The 2008 Basel show is lovingly called ?¢Ç¨?ìthis time of year?¢Ç¨¬ù around the Rolex boards. The rules of the game are that Rolex S.A. does it’s best to guard their news untill the start of the show, and the rest of the world seems to be hunting down every particle of information available. It starts in January with a wide variaty of wild rumours, and it always narrows down in March to some mixture of truth and nonsense. This years truths were a new and bigger Sea-Dweller and a red gold Daytona, secrets not really well kept. The nonsense turned out to be a Daytona with a date window and the rumours about anything on a rubber bracelet.
So, what does the horological land scape look like after Basel? For the broad trends in the whole industry I’m not informed well enough yet, but for the Rolex brand some initial conclusions can be drawn. The first and most significant one is that Rolex follows the big watch trend after all with a bonanza of 40 and 41 mm dress watches and a Sea-Dweller of 43 mm. An interpretation of this fact could be that their attempts to revive the 36 mm size for men were to no avail: the Turn-O-Graph, the new Datejusts and Day Dates just don’t work for todays men anymore in terms of sales. 40 mm is the new standard and even the stable and cautious design school of Rolex has to follow the market.
My second observation is that the design job of filling this bigger dials in some way seems to puzzle the Rolex company. A range of solutions has been chosen, from a wild carnival of colors for markers, hands and glass on last years Milgauss, to dials with more and more expressive writings and numerals even on this years new 36 mm watches. The new Day Dates got a more busy dial and the bigger Sea-Dweller Deep Sea gained an extra Power Ring under the glass and a lot more writing as well. Not to start again about last years new Yacht Master II that is filled with funny primary colors and complications. Somehow the designers seem to be afraid of simplicity or empty spaces. Although the new Day Date is a wonderfull new piece, in all the new dial layouts are far from perfect in my opinion.
Thirdly it is noticable that with the introduction of the DeepSea, Rolex continues their beautiful high end tool watch tradition. The fears of every model being turned into a polished dress watch did not become reality after all. But as pointed out in the text of their own press kitt: The deep seas are part of peoples dreams. And the depth rating of 3900 meters it will also stay there and will not come to life: there is not much use even for divers to have a watch with this qualities. Does that make this a silly invention? Bottom line: Yes. Does that make it a silly watch? No, not at all. The DeepSea is an impressive piece of innovation and an absolutely gorgeous tool watch I’d love to own. It is Non Plus Ultra, nothing superior seems to exist. That is what we all want and why we spend ridiculous amounts on luxury watches, right? On the other hand, in moving in this direction Rolex accepts that their wrist watches have nothing extra to add to modern day life anymore. Back in the ’50’s they did add usefull functionalities to watches when they invented Submariners for real divers and GMT Masters for real pilots. Without going into any suggestions for other concepts, this does feel like a missed opportunity to me.
In all the noise of the new innovations one should not forget to mention the gradual and flawless update of the Submariner. It moved in the same direction as the lovely new GMT II: maxi case, maxi hands and a new bezel. Although the color of blue of this first white gold model has been a turn off for many and the watch has been renamed The Smurf already, color is a matter of taste and the new Sub is a thing of beauty in the best Rolex tradition.
So, where does this leave the Rolex line up right now? With the new Day Dates and Datejusts Rolex covers the dress and jewelry watches segment just perfectly, both for women as well as for men again, there is space for innovations that go extreme and beyond with the DeepSea, and the main lines of Submariner and GMT II had their subtle but very strong updates. It is a job well done and worthy of the companies legendary name. Actually… I’m looking forward to Basel 2009 rumours already. – Evert ’08
Credits for the picture go Elmar @ Oysterinfo.de