The History Of Rolex

Rolex is a Swiss luxury watch manufacturer based in Geneva, Switzerland, but the history of Rolex didn’t start there.

Hans Wilsdorf was based in London, England, in the early 1900’s and he specialised in the distribution of timepieces. Wristwatches were not particularly accurate at the time, and Hans Wilsdorf had a vision to create an elegant and very reliable wristwatch.

Hans Wilsdorf teamed up with Alfred Davis in London in 1905 to work on his vision and they founded Wilsdorf and Davis – Hans Wilsdorf was aged just 24 at the time.

Although Wilsdorf and Davis were still based in London they opened up an office in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland in 1908, and they registered Rolex as the brand name of its watches.

Rolex continued to concentrate their efforts on the quality of the movements to meet Hans Wilsdorf vision of manufacturing the most reliable of wristwatches in the world. In a relatively short period of time they achieved what they had set out to do. In 1910, a Rolex watch was the first wristwatch in the world to receive the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision, granted by the Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne (a district of Bern).

Rolex gained further notoriety four years later in 1914 when Kew Observatory, based in Richmond, England, awarded a Rolex wristwatch a Class “A” Precision Certificate. This distinction had previously been granted exclusively for marine chronometers.

Rolex never looked back from this point and its wristwatches became synonymous with precision and quality. In November 1915 the company changed its name to Rolex Watch Co. Ltd.

During World War 1 export duties on the silver and gold Rolex were using for its watch cases became very high, and in the post-war era the taxes levied on luxury goods and imports increased significantly. Rolex took the decision to leave London in 1919 and base its operations to Geneva, Switzerland – a city renowned internationally for watch making. The following year the company's name was changed and registered in Geneva as Montres Rolex S.A, and eventually in later years to Rolex S.A.

Rolex created the first ever waterproof and dustproof wristwatch in 1926 – named the “Oyster”. The watch featured a hermetically sealed airtight case, which excludes the passage of air, oxygen, or other gases. This provided optimal protection for the movement inside the watch case.

When Hans Wilsdorf’s wife died in 1944 he established the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation – a private trust – and he placed all of his Rolex shares into the trust to make sure some of the company's income would go to Charity. Wilsdorf died in 1960, and since then the trust has been owned and run Rolex S.A.

In the early 1950’s Rolex started to develop watches that would be used for a range of activities, such as deep-sea diving, aviation, scientific exploration and mountain climbing

Rolex launched the now famous Submariner in 1953, and this was the first ever divers’ watch waterproof to a depth of 100 metres (330 feet). Its rotatable bezel also allowed the diver to read their immersion time. Rolex have since gone on to make timepieces that can withstand the pressure of unimaginable depths.

In 1985 Rolex became the first watch making brand to use the 904L alloy steel for its cases. This alloy was most used in high-technology areas such as the aerospace and chemical industries. The alloy is well known for its anti-corrosion properties and its incredible sheen once polished, and 33 years later the alloy became known as "Oystersteel”.

In October 2017, Paul Newman's 1968 Rolex Daytona – that came widely became known as the Paul Newman Daytona simply because he wore it – sold at a New York auction house for $17.8 million. This was, and still is, the record for highest amount ever paid for a wristwatch.

No doubt Rolex will remain one of the most sought after luxury brands, and its innovation will continue for many years to come.  

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