Which watch do you think of first when asked about high-end timepieces?
For most people, it’s not a Patek Phillipe or Omega. It’s not even the watch brand they may be wearing; it’s a Rolex.
Rolex is without a doubt the most famous watch brand in history and one that’s managed to maintain a luxurious, untainted image throughout the years. But what do you actually know about the history of Rolex?
If you’re interested in learning more, we’ve put together everything you need to know.
The Start of Watch Making For the German Inventors
In the early 1900s, Hans Wilsdorf, German-born, and Alfred Davis, his brother-in-law, set up a company in London. It was an eponymous business that imported movements from Switzerland and installed them inside British watch cases. They then sold these watches to local jewelers who could put their own brand names onto the watches.
This was the very start of Rolex, even though it wasn’t actually Rolex. The men started to sense the potential in their idea and their own brand, and they thought they might be able to crack into the profitable wristwatch market.
In 1908, just 3 years after they began their first company, they secured the name Rolex.
The Beginning of Rolex
One of the first things that set apart Wilsdorf from other watchmakers was that he understood that people wanted precision timekeeping. So, in 1910, Rolex earned itself the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision, becoming the first wristwatch to do so. This had a largely positive impact on sales, which encouraged Wilsdorf to pursue further certification.
In 1914, he earned Rolex a Kew Observatory Class A Precision Certificate, which until this point was usually reserved only for marine chronometers. This again appealed to the British market who longed for accurate timekeeping. From this point on, Rolex began to offer their customers a mechanical accuracy that few have but a lot of people want, and they’ve kept up with this ever since.
Soon after, the demand for Rolex rose quickly and sharply, propelling them into the world of profitable watchmaking. In 1919, Wilsdorf relocated the brand to Geneva, Switzerland, to lower production costs.
Here, they made a fully sealed watch case known as the Oyster, which was released in 1926 and became a staple of watch collection culture. No one had created such a watch before, and prior to this watches had to be carefully protected from rain and dust. This was the first time that Rolex became truly brilliant and earned its place in the halls of watch innovation.
If you’re looking to sell your Rolex and have one of these early models, be ready to make a lot of money!
Continuing Technical Innovation
A watch collector doesn’t just want beautiful timepieces, they want innovation. They want to own pieces that are interesting and can be spoken about, engaging the people they show their watches to. The best luxury watches blend beauty and innovation perfectly.
So, Rolex wasn’t happy with simply creating one innovative timepiece. They continued to improve on their designs year upon year.
In 1931, for example, they created the first every automatic winding wristwatch, the legendary Oyster Perpetual. It was technically revolutionary, making watch wearing more convenient for those buying luxury watches. The impact of the Oyster Perpetual can’t be overestimated; it changed the entire face of watchmaking and had Rolex making headlines worldwide.
In 1945, after having taken time off innovation to supply watches to soldiers, they released the Datejust. This was the first watch to automatically have the date jump forward and the strike of midnight when other watches would take hours to make the change.
Rolex Reaches Their Prime
It wasn’t until the 1950s that Rolex really hit its stride. Although they’d already seen great success, they’d released very few watches. As any smart investor will tell you, the more product differentiation you have the better your chances of lucking success.
During this decade, Rolex brought out a huge array of new and innovative watches, including:
- The Air-King
- The Explorer
- The Submariner
- The GMT Master
- The Lady-Datejust
- The Deep Sea
Most of these built on previous models of Rolex watches, though there was some innovation during the 50s. However, as the brand was already world-famous, they didn’t really have to innovate anymore. Now their focus had shifted to marketing, securing their title as the world’s best watchmaker.
Other Fun Achievements From the History of Rolex
This history has largely focused on the innovation and rise of Rolex, but there is a lot more to their history. They’ve had many achievements along the way that mark the fun and exciting journey the watch company has made and how they’ve become a staple in modern history, including:
- 1933 – A Rolex flies over Everest with the first team to ever do so
- 1935 – A Rolex is in the car when Sir Malcolm Campbell broke the record for land speed, driving at 276 mph
- 1953 – Rolex joins Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay to be the first people to reach the summit of Everest
- 1955 – Rolex watches are worn on the first-ever intercontinental flight and the company later equip all Pan American pilots with Rolex watches
- 1960 – A Rolex Deep Sea Special model joins the record-setting submarine Trieste to the bottom of the Mariana Trench
These weren’t just accidents, they were planned by Rolex. Not only do they make great stories, but they also tie in Rolex to some of the most amazing feats of modern history and make them a part of our lives forever. It was clever marketing and turned Rolex into the heritage brand that it is today.
Have You Got a Rolex in Your Collection?
The history of Rolex makes their watches all the more special. The exclusivity and luxury label are, of course, appealing, but their incredible rise to the world’s most famous watchmaker lies within each and every watch, making these a one-of-a-kind.
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