Exploration and preservation: the quest for a Perpetual Planet

For nearly a century, Rolex has supported some of the world’s greatest pioneers, explorers and scientists. Its founder Hans Wilsdorf actively collaborated with those who ventured to unexplored and often hostile places, scaled new heights, plunged to new depths or increased our understanding of the world and Rolex has continued his legacy through its Perpetual Planet Initiative. 


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A history of adventure

For Wilsdorf, the world was a living laboratory and many of the expeditions Rolex supported in its early years were seen as an opportunity to test watches in the most extreme conditions.  

In 1927, he equipped Mercedes Gleitze, a young Englishwoman, with a waterproof Rolex Oyster for a historic swim across the English Channel.  

Rolex timepieces were also worn during the first flight over Mount Everest in 1933 and were part of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s expedition that led to its first ascent in 1953.  

In 1960, the Trieste, piloted by Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh, descended almost 11,000 metres to the Mariana Trench.

Seven years later, when Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard and Lieutenant Don Walsh of the United States Navy embarked on the Trieste mission into the Mariana Trench—the deepest point in the world’s oceans—Rolex’s experimental ‘Deep Sea Special’ was attached to the outside of the submersible and survived the trip almost 11,000 metres below the surface. Director and explorer James Cameron repeated this feat on his own in 2012 as part of the Deep Sea Challenge, and once again an experimental Rolex diving watch was mounted and came through unscathed.  

Exploration for preservation

The uncertainty of climate change and biodiversity decline means the motivation of many explorers has changed from ‘where can we go and what can we discover?’ to ‘how do we use science to understand environmental issues, develop solutions to address them and preserve our planet?’  

Sylvia Earle, Rolex Testimonee and founder of Mission Blue, in front of the DeepSee submersible. In 2022, she led an expedition to the Galápagos Islands Hope Spot.

Rolex also supports these pioneers and its support was reinforced with the launch of the Rolex Perpetual Planet Initiative in 2019. The initiative initially combined the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, which launched in 1976 and is focused on individuals who contribute to a better world; Mission Blue, founded by the legendary Sylvia Earle, who is creating a network of marine protected areas known as ‘hope spots’; and its long-standing partnership with the National Geographic Society and its scientific expeditions to the planet’s most vulnerable places, with the goal of revealing new insights about the systems that support life on Earth.   

Rolex’s Perpetual Planet Initiative now has more than 20 partnerships as part of an expanding environmental portfolio that spans the globe from Chile to Monaco, river basins in Africa to ice caps in the Arctic.   

In addition, Rolex’s Perpetual Planet Initiative supports organisations and initiatives fostering the next generation of explorers, scientists and conservationists through scholarships and grants, such as Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society and The Rolex Explorers Club Grants.  

Onwards and upwards 

As part of its Perpetual Planet Initiative, Rolex has also partnered with a range of international media outlets—including New Zealand Geographic—that have committed to in-depth coverage of environmental issues and aim to showcase solutions to some of our most pressing problems.  

As part of the ‘Time for Change‘ series, New Zealand Geographic will profile some of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise laureates.  

Rolex and its Perpetual Planet Initiative wanted to support individuals while their projects were still in their formative stages, rather than rewarding completed achievements, and its goal is to facilitate discoveries and new ideas and deliver practical benefit to humanity and the planet. 

All told, 34,000 people from 191 countries have applied since the Rolex Awards for Enterprise began in 1976, and 155 laureates have been named in five areas—environment, health and science, applied technology, cultural heritage and exploration and discovery. All laureates receive a substantial financial grant to continue their projects, publicity for their cause and access to the Rolex network.  

Marine biologist Vreni Häussermann

Whether it’s German-Chilean scientist Vreni Häussermann’s research in the waters of Patagonia and her committed campaigning to protect it; Australian innovator Mark Kendall’s efforts to develop a technology that can deliver vaccines via a patch applied to the skin; or Felix Brooks-church’s efforts to reduce malnutrition in Africa through fortified food, the people and projects recognised by Rolex through the Rolex Awards for Enterprise have led to a huge range of positive outcomes for the winners and for society. 

But there is still more to discover and more to be done, and it intends to continue supporting those doing their bit to ensure a Perpetual Planet.  


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