I had an interesting conversation with a Facebook friend today. As a joke, I’d posted a wrist shot of my Oyster Perpetual against a background of my computer monitor wallpaper – a view of a Caribbean beach hut.
My Facebook friend commented, “Why would you wear a Rolex near salt water???”
I responded that I didn’t understand. That Rolexes were tool watches, first and foremost.
She retorted, “And I would know this because…? I haven’t worn a watch since 80s – kept destroying the batteries in record time.”
So I let her in on the joke, which was that a viewer couldn’t tell it was my computer monitor. My caption to the original photo was, “What just happened? Where am I?”
And I responded to her knee-jerk response…
“You’re right, of course. The general public has come to know Rolex as the brand of the 1%. An expensive, fancy, delicate, jewel-encrusted status symbol that happens to tell time.
“All of that is true in certain cases, except the “delicate” part. And in fact, they were not always so expensive (but that’s another story).
“Rolex is tremendously innovative. The company invented the water-tight case – the Oyster – in 1926. They followed that with a patent for automatic winding – the Perpetual – in 1931.
“In fact, they’ve generated over 1000 patents in 110 years (the company was founded in London in 1905). That’s nearly one a month – for over 100 years!
“Rolex watches have been to some of the deepest parts of the oceans – including the Challenger Deep – on the OUTside of the submersible.
“They’ve been to the highest point on Earth upon the wrist of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay when he accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary to the summit of Everest in 1953 (Hillary’s watch was in his pocket).
“They were sent to Allied PoWs during WW II, with what amounted to promissory notes. Servicemen could pay for the watches after the war, when they would again be gainfully employed – a subtle nod to Rolex’s faith in the Allied forces. One of these watches was used to time critical events as prisoners carried out The Great Escape.
“They were issued to British frogmen in the 1960s and 70s. French deep water diving contractor COMEX would not allow their divers in the water – period – without a Rolex on their wrist.
“When intercontinental air travel began to become routine via Pan American World Airways in the late 50s and early 60s, Rolex watches helped pilots keep to established sleep schedules, and thus kept air travelers safe.
“They’ve graced the wrists of world leaders good and bad, from Che Guevara to Fidel Castro to Martin Luther King to Winston Churchill to Dwight Eisenhower to… to… to…
“Now… if you’d replaced your quartz watch with a Rolex Lady Datejust in the 1980s, you’d likely still be wearing it. It’s an Oyster Perpetual, just as tough as its big brothers, automatically wound – no batteries to change, and they’re built well enough to last a few lifetimes.
“And there you have it. A snapshot of a renown but often misunderstood company whose purpose-built watches go to work everyday on the wrists of adventurers and diplomats, rappers and gangsters, people who want another gold bracelet on their wrist and people whose lives depend on knowing the exact time and passage thereof.”
I wonder if she’ll think I’m rubbing it in.