Always Expect The Unexpected: Rolex Surprises Yet Again With The Oyster Perpetual Datejust Pearlmaster 34
One thing is as certain as death and taxes: Rolex will never, ever do what you think it is going to do.
The iconic Geneva brand confirms this simple statement each successive year at Baselworld. And even though I know this to be true, I still wasn’t prepared to be quite as surprised as I was this year with the Oyster Perpetual Datejust Pearlmaster.
Holding it in my hand, quietly admiring its skillful gem-setting with the murmur of the brand representative studiously describing the caliber in the background, I suddenly snapped out of my reverie.
To tell you I almost fell off my chair would be an understatement.
This unassuming little ladies’ watch contains something that I didn’t think I would ever see in my lifetime: silicon!
How it all began
To do this story justice, we need to first back up to the dawn of the new millennium. Mechanical watchmaking was just passing from the love-struck era of the mechanical renaissance into an unexpected new phase akin to a golden age of horology; an age in which enterprising brands started researching into new materials, among other things.
In the quest for ever-greater precision, these new materials – “new” meaning new in horology, rather than new per se – were usually targeted for use in the most critical areas of the movement such as the escapement.
Ulysse Nardin proved itself a pioneer in this field, undertaking extensive research first into LIGA materials, then silicon, then synthetic diamond. The results of which can been seen in all versions of the Freak since its debut in 2001.
Then in 2005, Patek Philippe announced what that brand calls its Advanced Research. This culminated in the Silinvar (silicon + Invar) Spiromax balance spring, which has been used at Patek Philippe in limited editions since 2008, in conjunction with the Pulsomax escapement (silicon escape wheel, pallet lever, pallet fork), to increase efficiency.
In 2011, Patek Philippe then combined of all three of its silicon components to make a regulator it called the Oscillomax, which warranted an impressive total of 17 patents. The object of all the research and development that went into the Oscillomax was more accuracy and reliability – characteristics now widely held achievable with the use of silicon.
The full story regarding the origins of the industry’s pioneering silicon research is not unlike the Swiss research into quartz that began in 1962, in which leading brands had joined together to develop the BETA 21, but then broke apart to compete while using it.
With silicon, three brands collaborated in conjunction with the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM) to break first ground in silicon exploration: Ulysse Nardin, Patek Philippe, and Rolex.
While the results of the former two are now well documented, the prevalent thought process – particularly mine – has been that Rolex would not actually use the knowledge it gained in a serial watch, preferring to keep its findings for itself and – perhaps – for later use. But probably not.
At Baselworld 2014, the result of Rolex’s research into the use of silicon has finally been implemented. And if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes, I would never have believed it. It surfaced in the most unexpected timepiece ever: the iconic and feminine Oyster Perpetual Datejust Pearlmaster 34, powered by automatic Caliber 2236.
Yes, this of all timepieces is the one chosen to receive the new Syloxi hairspring that is created using a prevalent DRIE process. However, unlike most silicon hairsprings in use in the watch industry today, this one is not sourced from suppliers such as Sigatec and CSEM.
Like just about every other component it utilizes, Rolex has elected to create and integrate its own manufacturing process to make it. Meaning that this is a Rolex-manufactured silicon hairspring.
And it owns five patents: one (co-owned by Patek Philippe and Ulysse Nardin) for the actual material; one for the geometry of the blade (thickness and pitch, or distance between the coils) to improve isochronism; one for the method of fixation using a flexible integrated collet; one for the method of fixation on the outside of the coils, ensuring that it remains perfectly centered and flat; and one for the beat adjustment in tandem with the Paraflex shock absorber.
Other new elements
The Syloxi hairspring is combined with what Rolex calls a “paramagnetic” escape wheel made of a nickel-phosphorus material. We know this material under its more common acronym LIGA.
While the base material is the same as any component sourced from Mimotec – the industry-wide supplier of this particular “new material” – you know what I am about to say: Rolex doesn’t source it there. Rolex has, of course, created its own LIGA line within its massive factory. And once that was achieved, the jump to making its own DRIE-etched silicon was just another step forward.
Rolex has also used an enhanced mainspring within Caliber 2236. This boasts a patented method of fixation within the spring barrel in order to increase the power reserve by about 6 hours to circa 55 hours total. Just enough to enable the watch to continue ticking over the weekend, meaning that when she takes it off after dinner on Friday night and then picks it up on Monday morning to head back to work, she won’t have to set the time again. So very convenient.
This little automatic caliber, which comfortably fits inside the 34 mm case of the Datejust Pearlmaster, is even certified by the C.O.S.C. as an official chronometer, proving just how sure Rolex is of itself. And now proving that to the world. Bravo.
The addition of the Syloxi hairspring means that Rolex now owns three different in-house hairspring types: firstly, the silicon hairspring as mentioned.
Secondly, the Parachrom Blu, which resists both magnetism and shock in a particularly effective way thanks to its unusual alloy containing niobium and zirconium. This hairspring premiered in a non-blued version in the modern Cosmograph Daytona (Caliber 4130) in 2000 and has continued to be used in a variety of models since, most notably the Milgauss.
The third is a conventional hairspring created using a traditional ferromagnetic alloy, not unlike the industry staple, Nivarox.
So, what does this mean?
To me, the significance of Rolex using silicon in a serial escapement means that this material has fully arrived as a stable staple. As if it weren’t already clear when Patek Philippe began using it, or when Marc Hayek revealed that henceforth every single Breguet movement would be outfitted with a silicon hairspring last year.
Rolex now offers the final proof that silicon is well and truly here and very likely here to stay.
But there is also a second point of significance: the fact that it premiered within a 34 mm “ladies’ watch.” To my mind, this is perhaps even more significant. Maybe, just maybe, the watch industry at large has just sat up and taken notice of the fact that women can be just as interested in what’s under the hood as men.
Message received, loud and clear. Thank you, Rolex, for providing this final, measurable statement of equality. www.rolex.com
Quick Facts Oyster Perpetual Datejust Pearlmaster 34
Case: 34 mm, white gold, yellow gold or Everose rose gold with gem setting
Functions: hours, minutes, sweep seconds; date
Movement: automatic Caliber 2236 outfitted with Syloxi hairspring, C.O.S.C.-certified
Price: $93,000 with gem-set bracelet, $65,000 with non-set gold bracelet