Since the 1930s, Rolex has been an active supporter of pioneering explorers. Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches have accompanied individuals to the highest mountains and to the ocean depths, serving as precise, reliable tools. In turn, these groundbreaking expeditions proved to be the perfect “living laboratory” for the brand to test and develop its timepieces.
In 1954, this involvement in exploration led Rolex naturally into a partnership with the National Geographic Society. The Society has supported bold people and transformative ideas for more than 130 years, making valuable contributions to exploration, science and conservation. Articles about these ventures appeared in its eponymous magazine, National Geographic. In 1954, one of those articles described Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s history-making ascent of the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest. Rolex was also involved in this epic adventure, having supplied the expedition with watches.
A SPIRIT OF DISCOVERY
This shared spirit of discovery drew Rolex and National Geographic together over the years as they continued to support pioneers exploring new realms. The two organizations have been involved in expeditions to the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the oceans, located in the Pacific.
The first was in 1960 when the bathyscaphe Trieste, piloted by Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh, carried an experimental Rolex Oyster watch, the Deep Sea Special, fixed to its exterior as it descended to a record depth of 10,916 metres (35,800 feet). It returned to the surface in perfect working order.
Fifty-two years later, in 2012, filmmaker and Rolex Testimonee James Cameron completed his solo dive aboard the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, which carried an experimental diver’s watch, the Rolex Deepsea Challenge, on its robotic manipulator arm. The watch, waterproof to 12,000 metres (39,370 feet), resisted more than 12 tonnes of pressure on its crystal, kept perfect time and emerged from the water unscathed.
In 2017, the partnership between Rolex and the National Geographic Society was officially enhanced to promote exploration linked to preservation of the planet.
THE PERPETUAL PLANET INITIATIVE
As the 21st century unfolds, the company has moved from championing exploration for the sake of discovery to one of protecting the planet and reinforced its commitment by launching the Perpetual Planet initiative in 2019. It supports individuals and organizations using science to understand the world’s environmental challenges and devise solutions that will restore balance to our ecosystems.
The Perpetual Planet initiative currently embraces Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue initiative – which Rolex has partnered since 2014 – to preserve the oceans through a network of marine-protected ‘Hope Spots’; an enhanced partnership with the National Geographic Society to study the impacts of climate change; and the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, which for 45 years has supported individuals with innovative projects improving knowledge of, and protecting, our world.
PERPETUAL PLANET EXPEDITIONS
Under the name Perpetual Planet Expeditions, Rolex and National Geographic are working together on different expeditions to explore the planet’s most extreme environments. The partnership harnesses world-renowned scientific expertise and cutting-edge technology to reveal new insights about the impacts of climate change on the systems that are vital to life on Earth: mountains as the world’s water towers, rainforests as the planet’s lungs, and the ocean as its cooling system.
The first expedition supported by this partnership was to Mount Everest and ran from April to June 2019. The Everest expedition team, led by National Geographic and Tribhuvan University, set out to better understand the effects of climate change on the glaciers of the Hindu Kush-Himalaya that provide critical water resources to 1 billion people downstream. The next expedition was in early 2021 when a National Geographic team of explorers and scientists installed a weather station – the highest in the Southern and Western Hemispheres – just below the summit of Tupungato Volcano, in the Southern Andes.
With the installation of the weather station, scientists will have a window into atmospheric processes in the high Chilean Andes. One of the most vulnerable water towers in the world, these mountains provide fresh water to more than 6 million inhabitants in nearby Santiago.
This project goes to the heart of the commitment Rolex has made to a Perpetual Planet and to future generations, by supporting individuals and organizations in their efforts to preserve the natural world and the systems that sustain life. The insights from these expeditions should prove invaluable to informing decisions on how the world can best tackle the planet’s most pressing environmental challenges.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORERS FESTIVAL
Rolex has supported the National Geographic Explorers Festival since 2017. The event brings together innovative scientists, conservationists, educators, storytellers and change-makers from around the globe to share their discoveries, insights and solutions for creating a more sustainable future.
Rolex and National Geographic have also been associated in other ways. Scientists from the National Geographic Society have served as members on the Rolex Awards for Enterprise jury. Both partners have long alliances with Sylvia Earle, filmmaker and explorer James Cameron and underwater photographer David Doubilet.
Twenty-four Laureates of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise have also been National Geographic Explorers or recipients of grants. They include Johan Reinhard, who won a Rolex Award in 1987 for his project to preserve the patrimony of the Andean people through high-altitude cultural anthropology; he became a National Geographic Explorer in 1999. More recently, conservation biologist Erika Cuéllar, selected as a Rolex Laureate in 2012, became a National Geographic Emerging Explorer the following year. She has been training local people to protect the biodiversity of the Gran Chaco, one of South America’s last truly wild environments.
PERPETUATING THE LEGACY
The vision and values of Hans Wilsdorf still guide the company today. From exploration for pure discovery to exploration as a means to preserve the natural world, Rolex continues the legacy of its founder.
For nearly a century, Rolex has supported pioneering explorers, pushing back the boundaries of human endeavour. With the Perpetual Planet initiative, Rolex is committed for the long term to support the explorers in their quest to protect the environment. To start with, this commitment focuses on the Rolex Awards for Enterprise and partnerships with the National Geographic Society and Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue initiative. But this is just the beginning.