ROLEX – Celebrating 60 Years of Excellence
The Start of a Successful Partnership
The roots of Rolex’s affinity for sports and human achievement can be traced back to the pioneering origins of the company. In an era when wristwatches were still regarded as fragile items of apparel, Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf was determined to create a timepiece that would be robust, precise and reliable, adapting to ever more active lifestyles.
In 1927, the year after Hans Wilsdorf developed the cornerstone of the company’s success, the world’s first waterproof wristwatch, the Rolex Oyster, he equipped a young sportswoman, Mercedes Gleitze, with the innovative wristwatch to swim the English Channel. At the end of her arduous swim, after more than 10 hours in the water, the watch emerged in perfect working order. Mercedes Gleitze was effectively the first Rolex Testimonee, a witness to the uncompromised performance of the Oyster who also demonstrated its real-life qualities. It became the wristwatch that defied the elements, an essential feature for those engaged in exploration or sports.
Since then, Rolex has accompanied many of humanity’s greatest feats as men and women have broken long-standing record defying the elements and exploring the globe’s most forbidding frontiers – from the tallest peaks to the deepest oceans. As they pushed the boundaries of human endeavour, these men and women also provided a demanding proving ground for the Oyster wristwatch, as a robust, reliable and practical timepiece in any circumstance.
Rolex continues its constant pursuit of perfection to this day, and in doing so, the brand has become a symbol for elegance and prestige. It was thus a natural progression for Rolex to partner with the sport of equestrianism, which shares these heralding values.
The relationships started in 1957 with Rolex’s first equestrian Testimonee with one of the greatest female showjumpers to ever represent Great Britain. Pat Smythe became a household name in the late 1940s for her international equestrian accomplishments as well, as for expanding the gender boundaries for her most-cherished sport.
Smythe’s list of equestrian achievements is long and prolific. She was the first woman to travel the world competing internationally, winning major Grand Prix events on her own horses in more countries than any man or woman had ever done before. In 1956 she was the first woman to ride in the Olympics show jumping event and the first ever to win a medal.
Since that pivotal association, Rolex’s support and contribution to equestrianism has grown and prospered. Today, the brand is proud to champion many of the sport’s leading athletes and events; from Brazilian show jumper Rodrigo Pessoa, to Scott Brash, from Scotland and the historic and prestigious CHIO Aachen equestrian competition in Germany, as well as the rise of the iconic Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Rolex has built on this relationship, which in 2017 marks the brand’s special 60-year anniversary as the crown in equestrian sport.
Zara Tindall at the 2017 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. Photo: ©Rolex/Ashley Neuhof
Six Decades Marked by Moments of Glory
With exactly 60 years of partnership together, the relationship between Rolex and equestrianism has contributed to many of the sport’s greatest moments. One that will be remembered for all time is when Rolex Testimonee Scott Brash earned equestrianism’s greatest, most challenging accolade: the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Created jointly in 2013 by CHIO Aachen, CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ and CHI Geneva, the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping rewards the rider who wins the Grand Prix at each of the shows, amounting to three Grands Prix in succession. As a long-standing partner of each of these equestrian Majors, Rolex naturally chose to be associated with this initiative, the ultimate achievement in show jumping.
Since he started competing with his most prized horse, Hello Sanctos, in 2012, Brash, has gone from success to success, starting with the 2012 World Cup Grand Prix in Florida, followed by Team Gold at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and Team Gold and Individual Bronze at the European Show Jumping Championships in 2013. His quest to claim show jumping’s ultimate achievement began at CHI Geneva, in December 2014, when he triumphed in the Rolex Grand Prix. A few months later, he soared to stunning victory at the 2015 Rolex Prix of Aachen in Germany, possibly the most prized in the world. A few months later, at only 29 years of age, he finished the feat with the Grand Prix title at the 2015 Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’.
Scott Brash is one among a distinguished list of championship riders who form part of the Rolex family of Testimonees. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, who partnered Rolex in 2007, became the first woman ever to be ranked world number one in show jumping and join the German national team in 1999. In the following years, she became one of the world’s most successful equestrian athletes. Having started a politics degree at Princeton University, equestrian sport was not a vocation she initially envisaged but her love of competing continued throughout her college years. When she graduated, aged 21, she changed her mind about her career and moved to Germany to train. It was here she met her now husband, fellow rider, Marcus Beerbaum. Amongst many team championship medals, she won three FEI World Cup Finals in 2005, 2008 and 2009 – a record still unbeaten today. In 2016 she added to her list of stellar accolades with a bronze Team medal at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janerio.
Meredith spoke of her partnership with Rolex: “To be associated with the world-famous brand that is Rolex, and all the other great athletes supported by Rolex around the world, is an unbelievable honour. When I wear my Rolex competing it reminds me of some of my proudest moments where every second of concentration counted towards victory.
Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum at the World Equestrian Games 2010. Photo: © Rolex/Ashley Neuhof
Raising the Bar
Rolex’s longest serving equestrian Testimonee is Brazilian rider Rodrigo Pessoa, having joined the brand in 1998, the same year he won the World Equestrian Games in Rome to become World Champion. Rodrigo is an Olympic gold-medallist in Individual jumping with 70 Grand Prix wins to his name. He has also represented Brazil at six Olympic Games, winning gold for Individual jumping at the 2004 Athens Olympics and Team bronze medals at Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000. Pessoa is one of only four riders to have won a hat trick of World Cup Jumping Final titles, an accolade made even more impressive with the victories that came in successive years – 1998 (Helsinki); 1999 (Gothenburg); and 2000 (Las Vegas). In 1994 he famously won the Major, the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen in Germany, beating his father, Nelson Pessoa, to third place. Further career highpoints include four other Major victories at CHI Geneva and two at CSIO Spruce Meadows.
Rodrigo commented on the impact Rolex has had in the sport in his time as a professional rider: “The support of big brands, like Rolex, shows that they’re really committed to equestrian sport and to raising the level of professionalism. The progress in the last couple of years has been tremendous and this could not be possible without brands like Rolex elevating the bar.”
Within the sport of eventing Zara Tindall has followed in the footsteps of her accomplished parents, Captain Mark Phillips and HRH Princess Anne. Zara reached the pinnacle of her sport by winning an Olympic silver medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games on her horse, High Kingdom. Rolex were delighted to welcome her into their family of Testimonees in 2006, the same year she won Individual gold and Team silver at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen. Her career continued to ascend great heights in 2014 when she repeated this success helping Team GB secure a silver medal at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy.
Zara’s love of Rolex predates her becoming a Testimonee. Her first timepiece was given to her by her godmother, the wife of motor racing legend, Sir Jackie Stewart, who himself had been a Rolex Testimonee for many years. “When I went to Aachen in 2006, I met the Rolex team and we discussed the idea of becoming a Testimonee. We confirmed our partnership after I won that event and my first Rolex. It was incredible, it was almost better than the winner’s medal, it was a beautiful, classic and timeless piece I will always treasure, engraved with the words ‘World Champion’. To become involved with Rolex professionally together with all the accomplished people Rolex support is such an honour.”
Bertram Allen with Molly Malone. ©Rolex/Reto Albertalli
Harnessing Heritage and Nurturing Future Talent
The development and future of this elegant sport relies, in part, on today’s stars inspiring the future generation. Scott Brash, acknowledged this role, along with his own achievement, after winning the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping in 2015: “I grew up watching Rodrigo Pessoa riding Baloubet du Rouet. I never thought that one day I might be motivating a new generation of young riders to take up the sport.”
To ensure the ongoing development of new talent, Rolex supported the creation of The Young Riders Academy in 2014. Prior to its creation there was no suitably structured coaching system in show jumping, unlike other Olympic sports. Capitalizing on their unique position and heritage, The Young Riders Academy quickly became the most prestigious training course available, with an impressive education programme as part of the content. A stringent selection process was established for entrants by a panel of accomplished former equestrian riders. The program includes a place at the Academy and six months’ board and training at some of Europe’s top stables, including facilities run by Rolex Testimonee Kevin Staut, winner of Team Gold in show jumping for France at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The Academy has already proven its success with 21-year-old Irish showjumper Bertram Allen, who became Rolex’s youngest addition to their sponsorship family. Bertram was only 18 when he was selected to train with show jumping star Marcus Ehning in Germany, in the first year of the Academy’s inception. Like all the trainees, Allen was also schooled beyond the sport in subjects such as mental coaching, team building skills, best practice in running stables, as well as a grounding in marketing, communication and legal issues.
Of his time at the Academy, Bertram Allen says: “There is so much more to consider than just competing. You need to have a well-organized business head to bring it all together for the big events. In terms of competing skills, Marcus Ehning taught me to think and plan two to three jumps ahead which helped relax my riding style for the better.”
Scott Brash at the 2015 CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters.’ Photo: ©Rolex/Kit Houghton
A Precision Sport with Shared Values
Rolex shares many values and attributes with the elegant sport of equestrianism. The Olympic disciplines of show jumping, dressage and eventing are physically exacting, requiring accuracy, grace and strength. All of these qualities are mirrored in the creation of a Rolex wristwatch.
Over the last 60 years Rolex have been pioneers in the global equestrian world, supporting events such as the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, to test the world’s best horse and rider combinations to reach new heights within the sporting arena. Similarly, over the last century, since the company was founded, Rolex have continued to adapt and innovate their iconic timepieces.
Rolex has cultivated an enduring legacy with the equestrian world and is now a major force at play behind the finest riders, competitions and institutions. Looking ahead, this partnership will continue to strengthen and deepen, building on the equestrian event calendar and embracing new members to its Testimonee family, so continuing to cement its name in the history of this great sport.
Main article photo: Brazilian rider and Olympic gold medallist Rodrigo Pessoa competing at the 2010 World Equestrian Games. Photo: ©Rolex/Kit Houghton