In the world of watches, no name is more revered than Rolex. Whenever anyone thinks of high-end luxury items, whether they know anything about watches or not, this legendary name enters their mind. However, even though most people know the name Rolex, they don’t know much about the history of the watch. Let’s take a trip back in time and learn more about the rise of Rolex.
The Creation of the Brand
The origin dates back well over a hundred years ago. The company was initially founded in 1905 by a young man named Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis in London. At the time, the watchmaking company was called Wilsdorf and Davis.
At this time, they were importing movements from Hermann Aegler in Bienne. The duo would then take the movements and place them into high-quality watch cases from a range of respected companies like Dennison. Many of the early watches they produced had a W&D stamp on the back.
However, it wasn’t until 1908 that the name Rolex entered the picture. Wilsdorf wanted to have a unique name for the watches he was making. He wanted the name to be short, easy to remember, and easy to say. It had to roll off the tongue, and it should evoke quality. He also wanted it to be easy to pronounce in any language.
Wilsdorf said that he had tried combining letters of the alphabet in every possible way. He ended up with a list of more than a hundred names. He looked over those names, said them aloud, and tried to determine which one would work. However, he said that none of them felt right.
He says that then, one morning while riding on the upper deck of a horse-drawn omnibus in London that a “genie whispered ‘Rolex’ in my ear.” While the genie story sounds a bit farfetched, there’s no doubt that Wilsdorf got his wish—a name for his watches that would be remembered and revered. Wilsdorf is also reported as saying that the word Rolex reminded him of the sound of a watch being wound.
It is also believed that it is a combination of two words—horlogerie (which means watchmaking in French) and excellence.
Regardless of how the name came into existence, Rolex was trademarked in 1908, which was the same year the company opened up its first office in Switzerland. It was located in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
The First Watches from Rolex Impress Everyone
Rolex didn’t take long to start turning heads. They wanted to show the world the quality that they were capable of creating. From the beginning, they have been working hard to innovate new and better watches. It was in 1910 that Rolex received the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision—the first wristwatch in the world to achieve this—from the Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne. It was this accolade that helped the watchmakers realize they were doing good work and were on the right track with the business. It helped them to think outside of the box, which became evident with future watches.
The Move to Geneva and Future Innovations
In 1920, Rolex moved from London to Geneva. They created the Oyster in 1926. One of the features that people loved with this watch was the hermetically sealed waterproof case, and it quickly became a hit.
The craftsmanship was truly remarkable for the time. It proved to be able to last hours in the water and continue to work. As proof of the capabilities of the watch, swimmer Mercedes Gleitze wore it while she crossed the English Channel in 1927. The swim took more than 10 hours, and in the end, the Rolex was still working perfectly. It was a true testament to the quality of the work being done by Rolex.
Rolex was so pleased with the results, they published a full-page ad on the front of the Daily Mail talking about the success of the watch.
Without a doubt, the Oyster helped to push Rolex even further ahead in the field. However, they still weren’t happy to rest on their laurels. The company introduced more innovations over the years that helped them to always remain at the forefront of the watchmaking industry.
1926 also saw the release of the Bubbleback watch. This watch had more accurate movement thanks to the larger case.
In 1931, Rolex invented and patented the Perpetual. This was the first self-winding mechanism used in a wristwatch. This was a huge change for the watchmaking world and the innovation changed the way timepieces were being made. The automatic movement helped to make the Rolex watches even more accurate. It proved to be important enough to watchmaking that it’s part of all modern automatic watches.
The 1930s were still a time of exploration and adventure. There was no better watch to take on these adventures than a Rolex. That is why the first expedition team to fly over Mount Everest had Rolex Oyster watches. The crew was very pleased with the results.
While it might not seem like as much of a feat today, flying over Everest was a big deal. The two planes in the expedition—two Westland Wallace biplanes—flew over the summit twice. The first expedition happened on April 3, 1933, in poor conditions. Even controlling the plane was difficult and they weren’t able to get clear photos. They went back on April 19 had had better luck. The temperatures even in the plane were terribly cold, but the Rolex watched performed without a problem.
Of course, Rolex was no stranger to aviation. During the First World War, many pilots were wearing Rolexes. They liked the accuracy of the watches and that they were durable enough to withstand the altitude, along with rugged training.
Another innovation from 1933, which is common on watches today, was the automatic date display. It was called Datejust and it was a huge milestone in the company’s history. Initially, this was only on men’s watches, but it came to many women’s models in the following years. As with so many other things Rolex did, this caused many other watchmakers to sit up and take notice—and to develop similar features for their watches. Today, this is often a standard feature found on watches.
WWII through the 60s and 70s
The Second World War took a massive toll on the entire planet. However, Rolex continued to work hard to produce the best watches possible. It was in 1945 that the company introduced the Oyster Perpetual Submariner. This watch was an improvement to their others. It was a waterproof watch that was aimed at divers. It quickly became one of their most popular watches.
The success of the diver’s watch, along with the watches popular with aviators, led to Rolex creating watches that were used for a wide range of professions, adventures, and sports.
In 1953, Rolex watches were headed back to Mount Everest. However, this time, they weren’t just flying over the peak. Instead, they were on the wrists of expedition members, including Sir Edmund Hillary, who reached the top of the mountain. To celebrate the ascent to the top of Everest, Rolex released the Oyster Perpetual Explorer.
1953 also saw the release of a Submariner watch that was waterproof to a depth of about 330 feet. This was the first watch to do this. The watch also featured a rotatable bezel that would let divers read their immersion time. People still love the Submariner today, although it has become even more capable. It can now go down to around 1,000 feet and still remain waterproof.
Rolex continued to expand its line of watches through the 1960s and 70s. They introduced models like the Sea-Dweller and the Explorer II. Many of the watches of this era were also created with adventure in mind.
The love and appreciation of Rolex did not diminish in the 80s and 90s. People already equated these watches with the best in quality thanks to outstanding craftsmanship. The watchmaker had a reputation for innovation, too, since so many of its designs had been replicated over the years by other watchmakers. Of course, those other companies couldn’t always meet the quality and luxury that people had come to expect from Rolex.
Over the years, the company has never wavered in its commitment to developing the best quality timepieces in the industry. They have always been willing to try something new, to innovate, and to push watchmaking to its limits. They continue to create a wide range of beautiful watches of all types. There are options for classic watches, dress watches, sports and adventure watches, and more. The watches are renowned the world over for their reliability and accuracy.
If you are considering getting a Rolex, you will be in good company. There are many options on the market, and you should be able to find a timepiece that suits your needs whether buying for yourself or as a gift.