When it comes to luxury timepieces, several brands come to mind, including Patek Philippe, Breitling, Jaeger LeCoultre, Breguet, Blancpain and more. While these brands may have some of the most expensive watches ever made, none of them can hold a candle to Rolex when it comes to bringing in the most cash every year.
Wilsdorf and Davis – The Original Name of Rolex
Before it became Rolex, the brand was originally called Wilsdorf and Davis, after the names of the founders of the company. Hans Wilsdorf established the company with Alfred Davis, his brother-in-law, in London in England in 1905. The two, at that time, would import Swiss movements made by Hermann Aegler to England. These would then be placed in high-quality watchcases created by Dennison and other companies. The inside of the case back would then be marked with the initials W&D, and later on sold to jewelers.
In 1908, Wilsdorf decided to register the Rolex trademark. He also opened an office in La Chaux de Fonds in Switzerland. Seven years later, the name Rolex was officially registered as the company name.
What’s In The Name?
You are probably wondering where the name Rolex was derived from. There have been many theories, but the founders never confirmed any of them. One story claims that Rolex comes from the French phrase horlogerie exquise, or horological excellence.
Chances are, the choice of the name was out of convenience. Wilsdorf wanted a name that could be pronounced easily in any language, thus allowing them to sell the product better. From a marketing standpoint, it also made sense as the letters can be written symmetrically and can fit the face of the watch. Wilsdorf was also said to have claimed that the name Rolex is just like the sound of a watch that is being wound.
In 1919, right after the end of the First World War, the high taxes imposed on luxury goods imports, as well as the duties for the exports of silver and gold used for the casing of the watches, drove up the company’s costs. This forced the company to move to Geneva in Switzerland. It was initially called the Rolex Watch Company, but it was later on renamed to Montres Rolex, SA, and eventually, to Rolex SA. Wilsdorf then transferred all his shares to the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation and made sure that part of the income would go to charity.
The Watch Innovator
Rolex has always been known for both its styling and innovation. Some of its more famous awards and innovations include the following:
A Class A precision certificate from Kew Observatory in 1914, which at the time, was only normally awarded to marine chronometers.
The first waterproof watch in 1926, which was called the Oyster.
The first wristwatch with an automatically changing dial date, in 1945.
The first watch case that was waterproofed up to a distance of 100 meters, in 1953.
The first wristwatch to show more than just one time zone at a time, in 1954.
The first wristwatch with an automatically changing dial day and date, in 1956.
The first watch brand to earn chronometer certification for a wristwatch.
Rolex is also credited with the first self-winding wristwatch sold to the public. These watches are powered by an internal mechanism based on the movement of the arm of the one wearing the watch. It made winding a thing of the past, while at the same time, the power from the mainspring became more consistent. It therefore resulted into a more reliable time.
Although the company produces very few quartz watches, Rolex actually was part of the original consortium of 16 Swiss timepiece manufacturers that helped develop quartz movements. Rolex’s quartz model is the Rolex Oysterquartz.
Rolex – History and Events
Underwater watches are also sources of pride for the company. In 1960, the Trieste bathyscaphe went down to the deepest point of the Earth called the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. It carried the Swiss oceanographer and engineer Jacques Piccard and Lt. Don Walsh of the United States Navy. Rolex created a watch called the DeepSea and had it attached to the side of the bathyscaphe. Amazingly, the watch survived the test of both descent to 11,000 meters and ascent back up to the surface. Piccard even wrote a telegram to Rolex congratulating the watchmaker for the precision of the Deep Sea regardless of depth.
Rolex was also part of the first expedition to Mt. Everest, the highest point on Earth. Members of Sir Edmund Hillary’s climb, including the Sherpa named Tenzing Norgay, wore Rolex Oysters to the peak of the mountain.
Rolex was also part of Mercedes Gleitze’s second attempt to cross the English Channel. Although it ended seven miles short, the Rolex Oyster she wore was found to be in perfect condition, with the insides of the watch completely dry.
Rolex also plays a huge part in a lot of major sports events. It is the official timekeeper of two of the four tennis grand slams, namely Wimbledon and the Australian Open. It is also the main sponsor in two of the four golf grand slams, namely the British Open and the U.S. Open. It is also heavily involved in motor sports, as it is the official timekeeper of the FIA Formula One motor racing championship. It is also the title sponsor of the 24 Hours of Daytona and has kept the official time for the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours motor race since 2001.
Pulling in the Most Money
The numbers say it all. Rolex is the largest single luxury watchmaker and brand in the world today. It is considered by Bloomberg Businessweek as one of the 100 most valuable brands in the world. Forbes magazine considers it as the 57th most powerful brand.
Rolex produces more than 2,000 watches each day. It has a total sales figure of $4.5 billion, and its brand is valued at around $6.5 billion.
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