By setting up its own state-of-the-art foundry where it casts its gold, Rolex is able to consistently ensure the superlative quality of its most precious materials.
Fine watchmaking is a painstaking endeavour. Even as the world’s top brands push the innovative limits of mechanical timekeeping, just as much care must be given to the tiniest of aesthetic details. There is so little surface area to work with, as watchmakers strive to make every millimetre on your wrist count — Rolex is one to excel at this meticulous task.
Beyond a precise and robust movement, the case and bracelet play an integral role in the creation of a perfect watch. To ensure that only the finest of precious metal is used in its luxury watches, Rolex set up its own foundry in the early 2000s – a rarity in an industry that traditionally outsources this process. The foundry is located just outside Geneva, in the largest of Rolex’s multiple watchmaking facilities, and it is here that some of the most exactingly cast gold in watchmaking is made.
The work of a foundryman is physically and mentally demanding. Because pure, 24 ct gold is too malleable for daily use, it must be alloyed to make 18 ct gold, which is what Rolex utilises exclusively. The process begins by pouring the liquid metals into a graphite crucible in quantities so precise they are measured to within one-tenth of a gram. Failure to get these measurements just right will impact the purity of the final product.
Once in the crucible, the metals are heated to temperatures that can exceed 1,150 degree celsius, after which they are passed through a sieve. To prevent ambient oxygen from oxidising the metals, they are continuously torched. As the liquid forms into droplets, they fall like shimmering rain into a vat of cool water, forming beads of 18 ct gold. Once the beads are dried, they are meticulously inspected for flaws, with samples taken to verify their composition and fineness.
At this point, a second fusion must take place in a machine. While this means a brief respite from the earlier sweltering conditions, the foundryman must remain vigilant as the beads are placed in the furnace of a continuous casting machine. In there, the beads melt and are cast through a water-cooled die where they solidify into the required shapes. Slabs are made for the middle cases and case backs, bars are reserved for bracelet links, and rods are used for the making of bezels.
During the two-hour machine process, the foundryman needs to ensure the gold solidifies at the correct rate and that the dies are rigorously aligned for a perfectly straight casting. The temperatures of everything from the machine tools, gold bath to cooling water must be precise, as one mistake can ruin an entire casting. With the utmost attention to ensure all goes smoothly, the still-hot castings are once again inspected for quality before being sent to their respective metal-forming workshops.
Having complete control over the casting process also allows Rolex to formulate its own gold alloys to get the desired shade and attributes. It is common for many watchmakers to coat their white gold watches with a very thin layer of rhodium in order to give it a brighter, whiter appearance. However, if and when that coating wears off, the original gold will start to yellow over time.
Rolex takes no such shortcuts.
Its white gold is mixed with a small percentage of palladium (a metal that is about 15 times rarer than platinum) in order to maintain that lustrous, silvery white sheen. In 2005 it also introduced its very own 18 ct pink gold, known as Everose. The patented formula, which consists of gold, copper and platinum, allows for a pink hued gold that will never fade in colour in spite of time or exposure to the elements.
The proof is in the pudding, and this craftsmanship is evident in the finished products. One of the most varied lines in the Rolex collection that features the different precious metals is the Oyster Perpetual Lady-Datejust.
The available options are tantalisingly many, with the choice of fluted or smooth bezels, gem-setting, a variety of dials and, of course, cases and bracelets in 18 ct yellow, white or Everose gold. There is also the iconic Rolesor option, a combination of Oystersteel (a type of steel alloy that has superior anti-corrosion and polishing properties compared to regular stainless steel) and white, yellow or Everose gold.
This year, the brand has also introduced a new 18 ct white gold Lady-Datejust with a pink opal dial, and a bezel set with 44 brilliant-cut diamonds.
All of the Lady-Datejust models are equipped with the in-house automatic calibre 2236 and bear Rolex’s own Superlative Chronometer Certification which puts movements through more stringent testing than the standard COSC certification. Rolex’s quintessential lady’s watch is truly a sublime showcase of form, function and style.