There can be no watch house less in need of an introduction than Rolex. It is a brand whose name echoes beyond the boundaries of our industry. Synonymous with luxury, interchangeable with quality, imbued with a heritage that no amount of money, spin, or PR stunts can synthesize, Rolex almost occupies its own territory. Sometime during the last decade, the brand founded by a wide-eyed Hans Wilsdorf in 1905 has transmogrified. It is no longer a watch brand, but rather a phenomenon. The rules do not apply to this relentless juggernaut as it rolls over all-comers. No, when it comes to playing the game, Rolex has a distinct, insurmountable advantage: It wrote the rulebook.
To understand why Rolex has so much sway over the industry and the trends therein, we have to go back to the beginning, back to the dawn of the 20th century and into the mind of a young entrepreneur, who believed he had struck upon an idea that would put his fledgling company on the map.
It is often possible for a brand to consume the reputation of its founder, but in the early years, and, even up until his death in 1960, Wilsdorf was an active, driving force within his company, and his personality was stamped on every product produced on his watch.
There are several surprising things about the foundation of Rolex that are often overlooked. Firstly, although one might assume Wilsdorf was Swiss, he was actually German-born. Hailing from Bavaria, the young Wilsdorf first entered the watchmaking industry while working in La Chaux-de-Fonds. He became convinced very early on, that wristwatches (which still played second fiddle to pocket watches in those days) would become far more popular provided their construction could be adequately shored up to withstand the rigors of daily life.
Secondly, the company that would give birth to the Rolex legend was (believe it or not) founded in London, while Wilsdorf was living there. In 1905, he registered the company name Wilsdorf & Davis and listed the company's prime concern as the distribution of wristwatches throughout Great Britain and the British Empire. At that time, Wilsdorf had all his company's components produced by Swiss manufacturers, most notably, the Maison Aegler in Bienne. This was the only manufacture Wilsdorf deemed adept enough at producing parts to the quality he desired. Eventually, this factory would become Manufacture des Montres Rolex S.A.
In 1910, thanks to Wilsdorf's high standards and the excellence of Maison Aegler's output, a Rolex wristwatch became the first wristwatch to be awarded an independently ratified certificate of chronometric performance (meaning the watch was unbiasedly judged to be a superlative timekeeper). The first such test took place in Bienne in Switzerland, nearby Maison Aegler. However, even more impressive is the fact that four years later, Rolex obtained a “Class A” certificate from the Kew Observatory in London. It was the very first time a wristwatch had achieved this honor in England and paved the way for Rolex to become one of the most respected brands in the world for its chronometric performance.
But Hans Wilsdorf was not satisfied with just timekeeping excellence. When he established his company in 1905, he had set out with a very clear goal: to produce watches that were able to accompany their owner through the adventure of life. Although his watches kept excellent time throughout static chronometer tests, Wilsdorf wanted to ensure that they would continue to perform their primary function no matter their environment.
Before he would achieve that goal, however, Wilsdorf decided it would be beneficial to relocate to Geneva so that he could work more closely with his suppliers in Bienne. In 1919, Hans Wilsdorf left England behind and journeyed back to central Europe, and in 1920, he registered the name Montres Rolex S.A.
Wilsdorf had been creating watches for just 21 years before the seminal release of the Rolex Oyster case in 1926. It was to be a game-changing model. With that release, the company was at once placed on a stratospheric trajectory. Marketed as the world’s first waterproof watch (although the brand, along with most others in the industry, prefers to use the term water-resistant these days), the Oyster case was a revelation. Not only was it up to the prescribed task, but it also boasted an iconic aesthetic thanks to the fluted bezel and caseback, which had been included for practical reasons: The notches on the bezel and caseback enabled both components to be screwed down to the middle case using a special tool invented by Rolex, thus hermetically sealing the case.
So confident in its ability to keep the inner workings of a movement dry was Wilsdorf, that he implored famous Channel swimmer, Mercedes Gleitze to wear one around her neck on her ill-fated Chanel crossing attempt of 1927. Although Gleitze didn’t make it to France on that occasion (she would do so later that year), the watch performed admirably, keeping excellent time throughout the entire swim, and not allowing a single drop of water to ingress.
Five years later, Wilsdorf achieved his own personal Holy Grail - the creation of a self-winding wristwatch. 1931 saw the debut of the first Oyster Perpetual model - a model name that still graces many Rolex dials today. The combination of the water-resistant and dust-proof case, along with an automatic movement secured Wilsdorf's finest creation a place in the pantheon of great watchmaking advancements.
What followed over the next 50 years was a series of model releases that would go on to define the watchmaking landscape for a generation. Each release by the now-storied brand became a classic.
The 1940s brought us the prolific Datejust model. Less than a decade after that significant release, the Submariner followed in 1953. Two years later, the first GMT-Master debuted. Before the decade was out, the Day-Date and the Milgauss had joined the Rolex ranks.
The '60s got off to a bang with the launch of the Deep-Sea Extra Special (which would give rise to the extant Sea-Dweller first released in 1967). Between those two aquatic releases, the very first Cosmograph Daytona hit the shelves in 1963. 1971 saw the release of the Explorer II, the first of two iconic updates to existing models in the catalog. The second such update came in 1982 with the release of the GMT-Master II, which has gone on to be one of the most sought after models produced by the brand.
Since the heyday of new model releases, the Yacht-Master, and Pearlmaster (both 1992), the Yacht-Master II (2007), the DeepSea (2008), the Datejust II (2009), and the Sky-Dweller (2012) have also joined the party. These modern Rolex watches, designed for a new age, utilize Rolex’s high-quality materials and in-house movements and are a testament to the know-how accumulated through years of graft and a tireless desire to innovate.
While Hans Wilsdorf passed away in 1960, the brand he founded has continued to set the bar for the chasing pack. And it is likely that the late visionary would be proud of his charge, as it has managed to stay true to his original dream, despite a constantly evolving landscape that has been known to drive lesser brands into the ground. But Rolex is beyond such market pressures. It floats on an island of its own creation, dictating the tides rather than being governed by them. Whatever the future holds for the industry of watchmaking, it seems the Crown will still be around to have its say on the matter.
For more information on the history of the world's most famous luxury brand, visit the Rolex.org website right here.
In London, England in 1905, a 24-year-old Hans Wilsdorf had a vision to create a wristwatch that was as elegant as it was reliable.
Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law Alfred Davis had already established their own shop and were importing Swiss movements and placing them in quality cases. But Wilsdorf wanted more.
He envisioned a name for his timepieces that would be easy to remember and pronounce in any language. He called it Rolex. One theory is that he believed the name "Rolex" was onomatopoeic, which sounded like a watch being wound. He registered the name and quickly opened an office in Switzerland and by 1915 the name Rolex was registered.
The most important factor to the Rolex Company in creating these new watches was that the movements be of the highest quality. This chronometric precision that the makers of Rolex watches insisted upon was what catapulted the company’s rapid ascent. Rolex soon received the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision, granted by the Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne – the first wristwatch in the world to receive this prestigious mark.
Rolex timepieces were then honored with Great Britain’s Kew Observatory's Class A precision certificate. From that moment on, these quality watches became synonymous with precision.
The company then moved to Geneva in 1920, and Rolex began waterproofing its timepieces. Given the name the Oyster, this watch featured a hermetically sealed case, providing optimal protection. Proving its amazing craftsmanship, the first Rolex lasted 10 hours in the water, when Mercedes Gleitze, a young English swimmer, crossed the English Channel wearing her Rolex. The watch was in perfect working condition when she arrived on shore.
Throughout the years, motorsports, aviation and other sporting expeditions were the real-life laboratories that tested the quality of Rolex watches. Of course, the brand always exceeded even the loftiest aspirations.
In 1953, the Submariner was launched as the first divers’ watch. This masterpiece was waterproof to a depth of 100 meters, or 330 feet, while its rotatable bezel allowed divers to read their immersion time. Stainless steel 904L is utilized in high technology, aerospace and chemical industries, where maximum resistance to corrosion is essential, and this is the material Rolex uses for its steel watch cases. This superalloy is extremely resistant and highly polishable, while maintaining elegance during the harshest conditions.
More than 60 years after its unveiling, the Submariner is still a favorite among divers. Updated with improved water resistance, new movements, and numerous small cosmetic changes, this watch can now reach 300 meters, or 1,000 feet, under water. Rolex celebrated the watch’s 50th anniversary by launching the Rolex Submariner-Date anniversary edition (Model 16610) in 2003. This collector’s edition includes distinguishing features such as a green bezel and Maxi dial; in 2008 a new case from the GMT II was introduced for the Submariner-Date, which includes heavier lugs and a crownguard. A cerachrome bezel and updated clasp featuring a quick adjust function were also added.
When you read about the rich history of Rolex, and the unparalleled status of its iconic timepieces, like the Submariner, it’s easy to see why so many yearn for this brand and its products. More often than not, however, many admirers have a hard time wrapping their head around the hefty price tag that comes with a new Rolex. Before the age of the Internet, it was hard to find pre-owned Rolex watches in excellent condition. But these days, it’s different. Customers from around the world trust the online service of Bob’s Watches.
Bob's is the world’s first and only pre-owned Rolex exchange where consumers can buy, sell and trade used Rolex watches at a true fair market value. The company believes in complete transparency and publishes the current buy and sell values for each Rolex model, making it the online marketplace for aficionados looking for the best deal. Devoted exclusively to the used-Rolex market, Bob’s Watches prides itself on obtaining stellar results for its customers. The company's business philosophy is built on integrity and trust, which is exactly why it has become the leading online destination for used Rolex timepieces. And unlike other online watch companies, Bob’s carries an actual inventory of watches: Each and every watch at BobsWatches.com is in stock and ready to sell.