Editor’s note: Rolex is probably the strongest watch brand on the planet, but as well as their worldwide fame and popularity, they make incredibly reliable and robust wristwatches. One key part of their success at consistently producing hard-wearing watches is the quality control at their factory, ensuring that every timepiece that leaves the building has met their strict standards. As a result, it’s an incredibly rare moment when a Rolex is found with any mistakes, but that is exactly what happened when an Air-King popped up with a very unusual dial.
It’s a modern-day escape from Alcatraz, where the escapee is a defect on a watch that makes it to market, and Alcatraz is the Rolex manufacture. That, I suspect, is flattering Alcatraz.
Because, the fact that a modern Rolex with a defect you can actually see even exists is unthinkable to the point of immediately being suspected as a hoax.
But here it is. Not only does a ‘double nine’ Rolex Air-King 116900 — with a nine where the ‘3’ numeral should be — allegedly exist in the wild, it’s been captured by Watchfinder & Co., who used the occasion to do a proper exposition on just how extraordinary that fact is.
To summarise the excellent post by Watchfinder & Co., here are three key reasons the ‘double 9’ Rolex Air-King 116900 is practically a miracle:
- Rolex now has fully verticalised production. Unlike in other eras, when accidents would happen, “from mild nuisances like deviation in fonts and design, to full-on critical failures like extreme paint discolouration and cracking lacquer”, a third-party supplier cannot be blamed.
- Rolex’s QA processes may even exceed “NASA’s JPL”: “From the iris scanner-protected automated stock system, its 60,000 storage compartments patrolled and operated just by robots; to the controlled environment zones where the watches are assembled, clean rooms free of dust and humidity … and, of course, the quality control testing using COMEX-designed pressurised tanks and high-resolution imaging machines that scan every watch for even the smallest flaw — Rolex has got quality covered.”
- In addition to evading machines, the error evaded people, too: “The person assembling the dial didn’t notice it, the person assembling the case didn’t notice it, the person quality checking the watch didn’t notice it — and you can kind of see why. It blends in rather well.” Rumour has it that both the seller and the buyer also didn’t notice it; the error was reportedly pointed out by a friend.