From preserving nature to helping communities: This watchmaker enables people making our lives better

The Rolex Perpetual Planet initiative aims to help individuals take on environmental changes and protect our future

The Rolex Perpetual Planet initiative supports projects that can better lives on earth, such as Chinese-Canadian tech entrepreneur Miranda Wang’s novel technique of processing unrecyclable plastic waste. PHOTO: ROLEX / BART MICHIELS


When Singapore announced its Green Plan 2030 last year to combat climate change, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu said: “Climate change must not be exacerbated on our watch. Let us make the right choice today, so that our children and grandchildren can look back and be proud of the direction we have set.”

The United Nations also agrees – its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stressed the urgency to act, noting that climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying. It said in a report last year: “Human actions still have the potential to determine the future of the climate.”

But efforts should not just come from the governmental front alone. That was why in 2019, Swiss watchmaker Rolex launched its Perpetual Planet initiative. The initiative’s aim is to champion efforts by individuals and organisations, casting the spotlight on the earth’s fragile ecosystems, and design solutions to environmental challenges, thus promoting the planet’s preservation.

What’s interesting to note is that the Perpetual Planet initiative is a continuation of brand founder Hans Wilsdorf’s legacy: Since the 1930s, Rolex watches have accompanied explorers and adventurers to the highest mountains and ocean depths.

But with such urgent issues facing the planet, the company has moved from championing exploration for the sake of discovery to protecting the planet.

Through its partnerships, relationships and programmes, Rolex is supporting these explorers as part of its commitment to a Perpetual Planet.

Rolex and the National Geographic Society collaborate to support scientific research and expeditions, such as the Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition, to better understand existing environmental issues. PHOTO: ROLEX / NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Partnerships for good

Under the Perpetual Planet initiative, Rolex has enhanced its partnership with the National Geographic Society to study climate change’s impact, and with oceanographer Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue, an organisation that aims to safeguard marine life by protecting areas critical to the health of the ocean.

Rolex and the National Geographic Society first partnered in 1954 after they were brought together by the first expedition to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. The society featured the ascent in its magazine, while Rolex equipped the climbers with Oyster Perpetual watches for timekeeping purposes.

Since then, both organisations have joined forces on expeditions and backed each other’s campaigns, further contributing to exploration, science and conservation.

The society’s scientists have served as jury members for the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, which provides funding and support for people with projects that preserve natural habitats and species, as well as advance human knowledge and well-being. Thirty Rolex Awards Laureates have also been National Geographic Explorers or recipients of grants to further their work.

In 2017, their partnership was enhanced to promote exploration and conservation. They have since embarked on a series of expeditions to analyse how climate change is affecting rainforests, mountains and other natural systems vital to life on Earth.

On the other hand, Dr Earle’s Mission Blue aims to create a global network of marine protected areas (MPAs) called Hope Spots to shield marine life from human pressures.

The diverse purpose of the Hope Spots includes protecting major migration corridors; rare, threatened or endemic species; and spawning grounds.

With Rolex’s support, Mission Blue founded by oceanographer Sylvia Earle has successfully protected marine life through 130 Hope Spots. PHOTO: ROLEX / KIP EVANS

With Rolex on board since 2014, Mission Blue has increased its number of Hope Spots from 50 to more than 140. Palau, a group of islands in Micronesia, is one of them.

The Rolex Testimonee ­– a phrase to describe a leader in his or her field and shares common values and philosophies with the watchmaker – said: “Eighty per cent of the entire exclusive economic zone is now a safe haven for wildlife, and 20 per cent is managed so that the local population can draw on the ocean for their livelihood.”

The brand has forged other relationships to help the planet and people too. For instance, since 1974, the company has funded scholarships given by the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society to young people, who want to pursue careers in aquatic-related fields.

The watchmaker also sponsors expeditions by Under The Pole, a global underwater exploration programme to collect data and bolster preservation measures. During the Under The Pole III expedition from 2017 to 2021, divers and scientists sailed from the Arctic to the Antarctic via the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans to explore ecosystems and complete research in marine biology, polar systems and diver physiology.

Another component of the Perpetual Planet initiative is the biennial Rolex Awards for Enterprise, which was established in 1976. The programme has enabled people to uplift lives and communities, pioneer health and science advances, preserve species and ecosystems, and more (see below).

In each edition of the Awards, applicants go through a rigorous process that involves peer review, assessments, interviews and evaluations of the likelihood of their projects achieving their aims. 

This generates the best entries from which an independent, interdisciplinary jury of experts selects five winners. The jury changes with each edition of the Awards, but generally includes conservationists, doctors, educators, explorers, scientists and innovators.

One of the 2019 Rolex Awards Laureates, Chinese-Canadian tech entrepreneur Miranda Wang invented a sustainable and economical process to turn soiled, contaminated and previously unrecyclable plastic waste into quality materials for 3D printing and consumer products.

She said: “Currently, there are almost no technologies that work on the really dirty plastics. These plastics are so low-grade that it doesn’t make sense for people to clean them and make a new product out of them. We focus on these problem plastics that nobody else wants to touch.”

She and her team expect to recycle hundreds of tonnes of plastic waste per year by 2023, eliminating up to 4,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

Supported by Rolex, British glacial microbiologist Joseph Cook is researching to find out how microorganisms in the Greenland ice sheet can affect climate change. PHOTO: ROLEX / COURTESY OF JOSEPH COOK

Other Rolex Awards Laureates include Ms Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, whose Rags2Riches organisation in the Philippines helps poor women earn a living by using upcycled and overstock fabric to create high-end fashion accessories, and Dr Joseph Cook, a glacial microbiologist studying the Greenland ice sheet to understand how microorganisms influence global warming.

Rolex noted that its Rolex Awards Laureates – who receive access to its network of some 155 Laureates, with many subsequently collaborating on projects – are tackling some of humanity’s most pressing challenges, including poverty and climate change, to protect the environment and boost human well-being.

Rolex has supported pioneering explorers and pushed the boundaries of human endeavour for nearly a century. With the Perpetual Planet initiative, the watchmaker will continue to do so, now and into the future.

As co-residents of this planet, sharing space with nature, we have a responsibility to sustain this home we call Earth. In partnership with Rolex and its Perpetual Planet initiative, We The Earth unravels the relationship between humans and nature to help us better understand how we can each play a part in ensuring our planet stands the test of time.

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