Often, the finishing touches to a timepiece are the subtle nuances, like the sparkles on its hour markers or the crown, while snow-paved diamonds on a dial makes for a bigger statement. Take it up a notch and there’s the timepiece that rocks (pun intended) an entire bezel set in diamonds — a case of letting these rocks take centre stage, blurring the lines between a watch and a piece of jewellery.
Watches set with diamonds are not new. But, perhaps, it was more traditionally accepted coming from the ranks of part-jeweller-part-watchmaker brands, given that they have both expertise under one roof, and have a shared passion and knowledge, for the stones or rocks. It’s no wonder that Rolex made the headlines when it first introduced the Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona, complete with a rainbow-hued bezel of gemstones, six years ago. The Swiss watchmaker has, throughout its history, incorporated diamonds into its designs; mostly on the bezel, as hour-markers or on the dial. Hence, this level of opulence, and the generosity of the perfectly gradient gemstones used in the timepiece, puts this timepiece squarely in the spotlight.
From left:A snow-set diamond dial, which would have required a gemsetter to push down on more than 3,000 tips or prongs. Cosmograph Daytona set with 36 baguette-cut multi-coloured sapphires for the bezel, 11 corresponding coloured sapphires for the hour-markers. Its lugs and crown are set with a total of 56 diamonds.
It wasn’t long before it got its unofficial moniker, the Rainbow Daytona. Some might stare in awe, while others might feel it’s just too much bling to handle. Personally, I think it’s something that one would grow to love after seeing it up close and personal — it’s dazzling but not over-the-top.
Although the piece has been reintroduced in different reiterations, getting a hand on one of these is a challenge. The Rainbow Daytona is almost like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — ever so elusive and desired, just like every treasured possession.
Behind the shining rainbow bezel, it is the meticulous precision and utmost attention to details that makes this iteration such a highly coveted timepiece. This year, Rolex has put a lot of emphasis on its gem-setting savoir-faire, as seen in the introduction of its latest edition, the Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona in 18 ct Everose gold. It is the model’s first edition created in an exclusive 18 ct pink gold alloy developed and patented by Rolex, boasting a bezel set with a gradation of sapphires in rainbow hues as well as hour-markers that matches the colour of the corresponding gemstone on the bezel, the first of its kind.
Its lugs and crown are set with a total of 56 diamonds. Its sub-dials are made of pink Gold Crystals (crystallised pink gold alloy), which gives a textured, shimmering finish.
To understand the complexity that goes behind the creation of the rainbow bezel, let’s take a look at what goes on behind the scene in the gem-setting department at Rolex. Despite being a full-fledged watchmaker, Rolex has its own in-house gemmologists and gem-setters. The former examines and selects the gemstones before they’re set. Often, gemstones used on watches are not set in a solitaire setting, thus it is crucial that each one of them looks uniform as a collective. Only the Internally Flawless (IF) stones are used at Rolex — diamonds in this highest of grading scale are the rarest, and it is not easy even for jewellers to get a hold of one. As for colours, they must fall within categories D to G, the four highest grades according to the colour scale developed by the Gemological Institute of America.
To create the rainbow-hued bezel of gemstones, it is imperative that each of the gemstones is of the same weight and cut; each stone must carry the same cut for that consistent brilliance, and each is a square-cut stone that is slightly narrower at the bottom and wider at the top so they can make a full circle. Often, to achieve these requirements, it generally involves a certain amount of waste, cutting the stone into its desired weight and cut. Each colour corresponds to one another to complete the full gradient perfectly, whereby it is almost impossible to tell where one colour stops and another begins. This brings up the second major challenge faced — high quality coloured gemstones are very difficult to find. Reportedly, only about one in every nine stones is a match.
As for the in-house gem-setters, even before the stone-setting starts, finding a balance between aesthetic and technical requirement is at the core of their work. Each masterpiece starts with a discussion with the designers, on the colours and arrangement of the stones. The engineers in charge of case and bracelets are also involved, making sure that the settings of stones will not interfere with the timepiece’s functionality. The placement of each stone is scrutinised to the nearest micron, and the amount of metal (be it gold or platinum) to hold it in place is also determined then. The metal tips surrounding a diamond are then gently pushed into place to secure the stone. While it may seem pretty straightforward, it’s crucial that an appropriate tool and the right pressure are used so it won’t leave a mark, and are uniform throughout.
Rolex selects only the most translucent natural gemstones.
Rolex employs a few gem-setting techniques. The bezel of the Rainbow Daytona is channel-set, a setting most often used with baguette- or trapeze-cut stones. This setting allows the stones to seamlessly align side by side, to form the bezel. Its lugs, encrusted with white diamonds, are set using the bead setting, most frequently used to achieve a pavéd surface. Here the stone, which is always round, is held in place by three to five small, bead-shaped pieces of metal. A final polish and the watch awaits its potential owner.
Rolex’s strict quality requirement only gives tolerance no more than two hundredths of a millimetre, which is a quarter of the diameter of a human hair. Sure, this masterpiece is audacious. But it is passion and magic set into these watches that has changed me, as I found myself obsessing over it.
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