From championing explorations to the farthest reaches of the Earth, the luxury watch brand has now moved to safeguard the planet with its Perpetual Planet initiative

Exploration and adventure have been part of the history of Rolex since its earliest days. In 1927, founder Hans Wilsdorf equipped Mercedes Gleitze with an Oyster, the world’s first waterproof watch, which had been launched the previous year, for her 10-hour swim across the English Channel. She made history as the first English woman to swim the channel, and so did the Rolex Oyster, which was declared to be in perfect working order at the end of its long stay in the choppy waters. 

In 1947, Swiss mountaineer Annelies Lohner led an expedition that, in five months, achieved the first ascents of Kedarnath, Satopanth, Kalindi, Balbala, and Nanda Ghunti in the Garhwal Himalayas. The entire expedition was equipped with the Oyster Perpetual. Six years later, in 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay both wore the Oyster Perpetual when they made their historic summit of Mount Everest.

In the early 1990s, Rolex accompanied Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge on his  ‘three extremes’ expedition: walking to the North Pole and the South Pole on foot, and climbing Everest. In 1997, Rolex was part of another Norwegian, Rune Gjeldnes’ unsupported 109 days, 2100 km ‘Arctic Ocean 2000’ expedition. And again in 2006 on his ‘The Longest March’ project, a solo, three-month, 4800 km ski trek across the South Pole, without any supplies.  

SIR EDMUND HILLARY /n(1919-2008). New Zealand mountaineer and explorer. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay near the summit of Mount Everest, 28 May 1953.
FF6X40 SIR EDMUND HILLARY /n(1919-2008). New Zealand mountaineer and explorer. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay near the summit of Mount Everest, 28 May 1953.

Rolex was on the wrist of Ed Viesturs in 2005 when he became the first American to climb all the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000 metres without supplemental oxygen. And in 2012, 52 years after its involvement in the first manned dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the world’s deepest ocean spot in the Pacific, Rolex was an active part of Avatar director James Cameron’s record-breaking solo dive that reached  10,908 metres below the surface of the Pacific Ocean in the Deepsea Challenger submersible vessel.

The complete list of explorations that Rolex has supported over the years runs into the dozens. They constitute the veritable history of the human quest to discover the unknown in the farthest reaches of the Earth over the last century. It is not surprising then that with the Perpetual Planet initiative launched in 2019,  the luxury watch brand has moved from championing exploration for the sake of discovery to safeguarding the planet with its support for individuals and organisations using science to understand the Earth’s environmental challenges. 

The Perpetual Planet initiative focuses on three key areas: supporting individuals who contribute to a better world through the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, preserving the oceans through the company’s association with Mission Blue, and understanding climate change through data as part of its enhanced association with National Geographic, a Rolex partner since 1954. 

An excellent example of this is the recent Tupungato Volcano project in northern Chile, undertaken in cooperation with the government in that country. A two-week- long project that ran from late February to early March 2021, the project was set up to study the mountain’s water tower and install the highest weather station in the Americas.

It builds on the National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Expedition in 2019 on Mount Everest, the most significant scientific expedition ever undertaken to the world’s highest mountain. It made history with the installation of the world’s highest weather station. 

The historic Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition, which ran from April to June 2019, examined the mountain system’s role in providing water resources to a billion people. A team of more than 30, including scientists from Nepal’s Tribhuvan University, successfully set up a network of automated weather stations (with the highest located at 8,400m above sea level) reaching the subtropical jet stream, a band of powerful winds that circle the globe at high altitudes, and are extremely difficult to track. Significantly, the weather stations provide a stream of data, helping to determine projections of snow and ice. 

Gleitze In The Channel
Swimmer Mercedes Gleitze has a drink during her unsuccessful attempt to swim the English Channel, 21st October 1927. (Photo by E. Bacon/Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The goal of the National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Expeditions is to provide scientific information that can help communities take action to protect themselves in the face of climate change impacts on vulnerable water towers, the mountainous and glacial regions of the world that act like giant storage tanks, and provide fresh water to billions of people. 

“With the installation of the highest weather station in the Americas, scientists will have a window into atmospheric processes in the high Chilean Andes,” says Dr Baker Perry, Professor of Appalachian State University in North Carolina, who co-led of the Tupungato Volcano expedition. “One of the most vulnerable water towers in the world, these mountains provide critical fresh water to more than six million inhabitants in nearby Santiago. The expedition is contributing to Perpetual Planet by pushing the limits of scientific discovery and exploration to the highest reaches of the planet.” 

Located on Tupungato’s summit, at the height of 6,505m, the new weather station will collect data to analyse weather modelling and water resource management. It will function alongside lower stations installed in December 2019 with support from National Geographic — one at 4,400m (at the upper Aconcagua basin 70 km northeast of Santiago) and two on neighbouring volcano Tupungatito at 4,400m and 5,750m. Members of the Tupungato Volcano Expedition were equipped with the Oyster Perpetual Explorer II, a watch developed in collaboration with legendary mountaineers that has constantly evolved to meet explorers’ needs.

These National Geographic ("NG") images are intended for informational/preview purposes only,embargoed against any public-facing or internet/web-based usage until expressly notified by a NationalGeographic Society representative, in conjunction with its
The highest weather station in the Southern and Western Hemispheres, installed on Tupungato Volcano at 6,505 metres.

The National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet expeditions to mountain environments such as the Tupungato Volcano continue the brand’s long-standing links to exploration, and support those who find solutions to the challenges faced by the world’s fragile ecosystems. “Through our partnership with Rolex to study and explore earth’s critical life support systems,” says Nicole Alexiev, Vice President of Science and Innovation at the National Geographic Society, “our ultimate goal is to use the new information and data gathered from the expeditions to support and elevate solutions that will restore balance to our ecosystems.”