Rolex is an iconic brand with a fascinating history. Here’s a summary of the history of the company.
Rooting itself deeply in the core of horological prestige, Rolex sits amongst some of the top luxury watchmakers of all time and is the most globally recognized name in history.
To achieve prestige Rolex had to become a master in technical innovation, financial dependence, marketing, and style. How exactly did Rolex become a king in these domains? Let’s take a look at the history of this iconic luxury watch brand.
The History of Rolex Watches
Rolex has a long and storied history punctuated with innovation and intrigue. With over a hundred years under its belt, the brand is very likely the most famous watch brand in the world.
Rolex Origins (1905-1930)
Rolex’s story began back in 1905 when a man named Hans Wilsdorf moved from his home country Germany to London and partnered up with his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis.
Together, they founded Wilsdorf & Davis Ltd, which specialized in assembling and marketing watches by importing materials and components from Switzerland.
Here, Wilsdorf made a huge leap of faith, staking the future of his company on the success of the wristwatch even though wristwatches were mainly worn by females as fashion statements during this era.
In 1908 Wilsdorf registered the Rolex name as a trademark, and just 6 years later the first Rolex wristwatch passed the British government of certification for durability and accuracy.
Two years later one of their watch models received the First Class Chronometer Certificate from the rating office in Bienne, Switzerland two years later.
During the next few years, Rolex changed its company name to Rolex Watch Co. Ltd, opened a Geneva office, and even moved its headquarters to Switzerland.
In 1919 it adopted the Montres Rolex SA name and created the five-spoked crown as its iconic logo in 1925.
A year later, the first Rolex waterproof and airtight wristwatch was under development — the Rolex Oyster watch — perhaps the most significant innovation in the entire history of the wristwatch.
Its patented case design comprised a bezel, caseback, and winding crown screwed down into the middle case.
One of the design’s key features was a hermetically sealed waterproof winding crown that created a secure interface between the internal environment of the watch and the external elements.
Let’s continue examining Rolex’s history by looking at the stories behind some of the brand’s most iconic watches.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual
In 1926, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch arrived, claiming to be the first self-winding wristwatch. It was paired with the robust features of the Oyster case, paving the way for some truly innovative Rolex watches to come.
By the year 1931, the perpetual rotor could turn 360 degrees and generate energy for the mainspring.
It would be another 14 years before the Oyster Perpetual watch would feature a date mechanism named the Datejust.
The Rolex Day-Date model was released in 1956, displaying both features side by side on the dial.
It was soon dubbed the President’s Watch and was worn by U.S. President, Lyndon B. Johnson, boasting an instantly recognizable three-link bracelet named the President Bracelet.
During this time, however, Rolex was directing its focus toward developing strong, robust wristwatches for expeditions.
Sherpa Tenzing Norgay wore a Rolex watch to the summit of Mt Everest, spurring the release of the Rolex Explorer in 1953.
The Explorer set itself apart from the standard Oyster Perpetual watch with its reinforced case structure and a more legible dial.
Rolex Deep Sea Special and Rolex Submariner
The 1950s and 1960s saw a considerable demand for dive watches.
In 1960, the Rolex Deep Sea Special was attached to the surface of the Trieste as it was launched into the deepest part of the earth.
The Challenger Deep expedition proved the durability and robustness of a Rolex watch, having ventured down to 10,916-meter depths.
This innovation came 7 years after the release of the iconic Rolex Submariner, a new and improved version of the Oyster Perpetual, complete with a rotating bezel and an impressive 100-meter water resistance.
The watch has since become one of the most sought-after wristwatches on the market, alongside the Submariner Date which was released not long after.
Some of the most iconic and desirable Rolex Submariner watches include the Rolex Hulk, a steel Submariner with a green dial and surrounding green bezel, and the Rolex Kermit — a 50th-anniversary model released with a black dial and green surrounding bezel.
Rolex’s development of waterproof wristwatches was advancing quickly, so by the time the Rolex Sea-Dweller launched in 1967, the brand was considered a leader in its area of expertise, with an impressive 1,220-meter water-resistant rating.
The Rolex Cosmograph Reference 6239 (“Daytona”)
Meanwhile, Rolex put itself on the map for creating an exceptionally popular sports watch.
The Rolex Cosmograph Reference 6239 was released in celebration of the brand’s appointed role as the official timekeeper of the Daytona International Speedway in 1962.
It soon acquired the “Daytona” nickname that has since been associated with actor and racing driver, Paul Newman who wore one of Rolex’s rarest Daytona watches on his wrist whilst racing.
The Reference 6239 is now one of the rarest luxury watches, whilst Paul Newman’s original Daytona watch was sold at auction back in 2017, fetching a staggering $15.5 million.
Rolex Daytona Cosmograph watches, just like Submariner models and GMT-Master watches, serve a true purpose on the wrist, making them some of the most appealing of all Rolex watches.
Its design is loved for its clear chronograph sub-counters located in the traditional 3-6-9 layout with a surrounding tachymeter bezel for measuring speed based on distance.
Other Rolex milestones include the release of the Milgauss watch back in 1954, designed to shield a movement from the damaging effects caused by magnetic fields.
Its defining features were a rotating bezel similar to that of the Submariner but with a honeycomb dial pattern, bright red “Milgauss” lettering, the iconic “lightning bolt” seconds hand, and dots and arrow markers for the hours.
It would be an injustice, however, not to mention the Rolex GMT-Master watch whilst outlining the fascinating history of this world-renowned luxury watch brand.
The Rolex GMT-Master was first released in 1953 and featured the date magnifying bubble (cyclops lens) released for the Datejust watch just a year before and a dual time zone complication.
Indispensable for travelers and pilots, the dual-time function of the Rolex GMT-Master watch was a great addition to any enthusiast’s collection.
It featured a 24-hour hand that made one full rotation every 24 hours, whilst the bi-directional rotating bezel could be used by the wearer to track home time.
Over the years, the case of the Rolex GMT-Master watch was enlarged and offered in 18ct yellow gold before the famous Rolex Pepsi watch arrived with a blue and red bezel.
Available on the dressier Jubilee bracelet or the more classic Oyster bracelet, the Rolex GMT-Master was equipped with a glossy dial and a stronger glass front crafted from sapphire crystal before the GMT-Master II arrived.
This second generation came with a new independently set 24-hour hand known as the quick-set feature. In the 2000s, the model was equipped with a bezel filled with ceramic for a more scratch-resistant and color-fade-resistant finish.
One of the most significant GMT-Master II releases was the Rolex Batman in 2012, with a striking blue and black bezel.
Here are some questions folks on the web are asking about Rolex:
What was the first Rolex ever made?
The first Rolex watch is considered by many to be the Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch in 1929, which was the first waterproof self-winding watch.
Those doubting its reliability were proved wrong when British swimmer, Mercedes Gleitze wore the watch around her neck whilst swimming the English Channel to prove its waterproof capabilities.
What does Rolex stand for?
Some believe the Rolex name is an abbreviation of two words combined “hoROLogical” and EXcellence”. Others maintain that the word Rolex was chosen for the way in which it sounds like a watch being wound.
What is so special about a Rolex watch?
Rolex watches are a special investment piece to own since the name itself is highly respected throughout the luxury watch industry.
These watches are robust, reliable, and appreciated by watch aficionados for their ability to stand the test of time as a daily beater on the wrist.
Lastly, Rolex watches are considered special because they reach extortionate pieces on the pre-owned market and at auction, with models like the original Rolex Daytona worn by Paul Newman fetching $15.5 million.
What was Rolex before Rolex?
Three years before Rolex registered its name as a trademark in 1908, Germany-born Hans Wilsdorf established Wilsdorf & Davis Ltd in London with his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis.
The company specialized in assembling and marketing watches using materials imported from Switzerland.
It’s hard to imagine a world without Rolex watches. Probably Rolex will likely always be around.
Rolex has been a master in its field of expertise and a wealth of knowledge when it comes to manufacturing luxury watches since it was founded over a century ago.
Rolex watches will never lose their appeal.
Despite new technologies and innovations gradually becoming a part of the brand’s modern approach to watchmaking, the classic and distinct style of a Rolex watch always remains timeless, making each watch a great investment and an heirloom to hand down the family line whether bought recently or 50 years ago.
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