Life Style

How Rolex Pioneered Waterproofing

Its durable nature coupled with fine craftsmanship has made the brand a household name for even non-watch enthusiasts. Capable of withstanding harsh conditions and the like, Rolex’s steadfast design can be traced back to the creation of their Oyster case back in 1926.

Its conception led to the myriad of watches today which hold the distinct title of “water-resistant”.

The Start of Something New

Before the Oyster case, pocket watches were the standard timepiece for men. It provided a protective cover against the elements and could be safely stowed away in a gentlemen’s garments when not in use.

Hans Wilsdorf, the would be founder of Rolex, worked at a watch company in La–Chaux-de-Fonds and noticed a particular trend. People were beginning to adopt an interest in the outdoors and started doing more sports. The watches in the market could not be incorporated into such a lifestyle due to their relative fragility.

He saw the need for sturdy timepieces that were able to adapt to society’s more rigorous activities. Hans decided that he would create enduring watches that could be reliable and accurate for the modern active man.

The primary concern when developing such a watch was engineering a way to stop moisture and dust from entering it, preventing oxidation and clogging.

His first creation in the pursuit of that ideal was the Submarine which was launched in 1922. With its bezel and crystal screwed down to make the outer case watertight, it became one of the first truly “water-resistant” watches.

The Next Step in Watch Ingenuity 

Named after an oyster’s ability to remain underwater indefinitely without harm, the Oyster Case would be created, forming the backbone for Rolex’s waterproof technology. 

By screwing down the bezel and winding crown against the middle case, the case was hermetically sealed, protecting it from external elements.

To promote this feature, Hans recruited the help of a young secretary named Mercedes Gleitze. She was planning to swim across the English channel, becoming the first lady ever to accomplish such a feat. Hans requested that she carry one such Oyster with her to demonstrate its waterproofing capabilities. 

She accomplished her task and rose from the waters with the oyster none the worse for wear. The Times newspaper would later report that Gleitze “carried a small gold watch, which was found […] to have kept good time throughout.”

Are Rolexes fully waterproof?

Although Rolex has adapted its designs throughout the years, the oyster case is still utilized for the majority of Rolex watches. In fact, all of Rolex’s catalogue except for the Cellini range benefit from at least 100m of water resistance.

Such water resistance is more than the ability to be submerged in water but rather a sign of quality and the intricate engineering that goes into each piece.

Yet when it comes to the term “waterproof” it is important to understand its distinction from “water-resistant”.

For a watch to be truly waterproof, it has to be protected from water regardless of circumstance and duration. Even Rolex watches will not be left unscathed if left submerged for long periods.

The main concern when it comes to maintaining the integrity of a watch case would be the pressure exerted.

The world record for diving currently stands at 300ms. This is a fair share deeper than the average recreational scuba diver who would normally traverse only up to 40ms in depth. This is well within the average water-resistance a Rolex provides. 

Water Resistance Hazards

While the average Rolex is water resistant enough to accommodate the average person, many factors can compromise the waterproofing integrity of a Rolex.

1. Heat Exposure 

While bathtubs are shallow in comparison to the open sea, they can be a good deal hotter. This heat may alter the shape of the rubber which seals the gasket, rendering it ineffective.

2. Vintage Models 

As Rolex watches age, their water-resistant capabilities will erode with time. This is because gaskets and seals will naturally lose their elasticity, forming a weak seal against water. The best way to check if your watch is compromised is to have an authorized Rolex dealer inspect the seals.

3. Replacement Parts

Every component that goes into a Rolex is put through extensive testing and under specific conditions before they are certified as water-resistant. If you replace parts of your Rolex with components that did not originate from the manufacturer, you risk your watch’s water-resistant integrity.

Rolexes for All

Looking to own one of Rolex’s timeless pieces? Browse our Rolex collection to find a watch that you can depend on for years to come.

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