From maintaining contemporary watches to refurbishing exceptional historic timepieces, this is how the pre-eminent Swiss watch brand maintains its philosophy of perpetual excellence
One of the most celebrated qualities of Rolex watches is, without doubt, their famed durability. That, and their, shall we say, perpetual reliability. The brand’s Oyster case is an excellent case in point, an outstanding example of robustness (which ensures the “durability” part) that offers superior protection for a watch’s movement (thereby ensuring “reliability”).
That, however, is only part of the equation. Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, was a visionary entrepreneur and had the foresight to anticipate just how successful wristwatches would be in the early 20th century. So, his philosophy that every watch should be reliable and durable is not only limited to the design and manufacture of timepieces, but also in its efficient after-sales services, which helps to preserve the excellent technical performance and pristine appearance of Rolex watches.
Today, Rolex World Service is present on all continents thanks to service centres, essentially watchmaking workshops operated by official retailers or regional affiliates’ offices. At each of these workshops, the after-sales servicing of watches is carried out by one or more Rolex-certified watchmakers. Just like the way Rolex watches are manufactured, maintenance of these timepieces are done strictly according to the brand’s guidelines and requirements. In fact, Rolex’ after-sales service procedures are actually planned for during product development. All in all, Rolex is committed to providing exceptional service no matter the condition of the watch.
On that note, we take a detour to Geneva, home to the Rolex Training Centre which was inaugurated in 2018. Watch afficionados are no doubt familiar with the term “in-house” being used when reading descriptions of, say, the movement of a Rolex watch; it’s only natural that the brand carries out in-house training for all of its watchmakers as well. The brand also provides an eighteen-month programme, simply called Rolex Watchmaking Training, at its affiliates. Watchmakers who have completed this programme are then certified to carry out full servicing on Oyster movements. They will also regularly take specific courses to maintain their level of expertise and keep abreast of changes to the brand’s products and techniques.
Another major concern for watch owners is the availability of parts, especially for older models. As it happens, for every watch produced by Rolex, parts and labour will be available for at least 35 years after the specific model has been withdrawn from the brand’s official catalogues. And past that, if parts are no longer available, the Restoration Atelier can recreate unavailable parts – but more on that later.
Now, so far, we’ve covered Rolex’ philosophy for after sales servicing as who does the servicing and how they are trained. Oh, and did we mention that there’s a two-year international service guarantee for every watch that has been maintained at a Rolex World Service workshop? So, perhaps it is time we move on to a more in-depth look at what happens at these workshops, especially during a so-called “full-servicing.”
Sometimes, a watch only needs, say, to have the length of its bracelet adjusted. Basically, there are plenty of maintenance operations that fall into the category of same-day services that can be done on-site at most Rolex point of sale locations. A full servicing, however, is a major operation, involving specific tools and instruments – that are themselves regularly tested – or even developed by the brand since they’re so specialized.
After a watch is brought in for servicing, assessed, and the customer has approved the service estimate, a watchmaker will begin work by separating the bracelet from the case and remove – delicately – the movement, which at this point is still fitted with the dial and hands. From this point on, the movement, the case and the bracelet will follow separate servicing paths.
The overhaul process of the movement is perhaps the most exciting to observe; this is the kind of work most prominently showcased in videos about watchmakers. The dial and the hands are detached, and then the entire movement is dismantled. Each component is carefully examined, and any that no longer meet Rolex’ exacting requirements are replaced with a new part from the brand’s manufacture in Bienne, Switzerland. Next, all of the components are cleaned in an ultrasonic bath to remove any impurities, dried, and then reassembled piece by piece in a set order, and lubrication is applied. Finally, after the movement has been adjusted to ensure precision – which is actually the first of several such adjustments – the dial and hands are fitted back on the movement.
The case of the watch is also disassembled. Each part is then individually re-polished or satin-finished – depending on its original finish – by hand, to restore its sheen and lustre whilst removing any marks or scratches. It goes without saying that this finishing process is a delicate task, and requires not only great dexterity but intimate familiarity with the properties of the different case materials, including Oystersteel, 18 ct gold and 950 platinum. The seals are then replaced followed by the reassembly of the crystal, bezel and middle case. Just like the case, the bracelet is also painstakingly re-polished or satin-finished, link by link, before being thoroughly cleaned.
The three separate servicing paths then converge again and the watchmaker gently puts the movement back into the case. Another test is done to measure the movement’s accuracy and adjustments are made if necessary. Next comes a precision test that lasts at least 24 hours, followed by a pressure test where the watch will be submerged in water to check its waterproofness. Having passed all of these, the bracelet is refitted, and the watch goes to final control: The watch’s rate of accuracy and functions are checked, and its aesthetics get one last examination.
Having gone through a full servicing, the timepiece is placed in a protective pouch and the aforementioned two-year international guarantee for parts and labour are applied.
Earlier in the story, we also mentioned the Restoration Atelier. This place, in Geneva, is where exceptional historic watches are restored by Master Watchmakers. These artisans are not only specially trained in collectors’ timepieces, but also work by combining in-depth historical research, traditional watchmaking methods and state-of-the-art techniques. At the Restoration Atelier, out-of-production parts can be restored or recreated, to breathe new life into historic watches. Traceability is also a hallmark of the work done here, giving watch owners a glimpse into the history of their prized timepieces. As a final touch, watches restored at the atelier are returned in a special presentation box along with a personalized booklet.
Rolex watches are built to last. And with Rolex World Service, this philosophy of perpetual excellence is maintained each and every day, for each and every Rolex watch.