Precision, patience and perfection are all crucial requirements for the art of gemsetting, and as with most things in the world of fine watchmaking, Rolex has no difficulty showing us, and everyone else, just how it’s done.
It isn’t hard to picture an entire sub-culture of Rolex enthusiasts spread across the world, and we would place ourselves firmly within that number as well. Amongst this group too, there are those who would (and do) visibly flinch at the sight or even the mere thought of a bejeweled Rolex watch, but we at HOT do occasionally like our diamonds.
While it is true that Rolex doesn’t make too many watches adorned with diamonds or other precious stones, the ones that they do, demonstrate the same Rolex stamp of unparalleled excellence and superior quality as the more ‘rugged’ professional watches that the brand is known for.
The chorus of ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ that accompany the widening eyes and wistful gazes of women all around the world as they look longingly at a fully diamond-set Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust or Pearlmaster, or the awe-struck stares and endless conversation generated by this year’s ‘Rainbow’ bezel Cosmograph Daytona at Baselworld are evidence enough that Rolex has the fine art of gemsetting perfected, down to a science.
Evidently embodying the mantra ‘if you want it done right, do it yourself’, Rolex ensures that every stage of the watchmaking process is meticulously handled in-house at one of their 4 state-of-the-art facilities in Switzerland. So also, with gem-setting.
The Four C’s
At the Rolex facility in Chêne-Bourg near Geneva, the in-house gemologists and gem-setters expertly play their part in producing some of the most magnificent timepieces in the world.
The process starts with the gemologists selecting stones, both diamonds and coloured stones of the very highest quality. The stones undergo a stringent review process using a range of specialized tools and processes in addition to the experience and expertise of the gemologists themselves.
The four-C’s of gemology, colour, clarity, cut and carat each receive meticulous attention, and only naturally coloured stones with the highest clarity rating and translucence are accepted. For diamonds, the most colourless stones, with ‘IF’ or ‘internally flawless’ clarity classification are used, which is the highest possible rating.
The cut of every stone placed on a Rolex watch is of crucial importance since, in addition to adding aesthetic appeal to the timepiece, the stones used cannot compromise its functioning. The manner in which a stone is cut determines the way in which it absorbs and reflects the light, and therefore influences its eventual brilliance. The number of facets on a diamond for example, may even result in the creation of rainbow-hues as the light hits the stone.
While the cut of the stone is vital to any form of gemsetting, its significance in fine watchmaking takes on an additional dimension. Each stone must be cut in a minutely accurate manner, with no difference in shape or size so that they can be set next to each other on the dial, bezel or case of a watch. There is no room for mistakes and the stones must fit in the exact same manner. For Rolex, the margin of error that may be accepted is no more than 1/200 millimeter, which is approximately the diameter of ¼ of a human hair!
In order to achieve a perfectly cut stone, it is standard practice to lose or discard approximately 50% of the original un-cut stone. With precious stones used in haute horlorgerie, that figure can go up to almost 90%, particularly when coloured stones are being used and they must adhere to a specific gradient. Much like Goldilocks’ porridge, If a stone is not ‘just right’ it just won’t do!
Set in Stone
The role of the gemsetters begins once the stones have been selected and cut. Each stone is then set by hand, with the gemsetter’s experience and expertise deciding the right tool to use, the correct angle for the stone and the precise amount of pressure to be applied in order to set it. In the case of some diamond paved dials, the process may be repeated thousands of times for a single watch!
Four traditional methods of setting precious stones are adopted by the Rolex gemsetters based on the desired outcome, size and cut of the stone, and also its placement on the watch.
The gemsetters work closely with the designers to understand the delicate balance between beauty and function, and choose the appropriate setting technique based on numerous factors. More than one gemsetting technique may be used on a single watch to place stones in different positions or for a different purpose.
The most common gemsetting technique is the ‘bead’ setting, used for diamond paved surfaces and setting round-cut stones which are held in place by small metal ‘beads’. This is similar to the ‘claw’ technique where longer prongs or claws of metal hold the stone in place, making it raised higher and more visible.
‘Closed’ setting encircles the stones in a band of metal to hold it in place and ‘channel’ setting, is most often used for baguette-cut or trapeze-cut stones. Channel setting is sometimes called ‘baguette’ setting and the stones are placed in metal channels, with the edges folded over to hold the stone in place, allowing them to be set next to each other in a circle.
With in-house gemsetters demonstrated unmatched expertise in each of these precise and delicate techniques, along with experienced gemologists who bring a repertoire of knowledge to the table, it is no wonder that Rolex’s gem-set timepieces gleam with a brilliance that epitomizes the brand itself.