For nearly a century, Rolex has been an active supporter of pioneering explorers. These individuals have pushed back the boundaries of human endeavour by venturing to the most extreme places on Earth to shed light on the natural world. Rolex watches have accompanied these explorers to the highest mountains and the ocean depths, serving as precise, reliable tools. In turn, these groundbreaking expeditions have proved to be the perfect living laboratory for the brand to test and develop its timepieces.

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In 1933, the brand first equipped the British Everest Expedition, and again in 1953 on Sir John Hunt’s historic expedition, when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to reach the summit of Mount Everest. In honour of this milestone, Rolex launched the Explorer watch in 1953. The Explorer model was eventually improved with a reinforced case and a more legible dial for extreme conditions. Since that time, the Explorer has benefited from every technical advance to Rolex watches, though its appearance remains the same.

In 1954 Rolex formed one of the brand’s most enduring partnerships − an alliance with the National Geographic Society. By 1960, Rolex’s involvement with exploration took a new turn – down to the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific, the deepest point in the oceans, the equivalent of the height of Mount Everest plus some 2,000 metres.

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Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh carried an experimental Rolex Oyster watch, the Deep-Sea Special, fixed to its exterior as it descended to a record depth of 10,916 metres (35,800 feet). The watch was working perfectly when the vessel resurfaced despite the immense pressure it had been subjected to. Piccard and Walsh remained the only people to reach the bottom of the ocean for the next half-century.

In light of its increased involvement with exploration, in 1971, Rolex launched the Explorer II, featuring a date display, an additional 24-hour hand and a fixed bezel with 24-hour graduation, enabling the wearer to distinguish hours of the day from those of the night. This was essential for exploration in dark environments such as caves or polar regions that experience six months each of daylight and darkness.

Echoing the first manned descent to the Mariana Trench in 1960, filmmaker and Rolex Testimonee James Cameron completed his solo dive in 2012 aboard the Deepsea Challenger, which carried an experimental diver’s watch, the Rolex Deepsea Challenge, on its robotic manipulator arm. The watch, waterproof to 12,000 metres (39,370 feet), resisted more than 12 tonnes of pressure on its crystal, kept perfect time and emerged from the water unscathed.

From the early 1980s through to the early years of the 21st century, many explorers, including mountaineers, divers, and scientists, became associated with Rolex, such as George Schaller, Richard Leakey, Ed Viesturs, Alain Hubert, Jean Troillet and Rune Gjeldnes.

A few weeks ago,  Rolex released the documentary: Perpetual Planet: Heroes of the Oceans on its web platform. It brings together legendary oceanographer and Rolex Testimonee Sylvia Earle with a cast of pioneering marine scientists to tell the story of work being undertaken across the planet to protect the oceans’ fragile ecosystems.

The brand commissioned this documentary as part of its Perpetual Planet initiative to support those devising solutions to the environmental challenges the world is facing. The initiative derives from Rolex’s legacy as a company that has traditionally fostered exploration for the sake of discovery.

However, today’s explorers are increasingly concerned about the balance of the Earth’s ecosystems. Through its partnerships and programmes, Rolex is championing these explorers and their dedication to conserving the environment.

Sylvia Earle, the founder of Mission Blue and a partner in Perpetual Planet, narrates the documentary. It features the work of six marine scientists, five of whom are Rolex Award Laureates including Angélique Pouponneau,  a Mission Blue champion from  Seychelles and Ghislain Bardout, co-founder and Director of the Under the Pole expeditions.

Over the course of the hour-long documentary, the viewer is immersed in a spectacular underwater world, discovering the challenges the oceans face today and the solutions that can make a real change. Almost a third of ocean life has been destroyed due to climate change and human activity.

The BBC Studios’ Science Unit-produced film for Rolex, which is being broadcast on National Geographic channels, is available to watch on the watch brand’s website.