Rolex-The Brand Story10:37 am
Rolex a name synonymous with luxury, is a historical watchmaker that has conquered both land and sea. It’s a name familiar to everyone and is associated with precision, excellence and innovation. At The Watch Guide, we were very intrigued with the brand and curious to know how over the years Rolex gained such immense popularity and loyal patrons. We wanted to understand what made this watchmaker the world’s No.1 brand.
We delved deep into the history of Rolex, a 108 year old watch brand that conquered the world.
A Brief History
Mr. Hans Wilsdorf, founder of the Rolex Watch Company was born in Switzerland on 22nd March, 1881. At the age of 19, Hans started working as an English correspondent with Messrs. The firm was an exporter of watches and this is how Hans was introduced to the watchmaking business. By 1903 he had settled in London working for another watch making firm. After gaining experience from this and his previous employment and growing his self confidence he set about to established his own firm. With financial help from his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis, the “Wilsdorf and Davis” company was founded.
Initially the company restricted itself from crafting pocket watches as it was a common notion that wrist watches were not masculine enough and fitting the different watch mechanisms into a case that small is near to impossible. The second issue was that the case needed to be impenetrable. Dust moisture, sweat all of which are well exposed on the wrist caused a bit problem for the users.
Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis were adamant on finding a solution for the same. Over the years the brand dedicated all their resources and knowledge into crafting the perfect time teller.
“Worn by luminaries, visionaries and champions. By artists, statesmen, explorers and leaders in their field. Only Rolex can claim such a distinguished group of wearers from the past and present. Rolex pays homage to these remarkable individuals whose lives changed the face of the world.”
How The Name “Rolex” was coined?
A major point of concern for any brand is its name. The brand name should be easy and should have a good recall. As the legend goes, Hans Wilsdorf wanted his watch company to bear a name that was short, easy to say and remember in any language, and which looked good on watch movements and dials. He combined the letters in many ways to make a good sounding brand name but nothing clicked.
On being asked what finally led to the name he said ” at the end one morning, while riding on the upper deck of a horse-drawn omnibus along Cheapside in the City of London, a genie whispered ‘Rolex’ in my ear.”
“ … short, yet significant, not cumbersome on the dial (thus leaving room enough for the inscription of the English traders name) and above all a word easy enough to memorise, with a pleasant sound and have its pronunciation unchanged whatever European language it is spoken”
Rolex Over the Years
1910 – Their First Chronometric Achievement
With a constant need to discover a highly precise movement, Rolex made many relentless quests and finally crafted the first wristwatch with a chronometric certification from COSC in 1910. In 1914, Kew Observatory awarded Rolex wristwatch a class “A” precision certificate, a distinction which until that point in time had been reserved exclusively for marine chronometers.
1926 – Into The Ocean: The First Waterproof Watch
Hans Wilsdorf always had an obsession with creating time tellers that were unharmed by external forces. Even after years of starting the company and establishing it worldwide as a certified chronometer company, he wanted to device a water proof and dust proof watch. In 1926 Rolex created the “Oyster” collection. It was the first water proof and dustproof watch.
1945 – The First Rolex Datejust
A pillar of the Oyster collection, Datejust was first launched in 1945. It was the first self‑winding chronometer to indicate the date in a window on the dial. A watch of great distinction, the Datejust was equipped with a Jubilee bracelet created especially for it and a fluted bezel, making it immediately recognisable as a Rolex. Till date it is one of the most appreciated timepiece from the brand worldwide.
“In 1947, commemorating the brand’s 100,000th officially certified chronometer, Hans Wilsdorf presented that selfsame Datejust to an illustrious gentleman he described as one of the greatest figures of our time. To this day, his identity has never been revealed.”
1952 – On Top Of The World
The pioneering watch brand has to its credit watches which were intended for professional activities, such as deep-sea diving, aviation, mountain climbing and scientific exploration. In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were wearing Oyster perpetual when they conquered the Everest thus proving the strength and precision of each Rolex time teller.
1960 – Deep Sea Special
Rolex crafted the Deep Sea Special for facing the toughest challenge ever – Deepest portion of the Mariana Trench. The Trieste successful descended into the Marina Trench accompanied by Rolex Deep Sea Special experimental watch that had been attached to the outside during the historic dive. From then Rolex kept advancing their technology in order to create deep sea masterpieces.
Another milestone was on 26th March, 2012 when filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer‑in‑Residence James Cameron descended into the Mariana Trench, making the first solo dive into the deepest point on earth, and the only dive into the trench since the two-man Trieste expedition of 1960. The experimental diving watch certified waterproof up to 12,000 m.
Rolex For Bond…James Bond
The creator of the famous James Bond series, Ian Fleming was a die-hard Rolex fan. Seen below is a painting from The National Portrait Gallery in London of Ian Fleming wearing his Rolex Explorer. Ian Fleming was so fascinated with the brand that he made has character also sport the Rolex Submariner in his initial novels. The watch fetched $98,500 at a Christie’s auction a few years back.
Video Courtesy: Rolex
Interesting Facts about Rolex
- At the start of World War II, the pilots from Royal Air Force bought Rolex as a replacement to their inferior watch brands. These watches were later confiscated at the POW camps. Hans Wilsdorf on hearing about this promised full replacement to the officers. Wilsdorf was personally incharge of the scheme and an approx. 3000 watches were replaced.
- In a famous murder case, the Rolex on Ronald Platt’s wrist eventually led to the arrest of his murderer, Albert Johnson Walker—a financial planner who had fled from Canada when he was charged with 18 counts of fraud, theft, and money laundering.
By Disha Birdie
Sr. Features Writer, The Watch Guide
A budding writer and watch enthusiast with a passion for discovering Swiss watchmaking know-how.