A Brief History of the Rolex Pearlmaster
The Pearlmaster is one of the more recent additions to the Rolex fleet, first appearing in 1992, the same year that saw the launch of the original Yacht-Master.
And just as that nautically flavored watch is essentially a Submariner in a more luxurious getup, underneath the Pearlmaster’s regal finery is one of the brand’s longest-running and most universally adored creations, the Datejust.
However, while that model, and the Lady-Datejust range especially, never lacked for precious stone enhancements, the Pearlmaster has taken it to an altogether different level. Sometimes known colloquially as the Masterpiece series, there is no hint of anything except the most opulent materials used in the construction. Cases are exclusively cast in 18k yellow, white or Everose gold, and the decoration is provided by diamonds, rubies and sapphires—either a conservative sprinkling or lashed across every surface.
In addition, a unique golden bracelet was crafted for the collection. Typified by five softly rounded links, some are also augmented with scores of flawless diamonds, and all are secured with a concealed Crownlock clasp.
The Pearlmaster is Rolex at its most creatively flamboyant, and the family also represents some of the most expensive pieces in the entire portfolio. They are at the pinnacle of both the watchmaker’s and gem-setter’s art, the epitome of chic elegance.
The Start of the Collection
The first of the Pearlmasters arrived in two sizes; 34mm and a 29mm model which was three millimeters larger than the smallest Lady-Datejust of the period.
Immediately drawing admiration for their immaculate aesthetics, they marked an overdue addition to Rolex’s range of watches aimed solely at a female audience, a demographic that has always lacked for any great variety in the past.
Far from being just eye-catching pieces of jewelry, the Pearlmaster collection also benefitted from the same industry-defining engineering prowess that has long been Rolex’s calling card.
Those original pieces were driven by the in-house Cal. 2135, a scaled down version of the base Cal. 3135. That legendary workhorse can be found in most of the brand’s three-hand and date men’s watches since 1988. The smaller movements inside the Pearlmasters had the distinction of the highest first time pass rates for accuracy and reliability at the COSC, the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute. In fact, they held the record until Rolex’s own replacement showed up, the Cal. 2235, in 1999.
The initial generation of the Pearlmaster featured yellow and white gold cases and the vast majority used only diamonds as ornamentation, most commonly set into the bezel and used for hour indexes. Dials were available in a variety of colors, although not as comprehensive a selection as the standard Datejust range. Mother-of-pearl models were, predictably, a great favorite, making each one a unique specimen.
At the end of the decade, with the upgrade in movement, the collection became even more lavish. Rolex’s legions of gemologists were given free rein to create highly extravagant examples, such as the ref. 80359 with a double ring of diamonds on the surround and lugs, or the ref. 80339, which had the option of adding a full pavé dial as well.
In 2005, the brand introduced their proprietary pink gold alloy, known as Everose, to the range. Like all the other metals the brand uses, it is forged in their own foundry.
The Modern Pearlmaster
In 2015, in keeping with the general direction of the rest of Rolex’s output, the Pearlmaster was given an increase in size options. Joining the lineup came a 39mm trio, with a choice of either a red grape, olive green or cognac sunburst dial. Far more than that though, the bezels were set with a ring of trapezoidal sapphires graduating through a range of colors to perfectly match the watch face.
Inside, it was the model to debut an all-new movement, the Cal. 3235, with Rolex’s revolutionary Chronergy escapement, granting an increase in efficiency of around 15%.
The following year, the remarkable ref. 86409RBR launched, the most sumptuous piece to date, a model drenched head to foot in so many diamonds that barely a trace of the white gold case or bracelet is visible. At around $200,000, it is currently one of the most expensive Rolex watches money can buy.
Around the same time, the 29mm version was quietly retired, leaving just the two larger pieces in the contemporary lineup.
Today, the Pearlmaster is a highly exclusive collection of extraordinary watches, aimed at the privileged few who can afford the very finest things in life.
Rolex Pearlmaster Milestones
|1992||Rolex releases the Pearlmaster range in both 29mm and 34mm versions. An offshoot of the Datejust family, they are unashamedly glamorous, featuring yellow and white gold cases and come festooned with diamonds. They are presented on their own eponymous bracelet, from where the series takes its name, and Rolex dubs them their ‘crowning jewelry watch’.|
|1999||The series is given a new engine, the Cal. 2235, replacing the original Cal. 2135. It is the third generation of movement developed specifically for Rolex’s ladies collection of watches, and becomes the most consistently accurate caliber ever tested by the COSC.|
|2005||Everose, or pink, gold becomes an option in the range for the first time.|
|2015||Rolex releases the first of the 39mm Pearlmasters. The series contains two yellow gold and one white gold model, with a choice of dial, and sapphire bezels which graduate in color to match.|
|2016||The ref. 86409RBR is released, another addition to the 39mm collection, entirely covered in diamonds, including the dial and the whole of the bracelet.|
— Featured Photo Credits: BeckerTime’s Photo Archive.