Essential was at the iconic Teatro alla Scala in Milan to attend the Gala Ambasciatori Rolex, an extraordinary event that celebrated the brand’s long standing partnerships with some of the world’s pre-eminent artists and institutions
By César Brigante
Rolex occupies a very special place in the world of watchmaking. Its unique prestige, built over more than a century, owes as much to the quality of the time-measuring instruments it produces as to the intelligent way in which it has been able to communicate its rich values, such as innovation, accuracy, resilience and demand for excellence.
Joining sportsmen, explorers and artists who embrace these values in their achievements and creations, projecting a positive effect on society, was a pioneering strategy set from the start by Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf, which has been instrumental in the success of the house and unquestionably made it the most famous watchmaker in the world.
Rather than making price-competitive watches, Hans Wilsdorf chose to make them desirable for their efficiency and prestige. Testing the pieces on the wrist of those facing adverse conditions and relying on their testimony was Wilsdorf’s way of asserting their credibility.
This innovative marketing approach was first put into practice in 1927, when Rolex teamed up with young swimmer Mercedes Gleitze in an attempt to be the first woman to swim across the English Channel. The swimmer successfully completed the feat, which took ten hours to complete, with a waterproof wrist Rolex Oyster that proved to be totally up to the challenge. With great media attention and duly highlighted by the brand with a full-page advert in the Daily Mail newspaper, the feat marked the beginning of the essence of the brand that has long favored sportsmen elite, the record-breakers and the explorers.
Although present on the pulse of countless public figures and artists, it was not until the 1970s that Rolex extended the concept to the art world – specifically music – by inviting the famous New Zealand soprano Kiri Te Kanawa.
In 1982, at the height of his career, Plácido Domingo joined the brand. Shortly after, Domingo convinced Rolex to sponsor Operalia, an event he founded to find the best opera singers in the world. A few years later, this trend gave way to a consistent policy of sponsoring the arts, which has been growing for 40 years with no signs of stopping.
While continuing to focus on music, Rolex’s role in the art world is increasingly widespread and includes not only ambassadors but the world’s top operas and theatres, from New York’s Metropolitan Opera to Milan’s La Scala Theatre, and festivals such as that of Salzburg and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, of which it is the Exclusive Partner. However, it extends to other disciplines, such as literature, architecture and even cinema, thanks to the Rolex Mentor and Protégé program.
It was to celebrate the brand’s long standing partnerships with some of the world’s pre-eminent artists and institutions that, for one night only, Rolex brought together a series of intergenerational musicians and opera singers in Milan that was almost impossible to bring together if it weren’t for this special link to the organising brand. Among Rolex Testimonees who performed that evening, the headliner was Plácido Domingo in the role of conductor, aided in conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra by the much younger Gustavo Dudamel.
On a night when the opera was in the spotlight, as to be expected at La Scala, some of today’s best performers were invited: Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva and tenors Juan Diego Flórez and Jonas Kaufmann, and at the other end of the generational spectrum, one of today’s most sought-after pianists, the 32-year-old Chinese musician Yuja Wang.
On the day before the performance, Essential and a small group of journalists invited to the event had the opportunity to not only take a guided tour of La Scala to learn about its history and current operation, but also to talk to Alexander Pereira, CEO and artistic director of the Milanese theatre, founded almost two centuries ago, who revealed a reality of which many are unaware. “A new kind of director of a theatre like La Scala spends at least half of his time looking for funding, trying to convince companies that he has a fantastic project worth investing in.”
The current Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra leaders Daniel Froschauer and Michael Bladerer also explained the original operation and funding of this important institution and a relationship they already consider to be a friendship. “We visited the factory where we were shown the whole process of making the watches and were impressed when we saw the enormous similarities that exist, particularly in regards to the degree of demand and attention to detail that the Philharmonic and Rolex share. This is clearly a win-win situation, but we have learned a lot from Rolex, especially with regard to our perception of the Philharmonic’s value as a brand, and that has been very valuable to us.”
No less interesting was the conversation with the artists present at the gala, which took place in the beautiful Giallo room where, among other themes related to the music and personal career of each one, the importance of Rolex’s sponsoring support inevitably came up, both in a personal sense and in the philanthropic projects that some of them develop, such as the case of Juan Diego Flórez. In his home country, the tenor is the founder of Sinfonía por el Perú, an organisation that aims to help at-risk children through music inspired by the well-known Venezuelan El Sistema, of which Gustavo Dudamel is a fervent supporter and for which he managed to garner Rolex’s support. “The brand has been supporting me on several different projects. The most important is the work we have been doing with the Sinfonia por el Perú. As part of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé initiative, we are developing a programme with the Youth Orchestra for El Peru with the Vienna Philharmonic. The El Peru Youth Orchestra has 100 fantastic children who play amazingly. This orchestra will play at the Salzburg Festival in 2021, but they will be working first, learning from the Vienna Philharmonic.”
For the night, in a theatre filled with the characteristic atmosphere of these occasions, the programme was tailored to a diverse audience, certainly with less music lovers than usual but still quite interested. It contained themes by Giuseppe Verdi, Pietro Mascagni, Charles Gounod, Gaetano Donizetti, Fromental Halévy and Giacomo Puccini, well known to the general public. In the first part, after the Opening of the Opera “The Force of Destiny”, Yuja Wang had the opportunity to perform the Piano and Orchestra Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 and Variations on a Theme by Carmen de Horowitz, where the young pianist demonstrated all her virtuosity.
The evening ended with an incredible dinner on the La Scala stage that brought together musicians, Rolex guests from around the world, and little more than a handful of journalists where, gastronomically speaking, the organisation presented the same excellence as the overall event.