In the mid-1920s, Hans Wilsdorf – the founder of Rolex, gave a watch to a young English woman Mercedes Gleitze to wear on her attempt to swim the Channel. It was a Rolex Oyster and claimed to be the first waterproof wristwatch. Emerging from her swim, after over 15 hours in the cold water, her watch was still in perfect time and this marketing activity helped launch Rolex on to the world stage. It was proof positive, reasoned Wilsdorf, that a Rolex watch was unsurpassed for its enduring quality, reliability and durability.
Nearly a century on, two watchmakers from Cheltenham-based family jeweller Martin & Co spend their working lives maintaining and servicing Rolex and other quality watches so they can continue to give service for many generations. But what it is about the job of a watchmaker that appeals? “I love turning a tired looking and worn-out timepiece that a client has cherished for many years into a pristine looking watch,” says Bob, a watchmaker of 45 years’ standing, as well as a Member of the British Horological Institute (MBHI) and a Rolex accredited watchmaker. “Very rarely is the job ever the same. It is not necessarily the more complex the movement the harder the job; you can have the simplest of movements and they can be the most complex to repair.” The rarest watch he’s ever worked on was a 1950’s Rolex watch with a moon phase complication (it wasn’t until 2017 that Rolex brought back a moon phase with its Cellini Moonphase).
Brass and hairsprings
Trainee watchmaker Stuart, who will work with Bob, might be at the early stages of his career as a watchmaker after 20 years as a jeweller but he has already learned many of the fine skills that the job demands including handling tweezers, oiling movements, manipulating hairsprings, and filing brass. “So far, I have found the filing the most challenging because the tolerances we must work within are so tight, one wrong stroke and you must start over,” says Stuart, who adds that his favourite watch is the Rolex Datejust because of its long history. “When it was introduced in 1945 it was chosen by Hans Wilsdorf to mark the occasion of their jubilee year, sporting all of Rolex's most up to date innovations.”
Whether you have a Rolex or other quality timepiece – and whether you take it swimming in the Channel or not – Bob and Stuart will be able to either repair and service it in the shop or arrange for the model to be returned to the manufacturer’s service centre. In most cases Martin & Co will provide a free estimate.