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Swiss watch-making: The science behind it

Swiss watch-making: The science behind it

Brand Rolex opens its doors to reveal a universe of utmost precision, tasteful aesthetics and futuristic technology.

An integration of hand-work and automated technology employed in producing a Rolex watch. An integration of hand-work and automated technology employed in producing a Rolex watch.
I emerged from a sanitised germ-free enclosure clad head to toe in white overalls and cap, as I precariously made my way through rows of employees doubled over their stations in complete concentration. Flooded with natural light that made its way in through large windows, the watchmaking process being carried out within these walls at the Rolex headquarters in Geneva was nothing short of rocket science for a novice like myself.

There's a reason why the name Rolex elicits acknowledgement from even the most brand-ignorant people who are uneasy with terms like complications, chronograph, moon phase and more so with weighty brands that espouse them. I must admit, in my three days of touring the Rolex centres in Switzerland, and despite my affinity for brands that spell understated, elegant luxury, the complicated mechanical process of creating a Rolex exposed all the chinks in my brand armour.

The Rolex Sky-Dweller for the global traveler
The Rolex Sky-Dweller for the global traveler
The brand works by dividing specific functions between four sites across Switzerland that make up design, manufacture, assembly and the testing of each timepiece that bears the signature crown.

From development to post-sale servicing, several reliability tests, metal forming, alloy quality control, stamping, dial construction, gem-setting, assembly, control and other nuanced processes are continuously at work Time-keeping is an exact art and science today and every watch brand with heft has a historic legacy to match. In a space where there is no room for goods, only greats, Rolex occupies central space. In Indian society, there's a certain sentiment attached to the brand. A Rolex on your wrist signifies the attainment of success, a sign that you have finally arrived, and rightly so. At a watch fair an old gentleman was trying to place Rolex in the watch heirarchy and made a telling statement on the brand's perception in India. He said, "Rolex is like Mercedes. It's been around forever and is the preferred choice of those who have both money and taste and want something reliable." While maintaining its age-old identity, Rolex wants to stay relevant and be seen as a brand that is keeping up with the times.

The infrastructure installed within the gleaming glass facade of the units in Switzerland is uber sophisticated. Equipped with an entirely automated transfer system-a result of in-house engineering-it functions faultlessly as a maze for transporting, segregating and storing, sans any glitch or hiccup. And while the makers are busy churning out a beautiful timepiece, a team of scientists in the Central Laboratory study every material used in the assembly. Using powerful equipment such as a scanning electron microscope, they keep a constant tab on the quality of alloys created. Even the slightest imperfection is resolved by the collective genius of their team.

However, it is the integration the brand employs between the use of automated advance-technology and hand-work that elevates it. One of the last stages in the production of a Rolex watch consists of approximately 10 operations performed entirely by hand in a controlled environment. Once assembled, the watch undergoes a series of checks carried out using highly sophisticated, fully robotised equipment. It is perhaps a sign of things to come as an automated robotic arm with a Rolex fastened around its wrist manoeuvred awkwardly in a mechanical manner. I was told it would continue to do do to test the piece's durability for several hours till it satisfied the benchmark set by its makers.

A watch is so much more than the sum of its parts. A Rolex on your wrist is a piece of the brand's personality, which is why it's important to understand what makes it what it is. For over a century, Rolex has symbolised prestige and performance. While the process has evolved from being the domain of a single craftsman to the collaboration of skilled specialists, the sheer volume of timepieces being created, hasn't compromised on quality.

In the 1920s, when pocket watches were the norm, founder Hans Wilsdorf foresaw the wristwatch as a daily necessity and made it the indispensable object it is today. Almost a century since, his legacy lives on. The most anticipated unveiling at Basel World 2012 was a Rolex. The new Sky-Dweller is designed and executed for global travellers. Featuring two time zones and an annual calendar based on a mechanism called SAROS, the groundbreaking ring-command bezel allows the wearer to set the date, local time, and reference time, all from the crown. Featuring a complex 9001 calibre with a power reserve of 72 hours, Rolex proves its worth yet again.