Cover Photo: Courtesy of Rolex

In a bid to protect Mother Earth, Rolex has embarked on a sustainability and environmental conservation campaign called Perpetual Planet

It was a monumental task: to select the five most deserving candidates for the 2019 Rolex Awards for Enterprise from a shortlist of nearly 1,000. Since they were established in 1976 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the world’s first waterproof watch, the iconic Rolex Oyster, the biennial Rolex Awards have supported enterprising individuals initiating exceptional projects to conserve our cultural heritage and protect the environment.

The Rolex Awards jury comprised a group of independent experts, including business leader and philanthropist Ravi Venkatesan, geneticist and author Adam Rutherford, retired golfer Annika Sörenstam and National Geographic Society executive vice-president and chief scientist Jonathan Baillie. In February, the shortlist had been whittled down to 10 finalists, who four months later presented their projects to the participants in the National Geographic Explorers Festival in the US state of Washington. (The festival was a week-long symposium with speaker forums, panel discussions and research presentations on topics ranging from environmental issues to space exploration.)

The 10 finalists included a technologist using science to deter people from illegal logging; a doctor championing a digital healthcare network of women doctors to provide low-cost, high-quality medical help to the masses; and an entrepreneur and molecular biologist who invented a way to transform unrecyclable plastic waste into chemical compounds for use in industrial and consumer products.

See also: 2019 Rolex Awards For Enterprise Laureates: Meet The Winners

After the presentations, voting was opened to the public—a first for the awards—with the results taken into account by the jury when it reconvened to make its final decision during the festival. The final five laureates were later unveiled at a glitzy awards ceremony at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington.

The Rolex laureates are Brazilian fisheries biologist João Campos-Silva, French medical scientist Grégoire Courtine, Ugandan IT specialist Brian Gitta, Indian scientist and conservationist Krithi Karanth and Canadian entrepreneur and molecular biologist Miranda Wang. Besides securing funding of about US$200,000 for each of their projects, the quintet also received a Rolex timepiece each, worldwide publicity, and the opportunity to meet and interact with the brilliant minds of the Rolex Awards community, which comprises past awardees, mentors and members of scientific, research and environmental conservation circles.

“The company felt that it had the responsibility to take an active interest in improving life on the planet,” Rolex CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour said during his speech at the awards ceremony.

“The achievements of this programme are here to be seen: an estimated five million people have benefited from the work of the Rolex laureates, dozens of places have been discovered and thousands of ecosystems protected.

“From the beginning, sustainable development has formed an integral part of our brand’s activities. Its engagement extends well beyond our watches, which are built to last, and transcends all aspects of the company. The laureates have demonstrated how innovative thinking mixed with enterprise can create stunning solutions.”

See also: 6 Watch Brands That Help Save The Oceans

The other five finalists, known as “associate laureates,” will also receive funding and support from Rolex to help bring their projects to fruition. “Rolex’s funding is similar to that of an angel investor who is not expecting a return of investment,” Rebecca Irvin, head of philanthropy at Rolex, told the press conference held to introduce the five laureates to the media. “We hope to help these individuals scale up their projects and bring them to the next level.”

What is new about this year’s Rolex Awards is that they have become part of the watchmaker’s new global campaign, Perpetual Planet. The word “perpetual” holds a special place in the vocabulary of the brand. After all, it is inscribed on the dial of every Oyster watch built at Rolex’s manufactures in Switzerland—a reminder of the high performance one can expect from a Rolex timepiece. Perpetual, or never‑ending by definition, is also the goal the watchmaker has for the Earth.

Since the 1930s, brand founder Hans Wilsdorf has supported explorers’ ventures into the most extreme places on Earth to discover more about the world. Rolex watches have always accompanied these brave souls on their challenging expeditions and served as reliable tools. As time evolved, the premise behind such exploratory journeys changed, with explorers and scientists going into the unknown to unearth new means to preserve the natural world. The Perpetual Planet campaign is Rolex’s way of continuing Wilsdorf’s legacy in making the Earth a better place to live in—or making the planet perpetual.

As well as the inclusion of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, the brand will also boost its collaboration with the National Geographic Society as part of the campaign, with the organisations planning three expeditions to collect data on climate change in extreme environments. The alliance between Rolex and the society was also behind the decision to hold this year’s awards ceremony in Washington as the closing act of the week-long National Geographic Explorers Festival.

The last pillar of Rolex’s Perpetual Planet campaign takes the form of veteran marine conservationist Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue initiative, which aims to safeguard the oceans through designated areas called Hope Spots. Earle’s project, which has been receiving support from Rolex since 2014, has been able to increase the number of Hope Spots around the world from 50 to 112. In this way, marine species are being preserved, rare or endangered animals are being saved and local communities reliant on the oceans for survival are gaining more stable livelihoods.

For the past 43 years, the “laureates have unearthed historical sites, preserved vanishing countries and planted 18 million trees,” noted Dufour. With Rolex’s sustained support for preserving the natural world as it carries its founder’s vision forward, it will be helping to keep our planet perpetual.

See also: How Rolex Testimonee Sylvia Earle Plans To Save The Ocean One Hope Spot At A Time