Rolex SA is a Swiss manufacturer of mostly mechanical wristwatches and accessories renowned for their dependability, prestige, and cost. Rolex watches are considered status symbols by many. Rolex is the largest single luxury watch brand by far. BusinessWeek magazine ranks Rolex 71st on its 2007 annual list of the 100 most important global brands, top among all watchmakers.
Rolex SA was founded in 1905 by the German Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis. Contrary to popular belief, Hans Wilsdorf was neither Swiss nor a watchmaker. Wilsdorf & Davis was the original name of what later became the Rolex Watch Company. They originally imported Hermann Aegler’s Swiss movements to England and placed them in quality cases made by Dennison and others. These early wristwatches were then sold to jewelers, who then put their own names on the dial. The earliest watches from the firm of Wilsdorf and Davis are usually marked “W&D” – inside the caseback only.
Hans Wilsdorf registered the trademark name “Rolex” in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland in 1908. The word was made up, and its origin is obscure. One story, which was never confirmed by Wilsdorf, is that the word “Rolex” came from the French phrase horlogerie exquise, meaning exquisite watch industry. Another is that the name was chosen to indicate movement when spoken in English.
The Wilsdorf & Davis company moved out of the United Kingdom in 1912. Wilsdorf wanted his watches to be affordable, but taxes and export duties on the case metals (silver and gold) were driving costs up. From that time to the present, Rolex has been headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, though the company owns facilities in other cities (Bienne, etc) and continents (North America, Asia, Australia, etc).
The company name Rolex was officially registered on 15 November 1915. It is thought this change was part of a drive to popularize wristwatches, which at the time were still considered a novelty largely for women (pocket watches were more common). Wilsdorf was said to desire his watch brand’s name to be easily pronounceable in any language. The company name was officially changed to the Rolex Watch Company during 1919. It was later changed to Montres Rolex, SA and finally Rolex, SA.
Rolex SA is a foundation initiated and originally funded by Hans Wilsdorf and the Aegler family. According to foundation documentation, the Rolex SA company can never be sold, nor traded on any stock market.
Other innovations from Rolex
Among the company’s innovations are the first waterproof watch case; the first wristwatch with a date on the dial; the first watch to show two timezones at once; and most importantly the first watchmakers to earn the coveted chronometer certification for a wristwatch. To date, Rolex still holds the record for the most certified chronometer movements in the category of wristwatches.
Another little known fact is that Rolex participated in the development of the original quartz watch movements. Although Rolex has made very few quartz models for its Oyster line, the company’s engineers were instrumental in design and implementation of the technology during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1968, Rolex collaborated with a consortium of 16 Swiss watch manufacturers to develop the Beta 21 quartz movement used in their Rolex Quartz Date 5100. Consequently, after five years of research, design, and development, Rolex engineering efforts finally culminated in the “clean-slate” 5035/5055 movement that would eventually power the Rolex Oysterquartz – arguably the finest quartz movement that has ever been made.
The first self-winding Rolex watch was offered to the public in 1931, preceded to the market by Harwood which patented the design in 1923 and produced the first self-winding watch in 1928, powered by an internal mechanism that used the movement of the wearer’s arm. This not only made watch-winding unnecessary, but eliminated the problem of over-winding a watch and harming its mechanism. Rolex was also the first watch company to create a truly waterproof watch — another milestone from novelty to functional timepiece. Wilsdorf even went so far as to have a specially made Rolex watch attached to the side of the Trieste bathyscaphe, which went to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The watch survived and tested as having kept perfect time during its descent and ascent. This was confirmed by a telegram sent to Rolex the following day saying “Am happy to confirm that even at 11,000 metres your watch is as precise as on the surface. Best regards, Jacques Piccard”.
Rolex has also made a reputation in watches suitable for the extremes of deep-sea diving, aviation and mountain climbing. Early sports models included the Rolex submariner, Oyster Perpetual Sea Dweller 2000 (in 1971). This watch featured a helium release valve, co-invented with Swiss watchmaker Doxa, to release helium gas build-up during decompression. Another sports model is the Rolex GMT Master II, originally developed at the request of Pan Am Airways, to assist pilots in transcontinental flights. The Explorer and Explorer II were developed specifically for explorers who would navigate rough terrain — such as the world famous Everest Expeditions.
On the more glamorous side, Ian Fleming’s James Bond character wore a Rolex Oyster Perpetual in the series of spy novels. In the early EON production Bond films, Commander Bond wore a Rolex Submariner. However, for the Bond films starring Pierce Brosnan and the film with Daniel Craig, James Bond’s standard issue watch is an Omega Seamaster. This is due in part to Omega being open to jointly promote their association with the films’ producers.
In a famous murder case the Rolex that a victim wore on his wrist eventually led to the arrest of his murderer. When a body was found in the English channel in 1996 by a fisherman who caught the body, and the 4.5 kg anchor attached to it through the victim’s belt, in his net about 10 km from the English coast, a Rolex wristwatch was the only identifiable object on the body. Since the Rolex movement had a serial number and was engraved with special markings every time it was serviced, British police traced the service records from Rolex, and Ronald Joseph Platt was identified as the owner of the watch and the victim of the murder. In addition British police were able to determine the date of death by examining the date on the watch calendar and since the Rolex movement had a reserve of two to three days of operation when inactive and it was fully waterproof, they were able to determine the time of death within a small margin of error.
Rolex Watch models
Rolex SA has three watch lines: Oyster Perpetual, Professional and Cellini. Among modern Rolex Oyster watch models are the:
• GMT Master II
• Explorer II
• Daytona Cosmograph
• Oyster Perpetual
• Yacht-Master II
The stainless steel Rolex Daytona has become one of the most sought-after watches of all time. Dealer waiting lists can run from three to seven years and there are reports of collectors paying up to $15,000 for the privilege of owning this exclusive watch, though it is not uncommon for jewellers to rake up the profits themselves by buying the watches and selling it on, hence it is rumored that Rolex has dropped the infamous waiting list.
The primary bracelets for the Rolex Oyster line are named Jubilee, Oyster and the President. Rolex “dressy” watches are from their Cellini line. The third brand in the Rolex empire is the less expensive, but high quality, Tudor brand. It was established by Rolex founder, Hans Wilsdorf, in 1946. While still sold in Europe and the Far East, the Tudor line was discontinued in the United States as of 2004.
Rolex is the largest manufacturer of Swiss made certified chronometers. In 2018 more than half the annual production of COSC certified watches were Rolex.
Rolex Replica Watches
Like many high-priced, brand-name watches, Rolex watches are one of the most counterfeited brands of watches available and can be found illegally being sold on the street and the internet. These fake Rolex watches are mainly produced in Asian countries such as India and mainland China (EU figures show that 75% of fakes seized in 2018 originated in China), and retail anywhere from $5 upwards to $1000 for high-end Rolex replica watches fabricated in gold. By some accounts, over 75% of all replica watches produced annually are copies of Rolex Oyster Perpetual designs. These fake watches have been nicknamed “Folex” or “Fauxlex”, or “Trolex” in Spain (trola means fake in Spanish).