Archive for June 4th, 2010

Rolex Explorer: A History

Mount Everest from Kalapatthar.
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Rolex Explorer: A History

Rolex’s continual efforts to improve its waterproof cases and shock-proofing systems ended with the creation of the Explorer model. By the 1950s Rolex’s rounded-back watches were seen as very reliable for their reputation of being tough and hard-wearing. Consequently, Rolex decided to carry these sturdy characteristics to the Explorer model for active and adventurous customers.

From late 1952, prototypes of the first Explorers were given to mountaineering expeditions for field trials. At this early stage, the Explorer name was not displayed on the dial, and the watches were simply bubble-backs with white dials. The 3, 6, and 9 dial markers were marked with steel or brass arrowhead symbols. The dial hands were also leaf-shaped in a choice of steel or brass.

To test the sturdiness of this new prototype, several members of Sir John Hunt’s May 1953 Everest expedition were issued with these watches. However, during the climb, it was later revealed that the climber who ascended mount Everest first actually wore a gold bubble-back given to him by the Swiss climber Raymond Lambert. Fortunately for Rolex’s publicity and marketing departments, climbers Hillary and Norgay both refused to reveal which of them had actually set foot on summit first. Both Smiths and Rolex reported the role of their watches in this great achievement, but the Rolex Explorer was forever linked with this conquest, especially because the climber who reached the summit first had previously worn many Rolex watches (in actuality, however, a Rolex was actually the second watch on top of the world).

The first two Explorer models (6098 and 6150) were launched in the early 1950s. By mid-1953 the 6098 had become the 6298 model, and by late 1953 the 6150 had become the 6350 model. There was a transition period during which, these earlier model numbers (located on the inside of the watch case), were struck through, and below the new numbers were engraved. The A296 movement was installed in all these models. The 6298, 6150, and the 6350 had a recognizable Explorer-type “Quarter Arabic” dial with the 3, 6, and 9 marked with luminous numerals on a black ground. To promote this new model, ads described the new watch as a “reinforced Oyster”, and emphasized its tough construction, as well as reliability. In an attempt to soften the Explorer’s austere look and ensure a percentage of sales from the less adventurous customer, the Explorer’s dial became available with a textured finish.

The first four Explorer models were followed by the 6610 model, which was fitted with the 1030 movement and Mercedes hands (initially the model had hands similar to those of the Submariner model). This was also the last Explorer to be fitted with a honeycomb dial. Shortly after this model came the 5504, fitted with a 1530 movement and a very attractive gloss black dial (these are marked Precision or Super Precision on the dial).

By 1959 the 1016 model was introduced. This Explorer model was fitted with a matt black dial and a 1560 movement. By the 1970s, the 1570 calibre movement replaced the 1560, and later the watch came with a “hacking” feature. This allowed the movement to be stopped exactly on the beat of a second, top allow accurate time-setting. This feature, and the 1016’s successful fusion of the sports and dress watch look, has made the watch very attractive to collectors.

Rolex became eager to capitalize on the success of the Explorer, especially since its popularity, and that of Rolex, boomed in the North American and Asian markets. The company began to use the same dial design on the Air-King 5500 model. These small Explorers were not popular with collectors until recently, especially because many people who were unfamiliar with the model assumed they were fakes. Current interest in Explorers has drastically increased their values.

Rolex went on to produce many other variations of the Explorer, including 6298, 6299 models and event later on the Explorer II. The Space-Dweller model is another variation of the Explorer. More recent designs were influenced by earlier designs, but each advancement came with some kind of new feature, such a new bezel design or hands.
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Jaeger-LeCoultre and its Reverso

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is one of the most recognizable watches in the world. It was created to help protect watch faces during sporting events. The watch face is able to slide and turn over so that the back of the face is now the top. This protects the dial and crystal from scratches. The patent for this design was applied for in March 1931.

Monsieur Cesar was working with gold dentures in England in the 1920’s. He went to India in 1930 to try and sell his product and heard polo players complaining that their watches kept getting scratched during games. Cesar had already come up with a design for the Reverso even before he heard these complaints and teamed up with Jacques-David LeCoultre and Edmond Jaeger to make the first one.

The first Reverso came into production in 1931 and has been a symbol of beauty and innovation ever since. There was both a ladies and gents version of the watch. The Reverso was also produced for other companies like Cartier Favre-Lueba, Gruen, E. Gubelin, Hamilton, Patek Philippe and Turler.

Today there are many versions of the Reverso including the Cassique, Duetto Duo, Duo, Grande Automatique, Grande Date, Grande GMT, Grande Taille, Grande Reserve, Lady, Platinum No. 2, and the Grande Reverso Email which has enamel dials from lithographs by Czech Art Nouveau printmaker Alfonse Mucha.

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Rolex Submariner: A History

Throughout the world in the 1950’s was a huge demand for diving watches. Scuba diving was becoming increasingly more popular and so too were it’s accompanying watches. Divers needed an accurate way of measuring how fast they were coming back to the surface and decompressing. DCI (decompression illness) was something they wanted to avoid at all costs.

By the year 1954 there were three models of the Rolex Submariner were for sale. These first versions did not show the depth on the dial like they do today. In the Rolex catalog it stated that two of the three were waterproof up to 200 meters or 660 feet and the other was 100 meters or 330 feet.

Also, these early models did not have the word “Submariner” written on the dial. Another lacking feature was the crown guards. The crown was exposed on these early models. The bezel was similar to today’s Submariner in that it is marked in 5 minute increments.

The name Submariner was not used for the watch until the 1960’s. There were many other names being considered such as Frogman, Skin Diver, or Dive-O-Graph but in the end Submariner won the battle.

Rolex kept making improvements to the Submariner. The luminous marking on the second hand was now towards the middle of the hand rather than at the end. Also the infamous Mercedes hands were invented where the hour hand seems to have a Mercedes symbol.

In the mid 1950’s one minute markers were introduced on the bezel between the first 15 minutes on the countdown.

Crown guards were also adopted around this time. The models before the crown guards were considered James Bond models because they appeared in the first four James Bond movies.

In 1966 Rolex added a date feature to the dial on the Submariner. Also, the word Submariner was written in red instead of white until 1974.

There were many contracts for the Submariner to be sold to different armies around the world. These watches came came with a cloth strap rather than a metal one.

By the 1980’s Rolex had installed a safety feature on the bezel. Previously the bezel could rotate in either direction, but Rolex realized it might rotate clockwise while underwater and make the diver climb to the surface faster. Now it can only rotate counter-clockwise.

Also in the 1980’s Rolex upgraded to a scratch resistant sapphire crystal.

Some of the weirdest watches ever produced were the Deep Sea Specials. These watches were enormous and created to show the waterproofing concept of screw-down crowns and gaskets. The Trieste model set a world record diving 3155 meters, which is over 10,000 feet. Years later it set another record going 11,000 meters or 35,798 feet.

The Rolex Submariner stands as one of Rolex’s most popular watches. It’s classic design is one sought after buy more than just divers. It is a popular watch that only seems to find more demand with every year passed.
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