This Rolex is made using eye surgery lasers

Although traditionally a A repository of analog skills and long-standing know-how, today’s luxury watch industry has developed the astute ability to source high-tech innovations in sectors unrelated to the watchmaking world.

The high strength potential of carbon fiber, realized in 1963 at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, a British Army-owned research facility for use in jet engines, is now commonly used in high-end watches. Deep engraving with reactive ions, developed for micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), is now also used to make silicon watch parts that have transformed watchmaking thanks to their antimagnetic properties (metal watches with continuously moving parts naturally hate magnets) .

TAG Heuer, building on a process initially developed at the University of Utah, attempts to grow carbon nanotube balance springs, tiny spirals in the heart of a mechanical watch which cause the oscillations of the escapement, which itself, with each oscillation, allows a tooth of the driving wheel to “escape” and to advance the hands of the watch. They are believed to be less brittle than their silicon counterparts; they are also antimagnetic but have better impact resistance and are easy for the watchmaker to assemble.

The titanium-ceramic compounds found in today’s watch cases were created for dental and military uses. Panerai Carbotech material was actually developed for the brake pads.

And the list continues. Basically, hardly any new material used in watch cases has actually been developed for watches. Watch brands are extremely good at finding new things and integrating them into their field.

Yet, as new materials, manufacturing techniques and engineering processes have swirled en masse and rapidly from the automotive and aviation industries, eye surgery may seem like a less likely source of technological inspiration.

However, Rolex this year turned to a laser technique used in cataract removal in its quest to industrialize the creation of unique and flawless decorations for its dials. The latest version of its classic automatic winding Datejust model – a timepiece first made in 1945 to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary, in which tropical palm leaves weave their way through a sunray green dial where the face is lighter in the middle and over dark at the edges in a semi-abstract way – uses this model very treat.

The palms are engraved on this sunburst dial base using femtosecond laser technology, which was first developed for surgical purposes in the early 1990s.

During cataract surgery, ultra-short laser pulses (one femtosecond equals one millionth of a billionth of a second) are used to precisely geometry the surface of the eye, allowing the cataract material to be removed with the type of accuracy that a surgeon’s hand could not achieve.

Photograph: Rolex

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