When you think of a luxury watch, the first five brands that come to mind would surely include the Rolex brand. The name Rolex is one that is synonymous with luxury and excellence. This is one of the reasons why Rolex watches are said to be the most counterfeited watches of all time; I guess imitation, as they say, is the highest form of flattery. However, a majority of the counterfeits are identifiable by jewelers and watch enthusiasts.
The brand, just like most famous watch brands today has had a distinctly profound impact on the watchmaking industry. Rolex is a brand that has infused itself in pop culture with many references to it in the entertainment industry.
The well-deserved reputation of Rolex as one of the popular watch brands today didn’t just happen by chance. A look at its history and innovations will confirm this fact.
ROLEX’S EARLY HISTORY
The brand originated in 1905, with a young Hans Wilsdorf and his brother in law Alfred Davis. It was a London based company that focused on the distribution of timepieces. At that time, Wilsdorf and Davis were not manufacturing their own watches but rather fitted imported Hermann Aegler's Swiss movements, from Switzerland to England, in high-quality cases. These watches were sold to other jewelers, who then added their names and logos on the watches. These early watches from Wilsdorf and Davis were inscribed with the initials "W&D" inside the back case.
It wasn’t until 1908, that the name “Rolex” was registered by Wilsdorf; as the brand name of the watches from Wilsdorf and Davis, and opened an office in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
There are numerous theories about the origin of the word Rolex, but a few things can be said to be true about the name. Wilsdorf wanted name short enough to fit easily on a dial, back case, and movements. Also, a name easily pronounceable in any language; Wilsdorf also thought Rolex sounded like a watch being wound. Essentially, the name was created out of nothing, it wasn’t a family name like most watches if the time, it’s just a word.
In 1910, Rolex received the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision, making it the world’s first wristwatch to have such a certification. Two years later in 1914, Rolex watches were subjected to rigorous chronometric testing, and Rolex was awarded the Kew Observatory of Great Britain a Class A precision certificate; a distinction reserved solely for marine chronometer then.
These certifications in no time made Rolex known for its unparalleled precision. Shortly, the company had its name changed to Rolex Watch Co. Ltd.
Due to the heavy post-war taxes of World War I, Wilsdorf had the company headquarters moved from London to Geneva, Switzerland, the renowned home of watchmaking. By 1920, the company’s name was officially changed to Montres Rolex S.A. and eventually to Rolex S.A. in the years to come.
SIGNIFICANT INNOVATIONS AND ACHIEVEMENTS
In 1926, Rolex produced the first “Oyster” case; this was the world’s first waterproof and dustproof timepiece to be created. It features a hermetically sealed case making the watch airtight, just like an oyster shell. That point in Rolex’s history could be said to be the foundation of modern watchmaking.
The Oyster case established its unparalleled water-resistance to the world in 1927 when Mercedes Gleitze wore an Oyster while crossing the English Channel. A swim that lasted over ten hours, with the Oyster case proving itself worthy by it staying airtight with the watch in perfect condition.
A few years after in 1931, Rolex made history in the watchmaking industry, with its ingenious innovation by inventing and patenting the world’s first self-winding mechanism with a perpetual rotor. Although there have been improvements and revisions over the years; this system would become the basis of all future automatic watches in the industry.
In 1945, Rolex introduced a self-winding chronometer watch with an automatically changing date on the dial, named the Datejust. This timepiece was revamped with the Jubilee bracelet, and soon this pairing became an iconic look, that would symbolize Rolex.
In the 1950s, Rolex began to focus on producing timepieces designed for specific professional activities. These watches were built to withstand the rigors of activities like deep-sea diving, aviation, or mountain climbing; that would simply destroy lesser timepieces. Each model was designed specifically for certain situations like the release of the Explorer line of watches and the Submariner line of dive watches in 1953.
In 1954, Rolex released the GMT-Master, which was capable of displaying multiple time zones making Rolex the go-to watch brand for pilots on transcontinental flights. Making it the companies first pilot watch.
In 1956, Rolex continued with its reputation producing the world’s toughest timepieces, with the release Milgauss. Milgauss which is the world’s first anti-magnet watch, capable of withstanding extreme levels of electromagnetism up to 1,000 gausses.
In the same year, Rolex introduced the Day-Date line of watches; which displayed both the date and day of the week in full on the watch face. The Day-Date line was only available in 18-karat gold or solid platinum. Later on, Rolex designed the presidential bracelet solely for the Day-Date line of watches.
In light of the historical innovations and landmark achievements of the Rolex brand; it can be said the company has firmly established itself as one of the top tier watch manufacturers in the industry. Despite the brand's place as a luxury brand, Rolex to date adheres to its founding values high-quality, simplicity and ultra-durable watches.