of these momentous accomplishments, from exploring the furthest, coldest corners of the planet to reaching the highest peaks. Its timepieces have proved able to withstand harsh terrains and extreme temperatures, assuring explorers of their reliability in endeavours where time management is vital to survival.

In the 1930s, the watchmaker started equipping expeditions to the Himalayas with its Oyster Perpetual timepieces. It was a tradition that continued for years as adventurers attempted to conquer the tallest mountain in the world. When Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay finally succeeded in reaching the summit of Mount Everest on May 29, 1953, they stood 8,848m above sea level with an Oyster Perpetual fastened around Hillary’s wrist.

The world was Rolex’s own laboratory by then, with real-life conditions influencing the evolution of its watches. When the Oyster Perpetual Explorer was launched in 1953 after the record-breaking ascent of Mount Everest, it was the pinnacle of robustness and precision. Watches in the Explorer collection would be inextricably linked to daring feats, having mastered frontiers from the depths of uncharted caves to the biting cold of the Arctic and the searing heat of volcanoes.

The new-generation Oyster Perpetual Explorer and Oyster Perpetual Explorer II carry on this proud heritage, pairing cutting-edge performance with quintessential elegance. These hardy tool watches blend seamlessly into urban landscapes, just as at home in boardrooms as they are in the polar regions.

Oyster Perpetual Explorer in Oystersteel and yellow gold

Clocking in at 36mm, the new Explorer is a nod to the size of the original 1953 model. All other cues are distinctly contemporary, from the yellow Rolesor construction (a combination of the corrosion-resistant alloy Oystersteel and 18-carat yellow gold) to the lacquered black dial. The bezel, Twinlock winding crown and bracelet’s centre links are forged from 18-carat yellow gold while the middle case, caseback and bracelet outer links are crafted from Oystersteel, creating a beautiful two-toned aesthetic.

Index hour markers and the emblematic 3, 6 and 9 numerals illustrate a familiar face, evoking the perseverance and spirit of adventure that guided explorers of the past. Most impressive is the optimized luminescent material that fills or coats the hour markers and hands that now lasts longer thanks to the innovative and exclusive luminiscent material with which they are filled or coated. In low-light or dark conditions, the Chromalight display glows a vivid blue while adopting a brighter white hue in daylight for readability.

Powering the timepiece is the self-winding Calibre 3230 that gives the model its Perpetual moniker. The Rolex designed and patented high-energy Chronergy escapment, Paraflex shock absorbers and blue Parachrom hairspring guarantee precision of up to 10 times more than a traditional hairspring in case of shocks. Thanks to its barrel architecture and the escapement’s superior efficiency, the power reserve of Calibre 3230 extends to approximately 70 hours. These touches help secure the accuracy and durability of the movement even in most treacherous environments.

The Explorer II, meanwhile, is heir to the prestigious relationship between Rolex and exploration. First launched in 1971, the technical watch rapidly established a reputation as an essential tool for those traversing far-flung destinations around the globe.

Oyster Perpetual Explorer II in Oystersteel

First, its 24-hour display, comprising an additional orange hour hand and engraved bezel, allows for the clear distinguishing of daytime and night-time hours. This is crucial underground or in the north or south poles where skies remain dark for up to six months during winter and are sunny throughout the extended summer. Alternatively, the 24-hour display can track a second time zone via the additional hand while certain conditions even allow it to act as a compass. Other cool functions include the instantaneous date at 3 o’clock, fitted with a magnifying Cyclops lens for easy reading of the date and stop-seconds for exact time setting.

Conducting this orchestra of features is the self-winding Calibre 3285, a mechanical movement developed and manufactured by Rolex in 2018, now introduced to the Explorer II for the first time. The company holds several patents that indicate its excellence in precision, reliability and resistance to shocks and magnetic fields. Finally, the innovative barrel architecture and efficiency of the escapement extend the power reserve to about 70 hours.

These superlative functions are hosted in a redesigned case and matching bracelet. The Explorer II is sculpted entirely from Oystersteel, spanning its monobloc middle case with screw-down caseback and Twinlock winding crown to the triple-link Oyster bracelet. Its 42mm case encircles a white lacquered dial with hour markers coated in black PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition) and the central hour, minute and second hands in black lacquer. Contrasting these accents is the 24-hour hand in signature orange, the same hue as the Explorer II inscription on the dial. Visual intrigue is further infused with the same optimized Chromalight display, which sees the hour markers and hands emit a more intense blue glow in the dark and dazzle a brighter white under the sun.

Both novelties feature hermetically screwed-down casebacks that can solely be disengaged with a special tool to ensure that only Rolex watchmakers are able to access the movement. The Twinlock winding crowns are fitted with a double waterproofing system and protected by an integral crown, ensuring water resistance of up to 100m.

Oyster Perpetual Datejust 36 in Oystersteel with an olive green palm motif dial

The Explorer and Explorer II boast the Oyster bracelet with patented Oysterlock folding safety clasp to safeguard against accidental unfastening and Easylink comfort extension link for effortless length adjustment of around 5mm. Contributing to the flowing aesthetic is the concealed attachment system that ensures continuity between bracelet and case.

Dial definition

Most timepieces are enlivened when light skims their dials to illuminate the watch faces. Rolex, however, believes in beauty from within. New editions of the Oyster Perpetual Datejust 36 and Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona house elements that exude ancient energy; the first features materials mined from deep within the Earth while the latter highlights a rare resource from the outer reaches of the solar system.

Artisans at Rolex treated these age-old substances with superlative craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology to create a spectacular series of dials. Adorning the new Datejust 36 is a tropical palm motif or the signature fluted motif found on Rolex bezels. These accents in vibrant, metallic hues of olive green, silver or lavish gold are crafted from copper, zinc, nickel, chromium, titanium and silicon.

The palm motif waves merrily from an Oystersteel timepiece with an olive green dial, a golden dial affixed to a yellow Rolesor watch (a combination of Oystersteel and 18-carat yellow gold), or a silver dial on an Everose Rolesor timepiece (a combination of Oystersteel and 18-carat Everose gold). Completing these wonderful offerings are three iterations with a fluted motif on their dials. The first is golden, with a yellow Rolesor case and a Jubilee bracelet. The second is bright blue, with an Oystersteel case and an Oyster bracelet, while the third model is in silver, with an Everose Rolesor case and Oyster bracelet.

Meanwhile, the Cosmograph Daytona novelties flaunt dials fashioned from metallic meteorite. These slices of rare fossils have unique markings that formed as the asteroid heart cooled while traversing the cosmos across millennia.

No two watches are therefore alike, with the individual patterns on the meteorite slices ensuring each is one of a kind. They serve as dials here within 18-carat white, yellow or Everose gold timepieces. The first features a black ceramic bezel paired with an Oysterflex bracelet and the latter two, metal bezels affixed to Oyster bracelets. The tachymetric scales on all are characteristic of the Cosmograph Daytona, but this classic depiction of speed has never been better contextualised than now, encircling real meteorite that has hurtled at unimaginable speeds through space and time.

Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona in 18-carat white gold with a meterorite and black dial

Set to sparkle

It is gemstones galore at Rolex this season as the watchmaker brings out its most precious of stones to play.

In the Oyster Perpetual Day-Date 36, also known as the presidents’ watch for the illustrious wrists it has garlanded, new iterations are swathed in diamonds, with 52 brilliant-cut icy gems across the bezel and 254 stones on the lugs, lug caps and case sides. Another 450 diamonds carpet the dial with their scintillating splendour.

Telling the time are enamel index hour markers and the Roman numerals VI and IX, which are coral-coloured in the yellow gold model, turquoise in the white gold version and burgundy to match the rosy hue of the Everose edition, each with polished alligator leather straps in matching colours. The Calibre 3255 animates the timekeeping, day and date functions, their precision guaranteed by Rolex’s own Superlative Chronometer certification.

Yellow and white gold were selected exclusively for the latest Oyster Perpetual Lady-Datejust, the precious metal proving to be the perfect canvas for the prestigious stones. As much a piece of haute joaillerie as it is haute horlogerie, diamonds tumble across every available surface, from the 158 brilliant-cut diamonds on the case sides and lugs to the 44 brilliant-cut diamonds on the bezel. The dial is fully paved with 291 diamonds, making room only for the 18-carat yellow gold Roman numerals finished in black. Finally, the President bracelet marries the gleam of gold with the glitter of 596 diamonds. The Calibre 2236, secured by the Superlative Chronometer certification, drives this timepiece as evidence that serious watchmaking can be inherently feminine and extraordinarily beautiful.