Above: Angelique Kerber @Jon Buckle
By: Cátia Matos
“Rolex is unique and I think it always will be.” These are the words of Bertrand Gros, president of the Swiss manufacturer, who believes that the genius of its founder, Hans Wilsdorf, was the crucial factor for turning the house into the maximum symbol of excellence it is today.
Just like Rolex, its ambassadors share the same uniqueness. Belonging to the most varied fields, from the arts to sports and even exploration, the female faces chosen to represent the house have always reflected excellence and elegance, and are genuine role models for millions of women the world over.
The year 1927 marked the beginning of a close relationship between the Genevan manufacturer and the world of women. To prove the impermeability of the Oyster (the first waterproof wristwatch), the brand invited swimmer Mercedes Gleitze to wear the model when she famously swam across the English Channel. The successful feat was marked by an announcement on the front page of the Daily Mail, making the young English woman the first official ambassador of Rolex and a true symbol of the iconic Oyster. With this achievement, Mercedes Gleitze stood at the top of a long list of Rolex ambassadors.
Marine biologist Sylvia Earle, a pioneering name in marine exploration and National Geographic explorer-in-residence, became a Rolex ambassador in 1982. Her connection to the house began in 1970, when the diving team of the underwater science programme Tektite II (to which Sylvia belonged) was equipped with the manufacturer’s watches. “Most watches are looked upon as jewellery or — for us explorers — as an equipment to tell the time, but my watch to me has a much deeper meaning. The concept of Rolex is supporting exploration, conservation, the arts and the best that humans can be.”
Skier Lindsey Vonn is another associated female face. Champion of more than 80 competitions and downhill Olympic medalist, she has been a Rolex ambassador since 2009. Besides her triumphs, the athlete also created the Lindsey Vonn Foundation, which has inspired and given strength to other women. “What matters is what we do and how we do it. That’s why I’ve been with Rolex for so many years – because the brand also shares this motto. It built its own path. It did its part and helps others conquer their goals.”
Still in the sports category, tennis players Garbiñe Muguruza, Chris Evert and Angelique Kerber are also part of this club. Garbiñe joined the Rolex family after winning the French Open – her first Grand Slam title. “Everybody has individual expectations and I think greatness is when you achieve your own goals — no matter how big or small they are. In 2014, I had a great year; I reached the fourth round at the Australian Open, beat my childhood hero Serena Williams for the first time and finally ended up being in the top 20, which was an incredibly important step for me. As for Chris Evert, winner of 18 Grand Slams, she sees the connection to the house like belonging to an exclusive club. “When I look at my Rolex, I don’t see 18 Grand Slams. Rather I see a reflection of all the different stages of my life combined: not only in my tennis, but also my family life, my business life, and all the goals that I’ve achieved. It is an extension of me.” German player Angelique Kerber admits that this relationship also has a special meaning for her. “It means a lot to be part of the Rolex family because everybody has achieved something really big and they are all fighting for it.”
New Zealander Kiri Te Kanawa became the first Rolex ambassador in the cultural field in 1976. The brand has supported her namesake foundation, created to hone and encourage young talents. Sonya Yoncheva is another representative in this area. The Bulgarian soprano accepted the invitation from the brand a year after she won the opera competition Operalia in 2011. “I’m very lucky to be a Rolex artist (…) Its commitment and its contribution to the arts represent what I have been doing and what I still intend to do.” Still on the arts front, famous Chinese pianist Yuja Wang has been linked to Rolex since 2009. “Rolex is there to give me a goal to look forward to; it is almost like a motivation for me to always strive for the best,” she says.
According to Bertrand Gros, “we have set ourselves objectives over the years considered very ambitious”, yet, like its ambassadors, “we have always exceeded them”. He adds: “Although ‘trees do not grow to the sky’, there is no reason to think that the brand will not continue on this path. I do not see why, in the long term, Rolex could not continue its expansion. The ‘status symbol’ brand, our innovation, our corporate culture should continue to strike the imagination of new generations worldwide.”