The Rolex art of gem-setting: A closer look at the maison’s techniques and crafts

The Rolex art of gem-setting: A closer look at the maison’s techniques and crafts

Keep on shining

Text: Angelyn Kwek

This is how Rolex creates some of its most iconic gem-set timepieces

Diamonds make everything so much better. Actually, so do rubies. In fact, let's add sapphires and emeralds to the list while we're at it. Sure, it's a given that women love their bling in the form of stunning jewellery pieces but admiring these precious stones when they're encrusted on a timepiece comes in at a close second. Like say, the new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona in rose gold with its rainbow gem-set bezel that had many peeps making googly eyes at it during BaselWorld.

And although some might argue all these shiny embellishments are a purely visual aspect that doesn't bump up a watch's technicality points, Rolex will have you know it takes a full team of highly-trained gemmologists and gem-setters to make it happen. Equipped with an in-house team of experts that endows the brand with the know-how to select and affix each stone to best reveal the inherent beauty, colour, and sparkle so as to elevate even the most iconic of Daytonas, here's what you need to know about the Rolex art of gem-setting.

The maison abides by an extremely stringent quality criterion, and uses only the highest grade of natural stones. Every gem that arrives at the ateliers have to undergo a rigorous QC procedure by Rolex gemmologists, who run these checks with tools specially developed for the brand. One such test is X-ray imaging to verify authenticity. The gemmologists also use their expertise to determine clarity, symmetry, and colour so that only the very best stones will go on to decorate a timepiece. 

Designers and gem-setters work closely together in the subtle exercise of finding a balance between aesthetic and technical requirements

The stones that are given the thumbs up are then entrusted to the gem-setters, who have much a more multi-faceted role that you think. Working with the precision of a watchmaker, these professionals will set each stone, one by one, onto the timepiece. But before they even remotely execute this part of their craft, gem-setters have to liaise with designers in the creation division about colours and stone arrangements, followed by a consultation with the case and bracelet engineers. This is all necessary to ensure that the placement of the stones are sketched out down to the smallest micron in order to determine the precise amount of metal required to hold it in place, or else the balance between the aesthetic and technical requirements gets thrown off.

Once all the details have been hammered out, the gem-setter will meticulously and patiently set the stones individually to achieve a perfect harmony of sparkle, colours and reflections. This is done by constantly adjusting their hand-eye-tool coordination as they go along to find the optimal position for every stone. Gem-setters will repeat this step up to almost 3,000 times on certain diamond-paved dials. 

Rolex gemmology and gem-setting

Rolex employs four traditional techniques, the most frequent one being the 'bead' setting, which creates the pavé look everyone is familiar with. The stones used for this technique are always brilliant-cut, held in place by three to five small prongs that are bead-shaped (picture a variant of the usual claw setting sported by many an engagement ring). There's also the 'closed' setting that can be utilised with round gemstones, wherein a metal band encircles the rock to hold it in place. On the other hand, watches with baguette-cut embellishments will require the 'channel' setting in order to align the stones side by side so they'll all fit within the bezel. How is it done, you ask? The edges of the setting will be folded over to secure the stone — a move not dissimilar to the 'closed' setting. 

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