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Serious business at Rolex (1)
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Serious business at Rolex (1)

Wednesday, 05 October 2016
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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4 min read

In 2015, Rolex introduced a new standard of precision with a tolerance of -2/+2 seconds per day. In order to measure this precision, it had to first look at how its watches are worn. A task it has approached with characteristic thoroughness.

On September 28-29, delegates to the International Chronometry Conference in Montreux, hosted by the Société Suisse de Chronométrie, discussed “Innovation, a success factor for watchmaking”. As themes go, this was an apposite choice considering the extent to which watch companies build on the latest high tech in order to keep the dream alive, and more to the point keep the precision and reliability of their timepieces ahead of expectations. Innovation is, need we remind ourselves, a critical factor for the industry that has produced a plethora of new labels and certifications. Certain of these, and not the least, are set up by the brands themselves, and impose criteria so demanding as to probably push mechanical watchmaking to its very limits, or at least the limits of what we ordinary mortals can comprehend.

Rolex established a typical "user profile" or, in Rolex jargon, "statistical wearer".
A global survey

Rolex sparked its own revolution when in 2015 it introduced the Superlative Chronometer standard, extended a year later to all its collections. The brand with the coronet came to the conference to describe a process implemented with typical Rolex rigour. “Rate precision is an essential criterion in a wristwatch,” declared Emmanuel Dupas from Rolex to the assembled audience. “It can vary significantly according to the design of the watch, the quality of the components, the care taken when assembling and adjusting the movement, but also the conditions in which the watch is worn.” This last point, which is very much dependent on gravity, prompted Rolex to set out to establish a typical “user profile” or, in Rolex jargon, “statistical wearer”.

The means to this end was a global survey of more than 15,000 luxury watch wearers, the main findings of which are as follows: the “statistical wearer” straps his watch to his left wrist (82.5%), every day (62%) or at least every day of the working week (30%), for an average of twelve and a half hours. Meaning the watch almost never stops. He is inclined to wear his watch when playing sport (52%), regardless of what type of sport this is. The study also revealed that watches are worn at an average altitude of 126 metres and are not exposed to magnetic fields greater than 1,200 Gauss.

Gollum technique

So as to then determine the proportionate amount of time a watch spends in different positions – a vital consideration given that isochronism is not the same in each one – Rolex conducted a second survey of 185 of its own staff. They were equipped with a watch-like device fitted with direction sensors. The purpose of this second study was to establish a rate control protocol modelled on actual conditions of wear. This protocol also had to take into account the watch’s position when testing water-resistance, power reserve and the automatic winding system, all of which imply spending a certain time in a given position. Leaving the technical details to one side, these studies have produced a series of tests over three durations:
• 6 hours rotating on a cyclostock which examines all positions in space
• 4 hours dial up in a flat position corresponding to water-resistance checks
• 10 hours static in the six other positions determined by the study and for periods derived from its conclusions

By measuring the difference in state between the beginning and end of these 20 hours of tests, standardised for 24 hours, the watch’s rate should fall within a range of two seconds on either side of a target value that takes into account all other parameters such as altitude and temperature. According to Rolex, “the new measuring protocol has been defined so that this certified margin is statistically closest to that perceived by each individual wearer.” In view of the efforts deployed, we are nearing the ultimate stage whereby watch and wearer become one.

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