Rolex Oyster Chronometer
This proof of performance would contribute significantly to the rise of the wristwatch in popularity. On the strength of this achievement, Rolex would eventually become the world’s largest manufacturer of chronometer-certified wristwatches. The Geneva-based brand perfected the concept of the modern watch in 1926 by inventing the waterproof “Oyster” case to protect the movement inside and then, in 1931, by developing the self-winding “Perpetual” rotor movement. Today, all Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches are officially certified chronometers, carrying on the heritage of the pioneering role the brand played in bringing precision to the wristwatch.
That milestone feat of miniaturized precision — the very first “Class A” rating certificate for a wristwatch from the Kew Observatory near London, occurred on 15 July 1914, and would forever change the destiny of the modern watch.
Rolex’s 1914 Kew Observatory results
This first chronometer wristwatch not only met but passed with flying colors the British observatory’s demanding criteria, the most stringent in the world: 45 days of tests, in five different positions and at hree different temperatures (ice-cold, oven-hot and ambient). For the first time in history, a wristwatch fulfilled the requirements expected of the best marine chronometers. These navigation instruments, whose precision was used to determine the position of ships at sea (longitude), could not deviate by more than a few seconds per day without putting the safety of the ships at risk.
The tiny Rolex wristwatch that was certified by Kew 100 years ago recorded an average daily rate of only +1 second. This was the moment when the wristwatch gained legitimacy at the prestigious Observatory tests.
Rolex’s Kew Observatory Certificate from 1914
The 1914 Kew-certified Rolex wristwatch Chronometer
The man behind this feat was German-born Hans Wilsdorf, who founded Rolex in 1905. By obtaining this first chronometer certificate from Kew, Wilsdorf demonstrated that, in terms of precision, a small wristwatch could rival that of the best timepieces, including pocketwatches, which were the norm at the time. Thus, nearly two centuries after John Harrison designed the first marine chronometer, Rolex targeted an equal level of precision for a wristwatch.
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