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Rolex Awards celebrate 10 honorees during 40th anniversary event in Hollywood

Rolex Awards celebrate 10 honorees during 40th anniversary event in Hollywood
From left: Sarah Toumi, Junto Ohki, Joseph Cook, Director of Philanthropic Programs for Rolex Rebecca Irvin, Oscar Ekponimo and Christine Keung attend the Rolex Awards for Enterprise at the Dolby Theatre on Nov. 15 in Hollywood. (Getty Images for Rolex Awards)

During the Rolex Awards at the Dolby Theatre, the luxury timepiece maker went beyond the flick of the wrist and straight for people's hearts.

The ceremony to honor 10 Rolex Award laureates and young laureates served as a reminder to audience members that time is precious, and it's timeless to give back to one's community.

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After all, Rolex should know something about time. The Swiss watchmaker, which was founded in 1905, is considered a master in the art of timepieces — and has been supporting philanthropic and entrepreneurial efforts for decades.

"This is the first time we have been in Los Angeles," said Rebecca Irvin, director of philanthropic programs for Rolex. "Up until the year 2000, we always had the awards ceremony in Geneva."

Since then, Rolex Awards events have taken place in global cities such as Singapore, Tokyo, Paris and New Delhi. "L.A. is a fantastic, multicultural city where people are concerned about these issues," Irvin said. "And so it has been a really great place to bring this program."

Upon its inception in 1976, the Rolex Awards has given grants to men and women whose goal is to make the world a better place via new or ongoing projects in areas such as applied technology, cultural heritage, the environment, exploration and science and health. The awards were created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Rolex's first waterproof watch, the Oyster.

Rolex embraces the dreamers.


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As part of the honor, each laureate receives 100,000 Swiss francs (about $104,000), and each young laureate gets 50,000 Swiss francs ($52,000) to advance their project.

During a Nov. 15 breakfast and press conference in Century City, the 2016 winners were introduced, and later that day, they attended the soiree at the Dolby Theatre. On the list were laureates Andrew Bastawrous, Kerstin Forsberg, Vreni Häussermann, Conor Walsh and Sonam Wangchuk, and the young laureates were Joseph Cook, Oscar Ekponimo, Christine Keung, Junto Ohki and Sarah Toumi.

Walsh developed a new technology within the robotics field. He pioneered "soft robotics," a light, form-fitting, textile suit worn under clothes to help stroke victims regain mobility. The suit encourages the body to move in a way that simulates natural body movements, while teaching and re-training damaged nerves, muscles, tendons and joints to work more efficiently.

The soft robotic suit, called the "exosuit," has the ability to revolutionize how people with physical disabilities and movement disorders recover from trauma.

Asked about being a laureate, Walsh said he's excited to further his outreach and have the ability to connect with patients worldwide.

"We are technology developers, but we don't want to develop technology in a vacuum," Walsh said. "We want to make sure we connect with people and the stakeholders that really need that technology."

Chris Pine speaks during the 2016 Rolex Awards for Enterprise at the Dolby Theatre on Nov. 15 in Hollywood.
Chris Pine speaks during the 2016 Rolex Awards for Enterprise at the Dolby Theatre on Nov. 15 in Hollywood. (Michael Kovac / Getty Images for Rolex Awards for Enterprise)

Ekponimo, a 2016 young laureate, developed an app called Chowberry that is helping to relieve hunger and high food costs. His app tracks food products and their shelf life in retail stores. When the food items are approaching the end of their shelf life, food retailers are notified and then are able to offer discounts to different charities who might be able to use those food items.

Ekponimo, who's from Nigeria, said the issue of hunger is one that he can relate to on a personal level and he feels it's important that the subject gets attention.

"In 1997, my dad had a stroke and was ill, and he was temporarily out of work," said Ekponimo. There were times I used to go to school hungry and come home hungry without food."

Filmmaker James Cameron speaks onstage at the 2016 Rolex Awards for Enterprise at the Dolby Theatre on Nov. 15 in Hollywood.
Filmmaker James Cameron speaks onstage at the 2016 Rolex Awards for Enterprise at the Dolby Theatre on Nov. 15 in Hollywood. (Michael Kovac/ Getty Images for Rolex Awards for Enterprise)

The evening event included a private dinner by Wolfgang Puck. Michelle Monaghan, Maria Bello, Casey Affleck and Don Cheadle presented awards to the laureates, and Chris Pine, who will be seen in next year's "Wonder Woman," also was on hand to congratulate the recipients.

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Perhaps filmmaker James Cameron, the event's host, best summarized the brand's mission as the Rolex Awards ceremony came to a close.

Cameron said while doing research and filming his journey, he — and a Rolex watch — journeyed 35,787 feet under the ocean, exemplifying the exploratory spirit the brand promotes. In 2012, Cameron made a deep-sea dive at Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean. (Two years later, he released the documentary "Deepsea Challenge 3D" about his oceanic adventures.)

"Rolex embraces the dreamers," Cameron said.

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