TIDES OF INNOVATION
As early as 1926, Rolex, founded by the visionary Hans Wilsdorf in 1905, had already written one of the most compelling chapters in watchmaking history by producing and patenting the Oyster, the world's first waterproof wristwatch, put to the ultimate test by Britain's Mercedes Gleitze during her Channel swim in 1927.
The underlying principles of waterproofness, of which the iconic Oyster is the symbol par excellence, are the Rolex-patented watch case with screw-down case back and bezel, and screw-down winding crown.
Preceding the invention of the first waterproof wristwatch, however, were other singular Rolex achievements in the history of watchmaking technology, notably in 1910 – when a Rolex wristwatch obtained the first precision certificate ever awarded to a timepiece of this size and stature by the Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne, Switzerland – and in 1914, when Kew Observatory, in the United Kingdom, awarded this miniature marvel of a timepiece, which would come to replace the ubiquitous pocket watch, a class “A” precision certificate, heretofore reserved for marine chronometers. Armed with the certainty that wristwatch and precision could go hand in hand, Wilsdorf then continued the spirited search for a hermetically sealed timepiece shielded from both dust and water that could compromise its absolute precision.
In 1931 Rolex patented the Perpetual rotor, symbolic of the inexhaustible spirit of innovation that has fuelled a tide of Rolex inventions since 1926. The first free rotor self-winding movement for a wristwatch enabled the nascent Oyster Perpetual to run continuously, with the simple motion of the wrist. The Perpetual rotor represented yet another technical attribute that would further reinforce the waterproofness, and thus the chronometric precision, of the Oyster.
Rolex's affinity with the deep led to a continuum of groundbreaking technological innovations and ever more sophisticated timepieces tailored to the underwater world: the Oyster Perpetual Submariner (1953), originally waterproof to 100 metres (330 feet) and waterproof today to 300 metres (1,000 feet), the Oyster Perpetual Sea- Dweller 2000, launched in 1967, waterproof to 610 metres (2,000 feet) and featuring a helium valve to protect it during deep dives, and the 1978 Oyster Perpetual Sea- Dweller 4000, waterproof to 1,220 metres (4,000 feet), culminating in the creation of the revolutionary Oyster Perpetual Deepsea of 2008, waterproof to the extreme depth of 3,900 metres (12,800 feet).