The question of how Rolex watches are made is one that has always been asked and will always be.
There’s just something mysterious about Rolex that keeps people guessing and wondering. No one can correctly sum up what the brand is, and this is part of the things that have added to Rolex’s unparalleled success in today’s industry of watchmaking.
Rolex is easily the most successful watchmaker in history with its pieces functioning as social and even actual currency.
The secret of how Rolex makes its watches is only known by very few. That is, those who have personally been invited to any of their large manufacturing sites. And even those who have been must enter into a strict agreement with Rolex to never take photos. Plus, just like Bikini Bottom’s Krusty Krab, Rolex has its trade secret that it never reveals, even to the privileged few invited into its hallowed halls.
There are some information generally known about Rolex watches and how they are made, though. These we will share in this article, including the veracity (or not) of the alleged fact that Rolex takes a year to make its watches.
Before we go on, here is a little something to chew on. This video gives a brief overview of what it’s like in a watchmaking lab. It’s not a video of how a Rolex is made but it put things in perspective. You’d be in awe of the patience and dexterity required to make the timepiece on your wrist.
Where Rolex Watches Are Made
Rolex has four large facilities in four different locations in Switzerland where it makes it watches. Of the four locations, three are in Geneva. There, everything from the production of watch cases to the assembling of the final products are carried out. The movements, on the other hand, are made somewhere else in Bienne which is about two hours away from Geneva. Bienne is the city bordering the French and German speaking parts of Switzerland.
The only parts of a Rolex watch that are not made in any of these four locations are the sapphire crystals as well as the watch hands. These are outsourced, but of course, are still made to pass Rolex’s strict quality control tests before they are included in any watch.
As we mentioned earlier, Bienne is not located within Geneva. Bienne is the place where all Rolex movements are made.
Over at Rolex, movements are made entirely by hand by skilled technicians professionally trained to work with tiny watch components.
Besides manufacturing the watch movements, these skilled technicians also assemble the watch movements with precision in order to meet strict accuracy standards of the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC).
This is where Rolex makes its watch bracelets as well as its cases. The team over at Plan-Les-Ouates creates the 18Kt gold alloys which Rolex uses for its watches. The team also casts the gold afterward and polishes the parts of the watch individually to ready them for final assembling.
In Chene-Bourg, the activities carried out are mostly gem-related. From the gemmology to the setting of the gems, everything concerning gems used in Rolex watches are carried out here. This is also where all Rolex dials are made as well.
The Rolex headquarters is domiciled at Acacias. This is where communication, design, and sales are carried out. It is also the venue of Rolex’s research and development labs. By the way, Rolex is about the only watchmaking company to have its own fully independent science lab. And these labs are fully modernized and with every equipment necessary. (To learn more, click here to read Why Is Rolex So Expensive?)
The science labs over at Acacias are used to carry out all kinds of research activities such as stress testing on the watches as well as simulating wear and tear to ensure that the watches and its component parts are robust enough to withstand extended usage. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Rolex watches practically live forever.
Now, check out this video to see how a Rolex watch is made.
How Rolex Watches Are Made — Materials Used
Beginning from 2003, Rolex began to use 904L stainless steel to make its watches as against the 316L stainless steel. 904L stainless steel is a more preferable material in comparison to 316L stainless steel as it is more resistant to corrosion and rust.
However, interestingly, it is still not used by other companies in the watchmaking industry. Naturally, it begs the question, right? Well, 904L stainless steel isn’t exactly easy to work with. The steel is quite tough and expensive to use. Nonetheless, Rolex chooses to use 904L stainless steel because it is quite resilient and takes a polishing pretty well too.
Rolex only has a limited number of steel suppliers because it likes to work with the best only. When steel is received from these suppliers, it is then worked on in-house with the state-of-the-art machinery Rolex has in its facilities to make its stainless steel watch parts.
Another outstanding thing about Rolex is that it makes its gold in-house with its world-class foundry located within its facilities. In fact, Rolex is the only watchmaking company in the world to have its own on-site foundry. This gives the company the opportunity to melt its own gold and use it in the making of watch cases and other watch components. Rolex makes its own gold from white gold to yellow gold, including its very own non-fading 18-carat Everose gold.
How Rolex Watches Are Made — Research And Testing
Rolex has its own science lab where it carries out research constantly to create new technology that will improve their timepieces. Rolex also makes it a point to lead the watch industry with newer technologies, innovative watch functions, and more precise movements.
In total, Rolex has more than 6,000 people on its payroll and most of them are scientists and researchers.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Rolex is popularly known as an innovation leader in the field of watchmaking. Altogether, Rolex has over 400 patents registered under its name. Some of them include the first waterproof wristwatch ever (the Oyster), the first wristwatch to ever resist water at a depth of 100 meters (the Submariner), as well as the first watch to simultaneously display two time-zones at a time (the GMT-Master).
Because Rolex has a thing for perfection, watches are always tested in the most extreme of conditions before they are sold to the public. So, divers watches are tested individually in pressurized water tanks to make sure that they are actually resistant to water.
According to what we know, only about 1 in every 1,000 watches fails the rigorous testing methods Rolex employs. This tells you what a painstaking work Rolex does in its facilities.
Do Rolex Watches Really Take A Year To Produce?
You probably already know that Rolex makes about a million watches annually. Nonetheless, it might come as a surprise to you that it takes about one year to make a Rolex watch from start to finish. This gives you an inkling of how much care Rolex puts into the making of its timepieces. There are no shortcuts at all and all the processes are long and painstaking.
Rolex is not bothered about time or cost as long as the high quality they are known for is preserved.
For processes that require a high level of delicateness and detail beyond the ability of a human being, Rolex has invested in high-tech robots to deliver on those.
In summary, Rolex leaves no stone unturned in ensuring that its watches are manufactured according to the highest standards and tested in the most extreme of circumstances. By the time a Rolex watch leaves the facilities to the jeweler’s store, you can rest assured that it is the highest quality luxury timepiece you have ever seen.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that all the big names own and/or wear a Rolex. Care to find out the big names who own a Rolex? Click here to read: Who Wears A Rolex? — The Big Names.