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Gem Setting: The Rolex Standard

by Hours and Minutes Australia

If you own a Rolex, or ever plan to own one, there are a few things you’d want to be familiar with; one of them being the brands’ bejewelled creations. The more in depth you explore it, the deeper your affinity towards it gets.

Rolex is known for gem set pieces that speak of the utmost refinement. The brands’ very own in-house gemmologists select gems that meet the company’s extremely stringent quality criteria. The stones then pass into the hands of the gem-setters, who are tasked with placing and fixing each stone to best reveal its beauty, colour and sparkle. To guarantee the quality of the stones, gemmologists have a range of analysis tools at their disposal, in addition to their own expertise. These tools, some of which are specially developed for Rolex, can provide information on the stones’ chemical composition. Diamonds, for example, are systematically tested via X-ray imaging to confirm their authenticity. 


Since the cut influences the brilliance of the stones, special attention is paid to the fact that only the most translucent natural gemstones are selected. The way in which the gemstones are cut – the symmetry and shape of the facets – determines the way in which light penetrates the stones and is reflected off the pavilion, or lower part of the diamond. Pretty darn amazing! The facets of each of the stones – the result of the diamond cutter’s painstaking work – are analysed in the gemmology laboratory. For diamonds, IF (Internally Flawless) stones alone are accepted – those in the highest category of the grading scales generally used in gemmology.

The colour of the diamond is always evaluated by the naked eye, and calls for seasoned judgement. In their assessment, expert gemmologists compare the diamonds against certified master stones. The brand chooses to use only the most colourless diamonds; they must fall within categories D to G – the highest grades on the Gemological Institute of America colour scale.

Placement of stones is an art in itself. It requires coordination from the designers (about colours and arrangements of stones) and the case and bracelet engineers (to determine the amount of metal to hold it in place).  This collaborative process balances the technical and aesthetic aspects of watchmaking, thereby ensuring that both these are seamlessly merged. 

Then begins the truly and most painstaking process – choosing the optimal position for the stone, the right tool and right force. Rolex tolerances are to within no more than two hundredths of a millimetre, which is around a quarter of the diameter of a human hair. The surrounding metal is then gently pushed into place around the stones to fix them securely. It is common for this process to happen 3000 times on certain diamond paved dials. This ensures a seamless blend of the diamonds incorporated in the most ambitious of designs and arrangements.

Rolex gem-setters harness the beauty of traditional techniques. In all, four key techniques are used. “Bead” setting finds use on pieces that are essentially paved with diamonds. Here the stone, which is always round, is held in place by three to five small, bead-shaped pieces of metal. “Claw” setting is similar in concept, but with more of the stone being visible. “Channel” or “baguette” setting is often used with baguette or trapeze-cut stones; when the stones have to be aligned side by side to form a circle. In a “closed” setting, a metal band encircles the gemstone, holding it in place. It is the mélange of these techniques, individually or in combination, with the best of stones that really transforms a timepiece into a jewel. One look is all it takes to induce a reaction so profound of magical surrealism, creating a world of immense love and timeless beauty.

Over the years, Rolex has introduced new interpretations and introductions based on the glorious timepieces of the brand’s past as well as pathbreaking innovations. Its gem-setting prowess only goes on to mark the crowning glory.

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