After posting a wrist shot of me wearing one of my Rolexes on a beach a while back, I was asked by a Facebook connection, “Why would you wear a Rolex near salt water???” (Yes, she emphasized her point with three question marks.)
To me, this question typified the attitude/ understanding non-watch folks have about Rolex watches. To those types of people, Rolex watches are delicate luxury accessories that shouldn’t be subjected to the real world.
And certainly, jeweled bezels and dials have been added to may models, especially the Day-Date, Datejust, and Submariner. The GMT-Master and Daytona aren’t immune either. Rolex themselves produce and market some of these modified watches. And there’s no shortage of aftermarket suppliers of bling specially made for the brand.
And there are those who have gladly tricked out their Presidents and Subs for the world to see.
All of that belies the fact that Rolex is a company with over 1000 patents to its name. The company invented the water-tight case in 1926. Hans Wilsdorf chose to name it the Oyster. And one of those patents was awarded for an automatic winding mechanism – pretty much the one we see in nearly every automatic watch today.
Sherpa Tensing Norgay wore a Rolex to the top of Mt. Everest when he accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary to the top of the world in 1953. Film maker James Cameron strapped one to the outside of his DSV, the Deepsea Challenger, when he explored the bottom of the world, the Challenger Deep, in 2012. The latter was more to prove a point (and make a marketing move) than anything else. But the former was so the mountaineers would know when it was time to head back to camp.
Less dramatic, but no less necessary, the Explorer II was designed specifically for spelunkers – those who explore caves – so they could tell day from night in the depths of the Earth.
The Submariner was developed to be a diving tool, letting the wearer know how long he’d been down, and how long to stop at each decompression station on his ascent. Military versions were issued to the British frogmen of forty and fifty years ago. And for a long time, COMEX wouldn't let their divers in the water without one on their wrists.
And the GMT-Master was developed so intercontinental pilots could keep to a regular sleep schedule and thus not imperil their passengers.
So yeah, while it’s possible to bling out a Rolex, and sometimes even look great doing it, the cognoscenti tend to think of the brand as one which produces kit for the best adventures mankind can dream up.