After spending well into four digits on a Rolex watch, many first time owners second-guess whether they should wear their new Rolex during certain activities for fear of damaging their new purchase. Purchasing a new Rolex is similar to purchasing a new car. A new Rolex possesses that new car look; no scratches, any polished area of the watch looks completely virgin to the elements, and there is no dirt or gunk in any seams. Some new Rolex owners keep the plastic coverings on the watch to hopefully preserve the watch’s “new car look,” but ultimately dust and dirt work its way underneath the covers and they start to peel off. Fortunately, one of the joys of owning a Rolex is to not have to worry about it breaking during normal use and relatively normal activity.
Since its inception, Rolex was designed to withstand the elements. Rolex’s patent of the Oyster case and Twinloc and Triploc crowns were specifically keeping water and dust out of the watch mechanism. Rolex’s utilization of sapphire crystal, or impact-resistant acrylic crystal on its’ pre-1990 watches were designed for active use. Rolex’s utilization of a full balance bridge, Parachrom hairspring, and an updated shock absorption system for the balance wheel are all in the spirit of having the most complicated watch in the Rolex line as durable as its heaviest sports watch.
With all that said, Rolex owners still ask whether its safe to wear a Rolex for “insert activity name here”. The way many veteran Rolex wearers see it, that whatever elements and activities their limbs can handle, their Rolex can as well. Understandably, people want to avoid making a somewhat silly mistake of breaking their Rolex in a careless fall during an activity. Skin heals from a silly fall, but a simple sapphire crystal crack requires a full service because sapphire crystal tends to leave shards of glass that can fall into the watch movement as well as scratch the watch face/dial*. The following are some guidelines that will help you decide whether to wear your Rolex during activities:
Do you have an insurance rider for your Rolex?
Many insurance companies allow separate insurance riders for high value items added to home or renters insurance. Insurance is also available from Jewelers Mutual that covers any watch loss or breakage. If your Rolex is insured, then wear it (and one of the reasons for having insurance). Insurance for your Rolex is relatively inexpensive.
Will the activity involve falls?
A Rolex movement will survive most activities but the most vulnerable part of the watch is the sapphire crystal. Although Rolex has many pro-tennis players as Rolex Ambassadors, a slip on a tennis court and landing on your Rolex very well might crack the crystal. Running and cycling have the same issue with falls; the movement will survive but not necessarily the crystal.
Is the activity in close proximity to items that can damage the crystal?
Going under an engine hood with a wrench will certainly make your Rolex vulnerable to getting slammed caused by a stiff bolt breaking loose. Also, moving weights around a gym requires your Rolex being in close proximity to heavy iron. Mountain/rick climbing is another area where the watch crystal is close to something that can pop the crystal. Iron or granite vs sapphire? = sapphire loses.
Does the activity include g-forces on the watch?
This is an area where there is much debate. Rolex has survived supersonic flights, land speed records, amusement park rides, and prolonged time in space. A Rolex might find itself speeding up during a game of golf or after running because of the extra g forces placed on the balance spring. The g-forces themselves will not damage a Rolex, but repeated g-forces such as in tennis or golf has the potential of pre-maturely wearing the balance staff or the winding balance staff. Both of these items are replaceable during a five-year service.
Is there a lot of sand or grit?
Depending on the Rolex model, grit is an enemy to a rotating bezel and bracelet links. One might think twice of wearing a gold Yachtmaster II or SkyDweller in water that has sand or grit. After wearing in gritty water, be sure to rinse the watch completely.
Are you going more than 100 meters under water?
Without going into the vagaries of static vs. dynamic water pressure, you can wear your 10 atm (100 m) water resistant Rolex in the pool or the shower, -just be sure to have the winding crown fully closed. If a Rolex can withstand 100m of static water pressure, it can handle shampoo. The only caveat is not heat your Rolex in a hot tub very often or for a long time.
Despite the fear of something smashing the crystal, many people wear their Rolex all the time. The constraints listed above are exceptional and not typical of most Rolex wearers. Personally, I wear my Rolex while cycling. Even though I did smash a DateJust on one fall, all my Rolexes after that have been insured. It is much easier to have your Rolex with you all the time rather than worrying about whether to remove it. Rolex likes to follow that logic as well.
* If your sapphire crystal cracks, immediately unscrew the crown and pull it out to stop the movement from running. Sapphire crystal shards may scratch the watch face from the rotating hands, and any shards that fell into the movement can also do damage if the movement is still running.