Elegant, classic, and contemporary, the Perpetual 1908 immortalizes Rolex’s age-long daring spirit. But how did Rolex come to be?
Rolex is one of the most well-known watch brands in the world. No matter where you are, people recognize the brand and its logo. But unlike other watch brands, Rolex may be considered as a “young” brand, founded only in 1905 while others date as far back as the 18th century.
Rolex was founded in 1905 by Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law Alfred Davis in London. They called their company Wilsdorf and Davis. They imported Swiss movements, placed them in watch cases, then sold them to jewelers who put their own names on the dial. They marked their watches with “W&D” inside the caseback.
Wilsdorf wanted to change the name into something that is easier to remember, something that could easily be pronounced in any language, something short enough to fit on the face of the watch. So in 1908, he changed the name from Wilsdorf and Davis to Rolex.
The first World War came in 1914 and ended in 1918. Because of the heavy post-war taxes in 1919 levied on luxury imports and high export duties on the silver and gold used for watch cases, Rolex had to move the company from England to Geneva, Switzerland. At around this time, Rolex and other watch brands were dealing with the problem of dust and moisture getting into the case through the dial and crown. In 1926, a third-party casemaker produced a waterproof and rustproof wristwatch for Rolex, giving it the name “Oyster”. The original patent was credited to somebody else, but Rolex bought the patent and marketed the product.
In 1927, Rolex lent an Oyster to British swimmer Mercedes Gleitze, who swam the English Channel fastened around her neck. The Oyster survived the over 10-hour ordeal. In 1931, Rolex patented a self-winding mechanism called a Perpetual rotor, a semi-circular plate that rotates to wind the mainspring at the movement of the wearer’s wrist. When Rolex put this movement into the Oyster, the Oyster Perpetual was born.
As the years went on, Rolex was able to produce iconic watch designs such as the Daytona. One look at the fluted bezel and you know that it’s a Datejust. These designs have been around and will continue to be part of Rolex’s design cues for years to come. This year, however, Rolex introduces a new collection to its already impressive line of watches: the Perpetual collection. This new line of watches will exhibit the new face of excellence, the same excellence that Rolex has had for the past decades. The first watch under this new banner is called the Perpetual 1908, a name given to the model in homage to the year Hans Wilsdorf coined the name “Rolex” to sign his creations.
This elegant and understated watch features a slim case crowned with a bezel that is part domed and part finely fluted. In 18 ct yellow or white gold, the case is fitted with a transparent case back which allows the technical sophistication and the decoration on the movement to be seen and admired. The particularly sleek dial, either intense white or intense black depending on the version, is graced with Arabic numerals 3, 9 and 12, and faceted index hour markers. It also offers a small seconds subdial at 6 o’clock, with the words ‘Superlative Chronometer’ above it in an arc. The hour hand is distinctive for the circle just before the tip, while the minute hand is shaped like a two-edged sword. The model is fitted on a brown or black alligator leather strap, equipped with a Dualclasp, a double folding clasp. The 1908 is equipped with the newly unveiled calibre 7140. This movement includes the Chronergy escapement, the Syloxi hairspring, and Paraflex shock absorbers.
The escapement is made up of several moving parts and is considered the “heart” of the watch. Power is released by the mainspring (that thing you wind up to make a mechanical watch move) and transferred to the escapement. It has a balance wheel with specially designed gear teeth. The power transferred to the escapement makes the balance wheel turn. As the balance wheel turns, a pallet fork (with two “tines”) stops the balance wheel from turning using one tine. As the fork releases the gear tooth, the other tine comes in and stops it again. This allows the balance wheel to turn one gear tooth at a time. This is also what causes the ticking sound you hear on mechanical watches. As the balance wheel turns, it causes the hands of the watch to turn around the dial, telling time.
The classical escapement was not a very efficient design. A lot of the energy it receives from the mainspring is dissipated rather than efficiently transferred to the balance wheel. And a lot of this has to do with inertia. Inertial is defined as the tendency for objects to remain at rest or remain in motion until acted upon by an external force. The heavier an object at rest is, the more force needs to be exerted to move it. Likewise, the heavier an object in motion is, the more force is needed to stop it.
Take the case of the balance wheel. If it is too heavy, it will take a lot of force to make it turn. If this is so, then a lot of the energy is used up just to make the balance wheel turn. That is a lot of wasted energy. To address this problem, Rolex decided to lighten up the components and make them smaller and/or skinnier. They also changed the geometry of the escape wheel teeth by skeletonising them. By reducing the amount of energy needed to turn the balance wheel, they were able to increase the power reserve of the watch.
In addition to the redesign of the balance wheel, they also manufactured it and the pallet fork out of paramagnetic materials, making them resistant to magnetic fields, which ultimately increases the precision of the watch.
A hairspring (or balance spring) is a spring attached to the balance wheel. It causes the balance wheel to oscillate with a resonant frequency when the watch is running, which controls the speed at which the wheels of the timepiece turn, thus the rate of movement of the hands. For the 1908, Rolex uses a Syloxi (a silicon and silicon oxide composite) hairspring, a product of years of research that makes full use of the potential of silicon technology and brings an exceptional level of precision and reliability. By using a Syloxi hairspring, Rolex is able to minimize the effects of environmental disturbances that affect the oscillator’s performance like temperature variations, magnetic disturbances, gravity, and shocks. This innovation allows the movement to be up to 10 times more accurate than traditional hairsprings.
The third feature of this movement is the Paraflex shock absorbers. The invention of shock absorbers on the balance wheel for watches isn’t a new thing. It was invented as early as the 1930s. But it had its limits. In an effort to optimize the reliability of these shock absorbers, Rolex redesigned its essential functions and developed a system that would increase its resistance by 50 per cent while preserving the chronometric properties of the balance wheel. Its innovative geometry allows the shock absorber to withstand extremely demanding conditions. It ensures that the spring remains firmly positioned on the support with no risk of deformation. It can also be positioned in any direction on installation without affecting performance.
Like all Rolex watches, the Perpetual 1908 is covered by the Superlative Chronometer certification redefined by Rolex in 2015. This designation testifies that every watch leaving the brand’s workshops has successfully undergone a series of tests conducted by Rolex in its own laboratories according to its own criteria. For a long time now, watches are considered a chronometer (a watch that tells accurate time) if it passes the tests conducted by the COSC. The parameter is that the watch should have a time variance of +6 to -4 seconds per day. Rolex’s parameter is set at +2 to -2 seconds per day, a rate significantly smaller than the COSC for official certification. The Superlative Chronometer status is symbolized by the green seal that comes with every Rolex watch and is coupled with an international five-year guarantee.
“This new collection is a reinterpretation of traditional watchmaking style imbued with quintessential watchmaking expertise and the aesthetic heritage of Rolex.”
The 1908 features a 39 mm case in 18 ct yellow or white gold, with gracious lines and a transparent back that allows the refined aesthetics of the movement to be admired as well as the pivoting of the oscillating weight. The curve of the lugs is highlighted thanks to a gentle chamfering on their top edges. The bezel is divided – the lower part being given an elegant fluting and the upper part domed. Made of virtually scratchproof sapphire, the domed crystal and the transparent case back benefit from an anti-reflective coating. Guaranteed waterproof to a depth of 50 meters (165 feet), the case provides optimal protection for the movement nestled inside.
The 1908 is fitted on an alligator leather strap. Matte brown or matte black, this elegant strap is individually tailored for the new watch, with a green calfskin lining and tone-on-tone stitching. It is equipped with a Dualclasp, a double folding clasp, in 18 ct yellow or white gold. Thanks to its carefully designed shape, the Dualclasp always sits centered on the wrist.
Inspired by one of the first Rolex watches fitted with the Perpetual rotor, the 1908 is the first member of the Perpetual collection. This new collection is a reinterpretation of traditional watchmaking style imbued with quintessential watchmaking expertise and the aesthetic heritage of Rolex. The 1908 is defined by its design, which conveys the full strength of the watch’s character in the simplicity of the display and by details that confer its unique identity. This timepiece perfectly embodies the spirit of the Perpetual collection, at whose core lies the celebration of the art of watchmaking in its noblest form.