Although now seen as arguably the World’s most famous watch manufacturer, the Rolex that we know today is inextricably linked to the pioneering spirit of one man – Hans Wilsdorf. When he started dealing in timepieces in 1905, the products he was dealing with were far from precise, as well as not nearly as attractive as he knew they could be. Wilsdorf saw a gap in the market, and soon acted on this, in the process building an empire it’s hard to imagine the World without in the 21st century.
In 1908 Wilsdorf registered Rolex as a trademark and opened his office in Switzerland. The name emerged from Wilsdorf’s decision that he wanted something simple, attractive to read and easy to say in any language. Rolex fitted the bill perfectly.
In 1910, a Rolex watch was the first wrist watch in the World to receive a Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision award, a commendation which is now shared by other major luxury watch brands such as Breitling, Patek Philippe and Cartier. Following this success, Kew observatory in London awarded a Rolex wristwatch a “Class A” precision certificate. Once again, Hans Wilsdorf proved the undeniable quality of the watches he manufactured.
In 1919, Rolex moved to Geneva, a world-renowned watchmaking city, and the base for the company to this day. The company was officially registered in the city in 1920.
Rolex has benchmarked many innovations over the years, such as their creation of the first waterproof watch, in 1926. Named the Oyster, this watch was one of the pioneering watches in which you can see a direct link to Rolex today. In 1945, Rolex released the first wrist watch with a date which automatically changes on the dial. This was the first of the Rolex Datejust models, a series which is still sold to this day. The pillar of the Oyster collection, this watch featured an elegant design and fluted bezel, offering its owner a luxury waterproof timepiece which was immediately recognisable. Interestingly, in 1953, Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Everest for the first time with the Sir John Hunt expedition, wearing Oyster perpetual models.
In 1953, Rolex introduced their dedicated tool-watch, the Rolex Submariner. This timepiece could gauge sea depths up to 100m, and featured a rotatable bezel, allowing divers to read their immersion time. Since its launch, many professionals, celebrities and high-profile people have made the Rolex Submariner probably Rolex’s most well-known model.
In 1955, another addition to the company’s professional range was made. The Rolex GMT-Master was designed for pilots and navigators, and the first wrist watch that could display two time zones simultaneously. The luxurious Rolex Day-Date was introduced a year later, available only in 18 carat gold or platinum.
During the 1960s, professional divers needed a watch that could go to greater depths. In 1967, Rolex - now a true master - developed the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sea Dweller. This could reach depths of 610 metres, and featured a helium escape valve so that the watch was not damaged by decompression phases in hyperbaric chambers, which were essential when reaching these depths.
Another well-known model is the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. Originally produced in 1963, with its recognisable three sub-dials, it has become an iconic time piece, reaching new heights in terms of popularity when Paul Newman wore one in 1972.
The 1970s also produced a range of other now world-renowned Rolex watches, including the Explorer II and the Sea Dweller 4000. The revolution in 904l steel was a highlight of the 1980s for Rolex, from then on being used in the cases of all of the brand’s steel watches. The 1990s saw the emergence of the Rolex Pearlmaster and Yachtmaster, each of which were equipped with the nearly 100 year of watch expertise which Rolex had acquired by this point.
Rolex continue to make world-class watches today, as well as having crafted some of the world’s most famous models throughout its prestigious history. Having time after time proven itself able to redefine what’s expected from a watch, it’s no wonder that Rolex timepieces are amongst the World’s most valuable and sought after to this day.