Just in Time

The humble rectangular date window might seem an obvious adornment, but it took serial pioneer Rolex and its immortal ‘Datejust’ to bring it mainstream, less than 80 years ago

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust

Collectors are a passionate, borderline dogmatic lot in the rarefied world of watches. If they’re not taking to social media to triumphantly celebrate their steel GMT-Master II in period-correct ‘Pepsi’ colourway (for the uninitiated, this is code for a 24-hour bezel in blue and red), then self-confessed watch nerds will be bemoaning the very same Rolex for its waiting list (if you can convince your friendly neighbourhood authorised dealer to chalk you up in the first place).

So it says everything that such a seemingly innocuous feature as a date window could inspire enough debate to warrant over 50,000 Instagram posts – and they’re just the ones that have been tagged #nodate.

Yes, no date. The popular-unpopular feeling towards that tiny metallic frame at either three, four or six o’clock is that it has no place on a vintage dial design, or squeezed awkwardly between chronograph counters. Occasionally, the vapours are indeed justified, if we’re being pedantic (which we are). The past decade’s craze for archive raiding and rose-tinted throwbacks – arguably fuelled by the nostalgia that always brews following a financial crash – has brought back some gorgeous mid-century designs, which haven’t always been 100 per cent faithful. What’s that date doing on a 1967 reissue?

But hang on… Why wouldn’t wristwatches from 60 or 70 years ago feature something as commonplace as a date window? The truth is, the feature wasn’t invented until 1945, by Rolex. You’re looking at the most recent iteration of its pioneering ‘Datejust’ right now, a model that might be almost 80 years old, but that’s a blip in Swiss watchmaking.

This particular Datejust is also most definitely not a vintage revival, dressed as crisply as iceberg lettuce and embodying all of Rolex’s up-to-the-minute mechanical bells and whistles – just as 1945’s Datejust did, in fact. As well as its newfangled ‘roulette’ date, whose numbers alternated between red and black, it consolidated all the major innovations that the brand had contributed to the modern wristwatch up until then: chronometric precision (first chronometer certificates granted to a Rolex wristwatch as of 1910), waterproofness (creation of the screwed, rubber-gasket ‘Oyster’ case in 1926) and self-winding (via its ‘Perpetual’ rotor patented in 1931).

What took its titular date system – a number ring circling the top of the movement, toothed on the inside and nudged every 24 hours by a small cog – so long? Perhaps watchmakers would have been inclined to include a basic date indication sooner if our calendar months were more consistent, or if we could be surer of ourselves beyond simply remembering to wind the damn thing. Many more would rely on their watch rather than reaching for the diary if they definitely hadn’t forgotten to adjust it on the 1st of March, May, July or December. A situation you can blame on the vanity of Emperor Augustus in 8 BCE. Julius Caesar’s son is broadly seen as the architect of our 48-month leap-year calendar. In honour of his overthrowing Antony and Cleopatra in the sixth month of 31 BCE, so-called Sextilis was renamed Augustus. But unlike Caesar’s own July, Sextilis only had 30 days, so he one-upped August to 31, which meant that February, September and October had to be clipped. To adjust for the solar year’s extra quarter-day, the 365-day civil year of course needed to ‘leap’ every fourth. The longest run of calendar-correct confidence we can therefore enjoy is 92 days, from 1 July to 30 September.

The relative novelty of the lone date indication comes as an even greater surprise when you consider horological history’s many examples of the perpetual calendar, which perfectly accounted for all the above foibles of the Julian calendar. Day, month and year always correct, even on leap years, thanks to a fiendishly complicated mechanism just behind the dial, governed at heart by a 48-toothed cam that completes a single turn once every 48 months – first seen in a Thomas Mudge pocket watch in 1764.

Another full 181 years to pare things back to a single window? Apart from the fact Hans Wilsdorf didn’t set up shop in London until 1905, before upping sticks for Geneva, you can bet your bottom Swiss franc he simply wanted to get it right. That’s what Rolex does best, and why, though progress may seem glacial, progress is always in motion, as substantial as a glacier. If you’re lucky enough to get your wrist under a Rolex, you can be sure the most finely tuned mechanics are by your side, for life.

Girard-Perregaux’s sibling MIMO Watch had coined the window format in 1930, but the Datejust’s was the first to jump every midnight, so always discretely legible rather than halfway between two chopped-off numbers. Powered by the new Calibre 740, the window was located at three o’clock because most wear theirs on the left arm, so the date can peek easily from your cuff – an arrangement that almost universally persists.

The ‘just’ suffix stood for ‘just in time’, as the date clicked over at midnight… but not quite as precisely as billed. Its switchover started a couple of hours before, only completely disengaging the switch tooth from the date wheel around 2 am. This made adjusting the date anywhere around the late evening or early morning mechanically precarious and warranty-invalidating – a four-hour no fly zone that brands using basic Sellita or ETA movements still have to flag up in their user manuals.

It was Rolex again who innovated the work-around, adapting the date-change mechanism in 1955 to jump instantly. A spring is slowly compressed by a cam attached to the core geartrain, released come the midnight hour with blink-and-miss-it speed. The same breakthrough Datejust also featured the new Cyclops magnifying lens, released two years prior on the recommendation of Hans Wilsdorf’s long-sighted (and far-sighted, for that matter) wife.

By the time the ‘1680’ Submariner came to market in the late-’60s – the first of Rolex’s pioneering diving family to be equipped with a date – the completion of the sub-aqua watch’s transition from specialist SCUBA tool to fashion accessory was deemed complete, so ubiquitous had the date window become, so quickly.

As for the current ‘41’ iteration you see here, it says everything of 1955’s evolution that Datejust’s eponymous gadgetry remains largely untweaked – just serving a larger 41mm beast. Being Rolex though, the rest is as cutting-edge as a mechanical timekeeper can be in 2022. Its ‘3235’ movement’s balance wheel ticks at a rate regulated extremely precisely via gold Microstella nuts dotting its circumference. The coiled hairspring it oscillates about is buffered by high-performance Paraflex shock absorbers, again designed and patented by Rolex and made entirely in-house at one of the giant’s state-of-the-art facilities dotting the Jura region. The hairspring itself is made of optimised blue ‘Parachrom’, resistant to all our digital devices’ magnetic pollution and 10 times more precise than a traditional hairspring in case of shocks: to be exact, −2/+2 seconds-per-day precise, above and beyond the −4/+6 envelope dictated by Switzerland’s chronometer certification body, COSC (who certify every Rolex, nonetheless).

Regardless of rheumy-eyed nostalgia, it’s a firm yes date in this camp.


Photography Robin Broadbent

Post production Seth Personett

This article is taken from Port issue 30. To continue reading, buy the issue or subscribe here


Martin Scorsese: The Visionary

Thirty years ago, legendary director Martin Scorsese set up The Film Foundation to preserve and share the works that inspired him to make his own masterpieces. Since then, this hugely ambitious project, which includes Rolex as its supporters, has expanded to encompass film traditions from all over the world – and is starting to influence the way we view the medium’s history. In an exclusive conversation, 10 10 learns about its origins

Have you always had this instinct to archive and preserve, or was it a realisation you came to later?

The realisation that films were fragile and that they needed to be preserved and protected hit me all at once at a screening of The Seven Year Itch, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in 1979, as part of a 20th Century Fox show curated by Ron Haver. Ron was showing the studio’s prints for the show, and the picture was on a double bill with Niagara, which was a Technicolor print that looked stunning. After the break, Ron got up to introduce The Seven Year Itch, which was processed in Eastmancolor, and told us that it was faded and that they were going to try putting some filters over the lens to correct it. The audience cried, “No filters!” My friend and I were intrigued. And when the picture started, our hearts sank. It sounded great, but the image was pink and blue; you couldn’t really read the actors’ eyes or their faces, and for all intents and purposes, the film was gone. We had seen some faded prints on television, but to see the Fox studio print on a big screen, looking like that…it really brought the issue home for me.

So, I got involved. I talked to filmmakers and historians. And the more I learned, the more I understood that it came down to a question of value: What kind of value did the people who were making the films and who legally owned the films actually place on them? In the end, not so much. They seemed to be expendable, and, with rare exceptions, preservation simply wasn’t happening. I started a campaign for a more stable colour-film stock in the early ’80s, and then, in 1990, I started The Film Foundation with my fellow filmmakers and with the help of Bob Rosen at UCLA.

The foundation has done some great work on the preservation of African cinema – how important do you consider helping preserve and promote lesser-known film traditions to be in the West? Do you believe there is an appetite for this material among Western audiences?

It’s immensely important to preserve African cinema, because filmmaking throughout the continent has been more prolific than in other areas of the world. In 2007, we started the World Cinema Project, a programme of The Film Foundation dedicated to the restoration, preservation and dissemination – very important – of pictures from areas of the world where filmmaking and film preservation were not prioritised for economic, cultural or political reasons – sometimes a combination of all three. Our very first restoration was Trances, from Morocco, by Ahmed El-Maânouni, a documentary about the band Nass El Ghiwane, which had really inspired me. Since then, we’ve restored films from Ousmane Sembène, Med Hondo, Shadi Abdel-Salam, Djibril Diop Mambéty and others.

As for the question of appetite, it’s not a productive way of looking at the situation. If we tried to follow the appetites of Western audiences when it comes to what we do or don’t restore or preserve, we would be relegated to big-budget English language movies made in the last three years. Appetite is never the question. Allowing people to discover films, giving them a chance to see something unlike anything they’re used to and react however they want to – that’s the heart of the matter, always. I’ll quote Huub Bals, who founded the Rotterdam Film Festival: “I don’t find films for audiences; I find audiences for films.” 

Is the work that the foundation does today as relevant as it was when you founded it?

I don’t think it was ever a question of relevance, but urgent necessity, and neither the urgency nor the necessity has lessened at all since we started. The work is never-ending, because there are always more films to find and to restore and to preserve. And now, in the digital era, we are faced with a need to migrate the films from format to format, because the technology is constantly changing.

The archivists themselves are often uncelebrated – what are your thoughts on their work?

I’m inspired by their dedication. I have yet to meet an archivist who doesn’t absolutely love what she or he does. You have to. That’s why you go into the work. For me, they’ve always brought to mind the medieval monks copying manuscripts by hand. I really admire them and the work they do.

How important is access, in terms of the work of the foundation?

It’s everything. A film is no good if you lock it away where no one can see it. By preserving and restoring films, they reach audiences anew and can be made available via streaming platforms, DVD, television and, most importantly, on big screens at film festivals, archives, museums and in the precious few remaining independent art houses.

What are your future ambitions for the organisation?

To restore, preserve and show more and more films!

Time and Motion

To get the best sense of Martin Scorsese’s love for mechanics and timekeeping, don’t look to Taxi Driver, Goodfellas or any of his rightly lauded masterpieces – instead, watch his wide-eyed fantasy, Hugo (2011). A love letter to early French cinema, the protagonist is the son of a watchmaker and lives inside the clock mechanism at Montparnasse station. Seeing the joyful intricacy of his father’s automata and the swooping shots through whirring cogs, it’s no surprise Scorsese is a long-term Rolex ambassador. It’s a partnership that started with his involvement in the watchmaker’s Mentor and Protégé scheme, continues with its support of his Film Foundation and is sealed with a kiss by Scorsese’s beloved ‘everyday wearer’: his Rolex Oyster Day-Date 40, in yellow gold (£29,350).

Rolex Mentor and Protégé Initiative

With the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, Rolex supports emerging filmmakers through mentorship, contributing to culture by helping ensure the world’s artistic heritage is passed on. Martin Scorsese and Alejandro G Iñárritu have both mentored protégés within this programme, established in 2002, which identifies gifted young artists in a variety of disciplines from all over the world and brings them together with artistic masters for a period of creative collaboration. Other mentors in film have included Alfonso Cuarón, Stephen Frears, Mira Nair, Zhang Yimou and film editor Walter Murch.

This article is taken from issue 27. To buy the issue or subscribe, click here

Perpetual Concerts

Rolex’s new concert programme supports musicians affected by COVID-19 

Renaud Capuçon, © Jean-François Leclercq

There are few areas of life that COVID-19 hasn’t altered with its insidious, debilitating reach. As we explored back in May, the viruses’ impact on the music industry and creative’s livelihoods has the potential to be catastrophic if there is inadequate support, even beyond the £1.57 billion arts emergency fund announced by the UK government. The private sector has its role to play, which is why why Rolex’s newly launched initiative to support musicians and singers during this critical period is welcome news. Having started last week and running through to early September, the programme will see three “Perpetual Music” concerts take place in Italy (Teatro Rossini, 21st August), Germany (Berlin Staatsoper, 1st September) and France (Opéra national de Paris, 3rd September).    

Before each concert, three brand ‘testimonees’ – including Juan Diego Flórez (philanthropic Peruvian tenor), Sonya Yoncheva (renowned Bulgarian-Swiss operatic soprano) and Rolando Villazón (lyric tenor and Artistic Director of the Mozartwoche Salzburg) – will perform the repertoire prepared with singers and musicians, with Renaud Capuçon (renowned French violinist) supporting the French show. Concerts will involve over 100 artists whose work has been adversely affected by the pandemic, and streamed live on medici.tv, reaching thousands worldwide. 

Sonya Yoncheva, © Rolex Hugo Glendinning

“During these difficult times, when musicians have suffered both the loss of audience and income, our aim is to provide them the opportunity to perform with renowned artists at prestigious venues with the finest acoustics,” notes Arnaud Boetsch, Rolex director of communication & image. “Significantly, this gift of time and exposure is in keeping with the company’s pursuit of excellence and its long-term commitment to foster the work of those who aim to reach the pinnacle of their profession….within the context of these unprecedented circumstances, this project is also a way for us to help keep music as an essential element in our daily lives.”

Concerts will remain available on medici.tv until the end of October 2020

Mentor and Protégé: Mia Couto & Julián Fuks

Authors Mia Couto and Julián Fuks reflect on their respective roles in the Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, founded by Rolex to foster communication and development across the arts

Mia Couto

The unique relationship between mentor and protégé has been crucial to some of the most significant developments in art and science. Plato’s dialogues with his master Socrates, for example, laid the foundation for much of Western philosophy, while Humphry Davy’s mentorship of the young, impoverished Michael Faraday ensured he had the education and experience to go on to invent the electric motor.

Founded in 2002 by luxury watch brand Rolex, the Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative seeks to continue this rich tradition by pairing and supporting a new set of mentors and protégés across dance, film, literature, music, theatre, visual arts and architecture in each two year cycle. With previous participants including the architect Sir David Chipperfeld, the director Alfonso Cuarón and the composer Philip Glass, the initiative has helped to enrich the dialogue between artists of different generations and cultures, as well as to revive the essential relationship between the mentor and protégé. 

In literature alone, it is clear that the programme has played a pivotal role in developing new talent. Naomi Alderman, for instance, who was the 2012-13 protégé, and whose mentor was the celebrated writer Margaret Atwood, this year won the world’s leading prize for English-language fiction by women. Also this year, the 2010-11 protégé, Tracy K. Smith, received the highest honour for poetry in the United States of America, having been appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Here, some of the latest participants in the programme – Mozambican writer Mia Couto and Brazilian author and translator Julián Fuks – reflect on why they became involved in the programme and what the roles of mentor and protégé mean to them.

The Mentor – Mia Couto
The main thing I can pass on as a mentor is to not be afraid of making mistakes. Sometimes beauty is born of failure and without mistakes we wouldn’t have life. Young writers are so obsessed with writing well, but nobody really knows what writing well involves.

I chose to work with Julián specifically because he wanted to explore other territories and to change his practice. Our approach to writing is completely different. I’m driven by beauty and a passion for characters, characters who are far away from me. In Julián’s case, he is the character. He thinks before he dreams. These differences make a good combination in our roles as mentor and protégé. Julián and I speak the same language and of course there is both a familiarity and some sense of foreignness, but that allows us to venture deeper into our relationship.

I don’t necessarily see the role of the mentor as someone in a superior position, with more knowledge to pass on. Nobody really has any experience when it comes to writing; it’s just a process of beginning over and over again. Instead, what is useful for the protégé is in gaining insight into the processes of a more seasoned writer. I wanted to show Julián the early stages of my writing process: my hesitations, fears and my corrections.

We exchanged material at its raw stage, which was useful for both of us. The relationship of the mentor and protégé can be reciprocal, and in many ways Julián is also my mentor. He is a good judge of what is excessive, for example. I’m a poet as well as writing prose, and sometimes I write with too much poetic freedom. He helps me to know when to stop, which is just as important as knowing where to start.

Julián Fuks

The Protégé – Julián Fuks
A writer should always be attempting to transform themselves. I thought this programme was a good opportunity to become a different kind of writer, to become more creative and poetic, and Mia is the perfect person to help with this. Although there are differences in the way we write, we are similar in the way we relate to the world ideologically. I was born in Brazil during my parents’ exile from Argentina and Mia was born during his parents’ exile from Portugal. Brazil and Mozambique are very different countries, but because of colonisation and the fact that we are both linked to Portugal, there is some common identity.

At the beginning of my relationship with Mia, I was used to writing in a very obsessive and rigorous way, trying to bring precision to every sentence, every paragraph I wrote. But rather than developing this, I discovered that Mia doesn’t have this kind of control; as he says, most of the time he doesn’t know where he is going. He kindly showed me his first drafts, which often look nothing like his final work, and showed me how I could loosen my control, to free my writing from my meticulous processes. It’s something you could only do with such an accomplished writer and someone with so much experience.

I don’t think I’ve ever thought about having a mentor before I was approached for the programme. When I began to write, I just wrote and tried to learn from reading; there weren’t really any schools or teachers for writing. But then working with a mentor is not a simple process of teaching; it’s much more than that. It becomes a different type of experience, another way of looking at things. Creating this dialogue between writers has been important not only to exchange visions of literature, but visions of the world.

This is an extract from issue 21 of Port, out now. To buy or subscribe, click here.

The Rolex Arts Weekend – featuring public events, including world premieres, with the programme’s participants, including Mia Couto, Philip Glass and Sir David Chipperfield – will take place in Berlin on the 3rd and 4th February 2018.