As we continue to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the world, the nature of exploration has changed accordingly. No longer are we pursuing expeditions primarily to discover and learn about places that we haven’t previously been to. Instead, exploration in the 21st century is increasingly geared towards conservation, with data collected from studies of various ecosystems around the world empowering scientists and policymakers like never before. Rolex has long been a steadfast supporter of explorers and their projects. This goes beyond equipping its partners with watches of the highest quality with which to keep time – the brand has funded and raised awareness of various programmes to maximise their efficacy and impact. With Rolex’s support, German-born American conservationist George Schaller has, for instance, helped to establish over 20 wildlife reserves around the world to protect endangered animals such as Mongolia’s snow leopards.
The changing nature of exploration and humans’ place in the world has prompted Rolex to adapt its programmes accordingly. To that end, the brand unveiled the Perpetual Planet campaign last year, as a single aegis under which its various exploration and conservation efforts are subsumed. For now, the campaign consists of three arms: an enhanced partnership with the National Geographic Society to study the effects of climate change, support for Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue initiative to create a network of Marine Protected Areas known as Hope Spots across the world’s oceans, and finally the Rolex Awards for Enterprise.
None of the programmes under Perpetual Planet are new as Rolex is known for its longstanding partnerships, and its work here is no different. Dr Sylvia Earle, for example, has been a Rolex Testimonee since 1982, and her work on Mission Blue stretches back to 2010. Rolex’s participation since 2014 has seen the number of Hope Spots increase from 50 to over 112 today, to cover eight per cent of Earth’s oceans. Similarly, Rolex has been a partner of National Geographic Society since 1954. Last year, under the name Perpetual Planet Extreme Expeditions, Rolex and National Geographic planned a five-year exploration of the planet’s most extreme environments. The first expedition supported by this partnership is to Mt Everest and ran from April to June 2019.
Recognising And Realising Potential
The Rolex Awards for Enterprise is equally established, having been incepted in 1976 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Oyster, the world’s first waterproof wristwatch. Although it was meant to be a one-off celebration, the Awards’ popularity prompted the brand to transform it into an ongoing programme that has to date supported 140 laureates. Their works have contributed to improving lives around the world and/or protecting the environment.
What’s unique about the Rolex Awards for Enterprise is its premise: the programme doesn’t honour past achievements, but recognises new or ongoing projects instead. Without restrictions on gender, nationality, or academic/professional qualifications – applications need only be above 18 – the Awards are incredibly democratic. This has allowed Rolex to support people from outside of established scientific and/or industry circles, to give recognition and support to those who need it. Past laureates have included a Parisian taxi driver who became a world authority on Nepalese ground beetles and an American amateur scientist who enabled school children worldwide to monitor atmospheric data.
Five Laureates are chosen in each biennial edition of the Awards, with the primary criterion for selection being an original, visionary project that can benefit humanity and/or the planet. Traditionally, the Awards have recognised projects that focus on areas such as technology, the environment, exploration, culture and heritage, as well as science and health. Apart from project funding, awardees are gifted a Rolex timepiece, worldwide publicity that amplifies the effects of their projects, as well as membership of the network of Rolex Awards laureates that makes synergies between projects possible.
The 2019 laureates
In 2019, the five laureates of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise span various fields in their projects. Brazillian conservationist João Campos-Silva is working to save the arapaima, a gigantic fish endemic to the Amazon, from extinction. French medical scientist Grégoire Courtine, on the other hand, is developing an electronic “bridge” to help patients with spinal injuries to walk again. Meanwhile, Canadian entrepreneur and molecular biologist Miranda Wang is commodifying plastic waste by using them as feedstock to generate useful chemicals using new recycling technologies.
With Perpetual Planet, Rolex isn’t just rebranding existing projects under a single umbrella. This is a clear indication that the brand is committed to long-term efforts that will benefit the planet and all its life. To be sure, this is merely the beginning.