Rolex Watch company
Rolex really isn't like any other watch brand. In fact, the privately held, independently run entity isn't like most other companies. I can say this now with a lot more clarity than most people because I was there.
Rolex rarely allows anyone into its hallowed halls, but I was invited to visit their four manufacture locations in Switzerland and experience first-hand how Rolex makes their famous watches.
Rolex is a universe of its own: respected; admired; valued; and known across the globe. Sometimes I sit back and think about all that Rolex is and does and find it hard to believe that at the end of the day, they just make watches.
Rolex does just make watches and their timepieces have taken on a role beyond that of mere timekeeper. Having said that, the reason a "Rolex is a Rolex" is because they are good watches and tell pretty good time. It's taken me over a decade to fully appreciate the brand, and it will probably take longer before I learn everything I'd like to know about them.
The purpose of this article isn't to give you a totally inside look at Rolex. That isn't possible because as of now there is a strict "no photography" policy at Rolex. There is a very real mystique behind the manufacture because they are relatively closed and their operations aren't public. The brand takes the concept of Swiss discreetness to a new level, and in a lot of ways that is good for them. So since we can't show you what we saw, I'd like to share with you some interesting facts that every Rolex and watch lover should know.
1. They Use An Expensive And Difficult To Machine Steel Because It Looks Better
Many watch lovers are familiar with the fact that Rolex uses a type of steel that no one else uses. Stainless steel is not all the same. Steel comes in various types and grades... and most steel watches are made from a type of stainless steel called 316L. Today, all the steel in Rolex watches is made from 904L steel, and as far as we know, pretty much no one else does. Why?
Rolex used to use the same steel as everyone else, but in around 2003 they moved their entire steel production to 904L steel. In 1988 they released their first 904L steel watch with a few versions of the Sea-Dweller. 904L steel is more rust and corrosion resistant, and is somewhat harder than other steels. Most important to Rolex, is that 904L steel, when worked properly, is able to take (and hold) polishes incredibly well. If you've ever noticed that steel on a Rolex watch looks different than other watches, it is because of 904L steel, and how Rolex has learned to work with it.
A natural question is why doesn't everyone else in the watch industry use 904L steel? A good guess is because it is more expensive and much more complicated to machine. Rolex had to replace most of their steel working machines and tools to deal with 904L steel. It made sense for them because of the amount of watches they produce, and because they make all their parts in-house. Most other brands get their cases made from outside suppliers. So even though 904L steel is better than 316L steel for watches, it is more expensive, requires special tools and skills, and is overall more difficult to work with. This has prevented other brands (so far) from taking advantage of it, and is something special that Rolex has. The benefit is obvious once you handle any steel Rolex watch.
2. Rolex Has Its Own Science Lab
aBlogToWatchGiven everything Rolex has done over the years it shouldn't come as a surprise that they have an internal Research & Development department. However, Rolex takes it well beyond that. Rolex has not one, but several different types of extremely well-equipped professional science labs at their various facilities. The purpose of these labs isn't just to research new watches and things that may go into watches, but also to research more effective and efficient manufacturing techniques. One way of looking at Rolex is that they are an extremely competent and almost obsessively organized manufacturing company - that just happens to make timepieces.
Rolex labs are as diverse as they are amazing. Perhaps the most visually interesting is the chemistry lab. Full of beakers and tubes that carry liquids and gases, the Rolex chemistry lab is full of highly trained scientists. What is it mostly used for? Well one thing that Rolex stated is that the lab is used for developing and researching oils and lubricants that they use in machines during the manufacturing process.