Looking at Rolex’s technological growth and transformation over the last century, there is no question that Rolex introduces new technologies through evolution, by adding new features to existing models, or introducing new models based off the existing line. Unlike the automobile industry that introduces significantly different models every three years, Rolex quietly adds improvements. In short, Rolex is an evolutionary company rather than a revolutionary company. One area where this is particularly true is Rolex’s use of nano-technology. Even though most would not recognize nano-technology if they saw it, most would recognize the functions Rolex adds to its watches that were inconceivable years ago.
Most recently, Rolex’s magnetism resistant Milgauss, the dual utilization of the bezel and winding crown functions in Rolex’s first perpetual calendar the Sky-Dweller, and the time memorizing Yacht-Master II , and the Syloxi silicon hairspring used in the Lady DateJust are all quiet developments that are a result of Rolex’s use of UV-LIGA. Technically, UV-LIGA is Ultraviolett Lithografie, Galvanik und Abformung which translates to ultra-violet lithography, electroforming, and molding.
In short, UV-LiGA is a micro-manufacturing technology that goes beyond simple stamping because of the tiny proportions, complex geometry, and non-traditional materials required in the design. Computer Aided Design (CAD) allows for innovative design than what was not possible back in the 20th Century and UV-LiGA manufacturing allows designers to create what they conceive in their heads. UV-LiGA technology enables small parts to effectively be “grown” in resin using an electrodeposition technique that yields high surface quality and precision.
UV-LiGA is used by Rolex for various components in the Rolex line. In 2007, Rolex used UV-LiGA to develop a paramagnetic escape wheel made from an alloy of nickel-phosphorus for the anti-magnetic Milgauss watch. The Achilles heel of any mechanical watch is the escape wheel, which when in the clutches of magnetic forces, renders any timing unreliable. A paramagnetic escape wheel is vital for the function of an anti-magnetic watch.
UV-LiGA techniques are used for parts found in the every complex Yacht Master II and Sky-Dweller watches utilizing the 4160 calibre and Ring Command functionality. The Yacht Master II is one of Switzerland’s few mechanical watches that is programmable, and utilizes a combination of the bezel ring, crown, and chrono pushers to activate the timing functions. As Rolex put it, without UV-LiGA, the programmable functions and mechanical memory found in the Yacht Master II “would not have seen the light of day.” The Rolex Sky-Dweller is Rolex first annual calendar that adjusts automatically among 28 – 31 days months and allows for easy time zone changes. Annual calendars and the ability for watches to memorize timing functions are long considered pinnacles in mechanical watch making.
The Syloxi hairspring found in Calibre 2236 in Rolex’s Lady DateJust brings increased precision, durability, and efficiency over the traditional Nivarox hairsprings increasing the power reserve to a whopping 55 hours. The Syloxi hairspring is manufactured via a high-precision manufacturing process known as deep reactive ion etching (DRIE).
Despite the noise about the technological improvements that the Apple Watch brings to the market place, Rolex’s quiet utilization of UV-LiGA and DRIE technologies allows for new functions cased in robust watches that are water resistant to at least 100 meters and designed for use in the field rather than as simple talking points about a watch. Stop by Fourtané to see these functions in person; they are truly amazing.
– Sheldon Smith