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A short history of Rolex

Rolex’s origins

Originally British in 1905 – Swiss since 1919.

Established as Wilsdorf and Davis in 1905 by Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis in London, United Kingdom.

In 1908 Wilsdorf and Davis was renamed Rolex and in 1919, Rolex moved its operations to Geneva, Switzerland, where the watch manufacturer is located even today as we speak.

Rolex is one of the very few independent Swiss watchmakers left in the industry. Technically speaking though, it’s legally a part of the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation.

Hans Wilsdorf’s dream was to create wristwatches, but back then in the early 20th century, wristwatches were neither too common nor very accurate. His vision was to create wristwatches that were elegant and reliable. From the very start, Mr Wilsdorf relied on Swiss movements from the Swiss city of Bienne.

What does the name “Rolex” mean?

In 1908, Hans Wilsdorf invented the name Rolex. The origins of the Rolex name is not entirely known but it’s said that Mr Wilsdorf wanted a short word, or name, that was easy to remember, and would look good on the watch’s dial, and could be easily pronounced in any language.

There is no intended meaning behind the name of Rolex – that’s the honest truth of it. With regard to the choice of the actual name, we can say with hindsight that Mr Wilsdorf made absolutely the right choice! However, Mr Wilsdorf did say that he thought that the name Rolex resembled the sound an automatic watch makes when you wind it manually.

The iconic fame and status of Rolex

Rolex has been an unmatched status and luxury symbol since the 1950s and the 1960s but got its legendary and mythical fame and reputation in the 1980s. That’s also when the price of Rolex watches dramatically increased.

Rolex’s achievements over the years

This iconic and legendary watch brand has invented much of the modern wristwatch technology that we today take for granted:

  • That would include the modern automatic wristwatch movement.
  • The first water resistant watches – using the oyster shaped case, called the “oyster case”.
  • The screw-down-crown for divers watches.
  • Rolex was among the first brands that invented the first modern divers watches. Blancpain supposedly invented the very first modern divers watch – the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms in 1953. Rolex however launched the legendary Rolex Submariner the very same year. If Blancpain indeed was the very first, then Rolex wasn’t far behind.
  • Rolex invented the first watches equipped with a date function – the legendary Rolex Datejust, launched in 1945.
  • Rolex was the first watch manufacturer and brand to invent GMT-movements, for measuring time in a second time zone. The watch is called Rolex GMT Master and was launched in 1955.

Rolex is an industrial and financial giant which on top of that is independent

Rolex is an interesting brand and watchmaker. Outside Swatch Group, Rolex is the only 100% independent watchmaking giant, where every aspect of the manufacture takes place in-house. Yes there are a few independent brands besides Rolex, but they are dwarves in comparison to Rolex – a true financial and industrial giant and powerhouse.

Rolex alone has a 20% market share in the luxury watch industry. In 2012, Forbes decided to rank Rolex as the 57th most powerful global brand. Rolex manufactures roughly a staggering 1 million timepieces per year.

The manufacture of Rolex

Rolex is famous for using the 904L stainless steel alloy – one of the best steel grades on the market. Rolex is famous for having an unmatched build quality, unmatched reputation and fame, unmatched resale value, extremely accurate, reliable, shock resistant and anti-magnetic 100% in-house made movements, that use the famous Rolex made parachrom hairspring which is 100% anti-magnetic and 10 times more shock resistant than ordinary hairsprings used by other brands.

Everything, except for the chronometer test, is done in-house by Rolex. Every movement, every component of each movement, every sapphire crystal glass, every dial, every case, every bracelet, every clasp, every quality test and every water-, shock-, and magnetism resistance test, is done 100% in-house by Rolex.

Rolex has even got its very own foundry. The Geneva based luxury watch producer even smelts their own metals because they want 100% control and insight into every single conceivable aspect of the watchmaking stages!

Rolex’s approach to watchmaking

What you should know about Rolex is that this is a very conservative and traditional brand, that makes small and gradual changes and improvements over the decades, without sacrificing their true core identity as a brand. It’s Rolex’s consistent approach to watchmaking over the years that makes Rolex’s identity solid and robust. Rolex is about a slow and gradual evolution – not revolution.

Rolex has several iconic collections that have existed for decades

The Geneva based brand is known for a plethora of collections: Submariner, Sea Dweller, GMT-Master II, Yacht-Master, Sky-Dweller, Datejust, Daytona, Explorer, Milgauss, Perpetual and Perpetual Date. Few watchmakers can boast with such a long list of legendary high quality collections.

All Rolex watches are COSC certified

COSC stands for the French term “Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres”. In English it means: “the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute”. The tests involve accuracy and reliability.

Rolex belongs to a very small and exclusive club of Swiss watchmakers, where 100% of the in-house made watches are chronometer certified by COSC. Rolex’s accuracy rate is equivalent to 99.998%.

The Rolex Submariner used to be the cinematic James Bond’s wristwatch of choice

Rolex is also known for having been the luxury wristwatch of Ian Fleming’s literary creation – James Bond 007.

The Rolex Submariner was the original cinematic “James Bond watch” throughout the 1960s, and parts of the 1970s and the 1980s. The Submariner has been worn by James Bond actors Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton.


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