It is one of the most valuable brands in the world. Its name is synonymous with prestige and luxury. This name is Rolex and it is the largest single luxury watch brand in the world today. It produces a couple of thousand watches each day and has revenues in the billions of dollars.
The Origin of Rolex
Back in the early 20th century, jewelers would import Swiss watch movements to England and put them inside quality cases. They would then place their names into the dial before selling the watches to the public.
That was what Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis, did. The two formed Wilsdorf and Davis in 1905; they then brought in Swiss movements from Hermann Aegler and set them in cases made by Dennison. The initial W&D was then marked on the caseback.
In 1908, Wilsdorf trademarked the name of Rolex. The name itself had an interesting background. Wilsdorf thought that the name mimicked the sound of a watch being wounded up. As all the letters were of the same size, it could also be written symmetrically. In addition, the short name could also fit in easily to the face of a watch and could easily be pronounced regardless of language. The company also opened an office in La Chaux de Fonds in Switzerland.
By 1914, the company was already awarded a Class A Precision Certificate by Kew Observatory. The prestigious honor was previously awarded only to marine chronometers. The following year, the company was officially registered as Rolex.
After World War I, Wilsdorf decided to move the company to Geneva because of the huge taxes levied on imports in England. The company was initially called the Rolex Watch Company, before it changed its name to Montres Rolex, SA then finally settling for Rolex, SA.
The Rolex Innovation
Rolex has also been known for its innovation in timepiece creation. Some of its more famous creations include the following:
- The first waterproof and water-resistant watches. In 1926, Rolex released the Oyster, the first waterproof watch. It then introduced the first watch case that was waterproofed up to 100 meters. This was the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner in 1953. There was also a watch called “Deep Sea” and it was placed at the side of the Trieste bathyscaphe that went to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The watch kept perfect time all throughout, prompting Jacques Piccard, the famous Swiss oceanographer, to send a telegram confirming the preciseness of the watch even at 11,000 meters.
- The first self-winding Rolex watch was released in 1931. It relied on an internal mechanism that used the movement of the wearer’s arm to make winding unnecessary. It made timekeeping more reliable because of consistent power to the mainspring.
- The first watch to automatically change date on the dial. This was introduced in 1945 through the Rolex Datejust ref. 4467.
- The first watch to show two time zones. This was released to the public in 1954 through the Rolex GMT Master ref. 6542.
- The first watch to automatically change the day and date on the dial. This was introduced in 1956 through the Rolex Day-Date.
- The first watch to earn chronometer certification for a wristwatch.
In addition, Rolex also helped create the original quartz watch movement. It collaborated with other Swiss watchmakers to develop the Beta 21 quartz movement that eventually led to the creation of the Rolex Quartz Date 5100. Later on, Rolex made the clean slate 5035/5055 movement that powered the Rolex Oysterquartz.
Top of the Mountain to the Bottom of the Sea…
Rolex has been worn to both the highest and lowest points on Earth. When Sir Edmund Hillary scaled Mount Everest in 1953, his partner Tenzing Norgay and the other members of the expedition party were all wearing the Rolex Oyster. Hillary was also believed to be carrying a Rolex when he reached the top.
When Mercedes Gleitze became the first British woman to cross the English Channel in 1927, doubts were raised that forced her to try to repeat her achievement. During her repeat swim, she was wearing a Rolex Oyster. She failed to finish, however, with still seven miles to go because the cold water made things unbearable. The Rolex Oyster, on the other hand, survived and was found to be in perfect working condition.
Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh also took a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Deep Sea Special to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in 1960 by attaching the watch to the outside of the bathyscaphe. This was repeated in 2012 when James Cameron attached a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sea Dweller Deep Sea Challenge to his submarine’s robotic arm. Both watches survived the dive.
…And Everything in Between
Rolex is also the official timekeeper of several prestigious sporting events. These include half the Grand Slams of both tennis and golf, namely the Australian Open and Wimbledon for the former and the U.S. Open and The Open Championship (or British Open) for the latter.
Rolex is also the timekeeper for the 24 Hours of Daytona. As a matter of fact, this is where the Rolex Daytona took its name.
Even during the war, Rolex proved to be popular among British servicemen. Royal Air Force pilots were using the brand’s watches in lieu of their standard issues. Rolex also received acclaim when it decided to replace the watches of British prisoners-of-war whose timepieces were confiscated by the Germans. All they had to do was to write to Rolex and explain the circumstance of why they lost their watches. It was then sent directly to the prisoner’s camp with payment to be made after the war was over.
And even after the war was over, Wilsdorf only charged around £15. The most famous case was that of Corporal Clive James Nutting, who ordered a stainless steel Rolex Oyster 3525 Chronograph. The watch was believed to be used by Nutting and his friends to help them escape from the prisoner’s camp.
Rolex watches have also been spotted on the red carpets. Many celebrities are avid supporters of the Rolex brand and have been seen sporting various models of this brand on several occaisons. Some of these celebrities include; Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brad Pitt, Heidi Klum, Jennifer Aniston and the Olson twins. Rolex has also been featured in films such as the James Bond Film Live and Let Die where the watch had special features such as a razor disc, buzz saw and a magnetic field generator.
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