The arrival in June of Rolex’s new CEO coincides with Bank Vontobel’s confirmation of the brand’s position at the forefront of the watch industry. This spate of good news is underscored by recent auction results. For years, Rolex has been a grail brand for collectors, and the recent sales in Geneva showed this is still very much the case.
In pursuit of excellence
This spring session saw Phillips make its debut on an auction scene that has so far been dominated by Antiquorum, Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Its two days of sales ended with an impressive total of CHF 29.6 million, for which Rolex can take some of the credit. Indeed, Phillips’ first sale was entirely given over to the iconic Day-Date, with no fewer than 60 examples crossing the block for a total CHF 6.2 million. They included “Big Kahuna”, one of just two known examples of Reference 6612 in platinum. It changed hands for CHF 473,000. Rolex was also one of the stars of the second day’s multiple brand sale of rare, quality timepieces, when a Cosmograph Daytona 6263 Oyster “Albino”, once owned by Eric Clapton, went for CHF 1.3 million, the highest price ever paid for a Rolex watch at auction.
That Rolex should have achieved almost mythical status for so many collectors is in no small part due to its virtual obsession with quality. This is, however, a brand that likes to proceed with caution, introducing change at a measured pace, in small yet decisive touches. Example: last year it presented its first ever silicon Syloxi hairspring – part of Calibre 2236 which equips the Oyster Perpetual Datejust Pearlmaster 34 – when in fact the brand was one of the first to experiment with silicon, more than a decade ago, alongside Patek Philippe and Swatch Group, in partnership with Centre Suisse d’Électronique et de Microtechnique. Asked why it chose a women’s timepiece, this was, as Rolex explained, for the simple reason that the movements in its men’s collections were performing exactly as required, including in terms of precision, without a silicon hairspring.
No silicon either for the new-generation Calibre 3255, presented in March at Baselworld, but instead a patented blue Parachrom hairspring in an exclusive alloy of niobium and zirconium. It combines with a large balance wheel with variable inertia whose four gold nuts enable extremely precise regulating. Rolex has reduced the thickness of the barrel walls by half. Thanks to the subsequent gain in space, the barrel accommodates a mainspring with greater capacity, thereby increasing the movement’s autonomy by more than 10 hours. LiGA processes (micro-manufacturing by electroforming) were used to produce the paramagnetic pallet fork and escape wheel of the new Chronergy escapement, a Swiss lever escapement which has been optimised to increase efficiency by 15% and contribute to the gain in power reserve, extended to more than 70 hours.
Calibre 3255 is backed by a total of 14 patents, including five that are specific to this movement which drives the Oyster Perpetual Day-Date 40, presented as a “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified”. As the brand explains, a chronometer is defined as a high-precision watch which in official tests has shown it does not lose or gain more than a few seconds a day; a superlative chronometer must be even more precise. Rolex therefore claims a margin of tolerance for its Calibre 3255 of -2/+2 seconds a day, whereas Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres awards its famous COSC certification to calibres that fall within a range of -4/+6 seconds a day. Rolex will always be Rolex.