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ROLEX BLOG

Rolex and Sports: A History and Overview

December 2, 2019

BY Paul Altieri

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An unrelenting quest for perfection. Incredible dedication. Success and failure measured in fractions of a second: it’s no wonder the worlds of professional sports and high end mechanical watchmaking are so intertwined.

Rolex is among the first brands to recognize the promotional opportunities of associating their name with the best sportsmen and women of the age, thanks to the genius marketing acumen of founder Hans Wilsdorf. As early as 1927, he was to sponsor Mercedes Gleitze as she became the first British woman to swim the English Channel, and Wilsdorf seized on the opportunity to prove the efficacy of his new Oyster case, released the previous year. The Rolex watch Gleitze wore on a chain around her neck still worked perfectly after 10-hours in the water, and she went on to become the very first Rolex ambassador, giving rise to the Testimonee concept.

Since then, the company has worked hard to gain recognition in a carefully selected range of events and sports, ones that buoy up its reputation as the ultimate lifestyle brand. They are patron and official timekeeper for everything from tennis, golf, sailing, equestrian, and motor racing, and they are represented by some of the most famous athletes in the world. Below, we take a look at Rolex’s link with the sporting elite.

Rolex and Sports - Deepsea Sea-Dweller D-Blue James Cameron

The Deepsea Sea-Dweller D-Blue was created to commemorate James Cameron’s historic dive.

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Rolex and Tennis 

Wimbledon just wouldn’t be Wimbledon without Rolex’s iconic coronet logo and green and gold branding swamping the All England Club. They have been the sponsors of the oldest competition in tennis since 1978, and the mix of formal tradition and sublime performance on those famous grass courts are a perfect match for the iconic watchmaker. They even released their venerable Datejust with a ‘Wimbledon Dial’ – a slate grey background with black and green Roman numerals evoking the spirit of the tournament. 

Clearly enjoying their involvement with the sport, Rolex added the Australian Open to their roster in 2008, the U.S. Open in 2017, and the French Open last year. Alongside that Grand Slam, they also hold sponsorship deals with the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters and the Shanghai Rolex Masters, together with the women’s BNP Paribas WTA finals. =

As well as the events, many of the top names in tennis are official brand Testimonees, including Juan Martin del Potro, Caroline Wozniacki, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and perhaps the greatest ever: Roger Federer.

Rolex and Sports -  Datejust Wimbledon Dial

The ‘Wimbledon Dial’ Rolex Datejust features green accents on its Roman Numeral markers.

Rolex and Golf

A connection that goes back even further than their relationship with tennis, Rolex’s patronage of golf first started in the 1960s. Now the sanctioned timekeeper of three of the four Majors (the British Open, U.S Open, and Masters), with only the PGA Championship holding out, they are a well established convention at each tournament. They have also been heavily involved in the women’s game as well for more than 40 years, serving as official sponsor for the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), including at the five women’s Majors competitions and the team event, the Solheim Cup.

Some of today’s biggest competitors have become ambassadors for Rolex, with the likes of Tiger Woods, Brooke Koepka, Jordan Spieth, and Anna Nordqvist all lending their names to the roster. But as far as legendary representatives go,  it will always be the ‘big three’ from the golden age of the sport – Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Arnold Palmer – who will hold a special place in the hearts of most fans.

Rolex and Sports - Day-Date President gold

Many of Rolex’s very first golf ambassadors wore Day-Date President watches.

Rolex and Motor Racing

It’s no surprise to find Rolex front and center in the high octane and impossibly-glamorous environs of the race track. From the famed land speed record attempts of Sir Malcolm Campbell in the 1930s, to the opening of the Daytona International Speedway in 1959, Rolex has become global partners for everything from Formula 1 to the FIA World Endurance Championships, and their name is synonymous with the sport’s greatest spectacles.

Joined together by an astonishing level of engineering excellence, along with the commitment and drive that is crucial for success, it is difficult to think of two more fitting companions than Rolex and motor sport. You will see Rolex branding on the Le Mans 24-hour’s Circuit de la Sarthe, through to the crowning glory of the F1 season at the Grand Prix de Monaco and everywhere in-between. As for their ambassadors, Rolex can count on giants of the track such as Nico Rosberg, Mark Webber, and the legendary ‘Flying Scot’ Jackie Stewart. 

Rolex and Sports - Vintage Daytona chronograph

The Rolex Daytona is the quintessential racing watch.

Rolex and Equestrianism

Rolex has been heavily involved with the different disciplines of elite equestrianism for more than 60 years, and they are responsible for some of the richest prizes in the sport. Stars such as show jumpers Scott Brash, Kent Farrington, and Rodrigo Pessoa, and number-one dressage rider Isabel Werth, all enjoy backing from the brand, along with eventer Zara Tindall. 

Additionally, Rolex sponsors both the Grand Slam of Eventing (the Kentucky Three-Day Event, the Badminton Horse Trials, and the Burghley Horse Trials), along with the Grand Slam of Showjumping, made up of the four Majors and now recognized as the most coveted of all trophies. As always, wherever top athletes perform at the pinnacle of their sport, you will find Rolex.

Rolex and Sports - Daytona Race Award Watch

Some Rolex Daytona watches were given as awards for automotive races.

Rolex and Sailing

With the Yacht-Master and Yacht-Master II watches in the portfolio, Rolex’s relationship with the ultra demanding world of professional sailing is well-known. First starting in the 50s when the brand forged a partnership with the New York Yacht Club, they have gone on to develop ties with the sport’s greatest competitions, such as the Sydney to Hobart Race, the 605-nautical-mile Rolex Fastnet around the British Isles, and the week-long Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup held in Sardinia’s Porto Cervo and hosted by the Aga Khan.

Like motor racing, yachting is a sport that requires the utmost devotion to precision, faultless teamwork, and a crew of daring experts. Dynamic and awash with time-honored traditions, Rolex and competitive sailing make impeccable partners.

Rolex and Sports - Yacht-Master II regatta chronograph watch

The Rolex Yacht-Master II is a professional regatta chronograph.

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