Did you know it has been almost 118 years since the Rolex watch company started creating timepieces?
Rolex is known as one of the finest Swiss watchmaking brands that produced some of the most iconic luxury timepieces in history.
But how much did you know about the Rolex watch company?
Do you know their most significant contribution to the world of horology and how did they become one of the leaders of the Swiss watch industry?
So, if you are one of the millions of Rolex fans or an explorer eyeing to buy a Rolex watch, this article is for you!
Today, we will share with you a complete and precise Rolex history to enhance your understanding of the brand and further appreciate their excellent craftsmanship.
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Rolex Brand Summary
|Industry||Retail, Luxury Goods, and Jewelry||Founder(s)||Alfred Davis, Hans Wilsdorf|
|Company Size||10,001+ Employees||CEO||Jean-Frederic Dufour|
|Headquarters||Geneva, Switzerland||Owned By||Hans Wilsdorf Foundation|
|Type||Privately Held||Watches Produced||1,000,000|
What Is The Origin Story Behind Rolex?
The history of Rolex began in 1905 when a 24-year-old man named Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis, founded the company in London, which was initially called “Wilsdorf and Davis”.
In their early years, they focused on importing Swiss movements, setting them in watch cases, and selling them to various jewelers around the country. And as a result of this experience, the two men realized and saw the potential of creating their own watch brand.
How Did Rolex Get Its Name?
In 1908, when Hans Wilsdorf was in the process of creating his own watch brand, he was looking for a name that was short, unique, and easy to pronounce in any language. Finally, after hours of thinking, he came up with the brand name “Rolex” and registered it as their trademark.
Soon after that, Hans, with his brother-in-law, Alfred, opened their first watch company office in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Since then, the name Rolex has become synonymous with Swiss-made luxury watches.
The history of Rolex started after Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis founded Wilsdorf & Davis in 1905. In those early years, their main business was to import and distribute watches made in Switzerland.
By that time, wearing wristwatches is not yet embraced by most people as they tend to stick to using pocket watches.
But even if that’s the case, Hans Wilsdorf saw the possibility for wristwatches to become popular in the near future and thus gave him the idea of investing his money to set out his own watch brand.
In 1908, he registered the trademark Rolex and opened the first Rolex headquarters in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
Two years later, in 1910, Rolex introduced their first wristwatch called the “Oyster,” whose main feature is its waterproof case.
Also in the same year, the 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.
And in 1914, Kew Observatory in England awarded the Rolex wristwatch a class “A” precision certificate for its precision and accuracy. It is a distinction that until that point in time had been reserved solely for marine chronometers.
After the commercial success of its first watch, the Rolex company unveiled “perpetual”, their first automatic movement and the first self-winding calibre used for a wristwatch.
After a few years of successful business, Rolex SA moved to Geneva in 1920. In 1926, they introduced the Rolex Oyster case, the first proven waterproof case in the world.
And to prove this to the public, Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf convinced Mercedes Gleitze, a young English swimmer, to wear a waterproof watch, the Rolex Oyster, in her attempt to cross the English channel while swimming.
Also that year, they also presented the “Bubbleback” to the public. This timepiece features a much larger case that helps to improve the watch’s accuracy and precision.
But that doesn’t stop there. Rolex Oysters were also worn by crew members of the first expedition to fly and pass over Everest in the same year.
A few years later, in 1936, the first Oyster Perpetual watch was born, which showcased a waterproof case and automatic movement. After this historical point, the Oyster Perpetual became an iconic piece in the Rolex catalog.
Even amid WWII, Rolex SA created thousands of high-quality mechanical watches despite the challenge posed by the war.
In 1945, the company reached another milestone in the history of Rolex, as they invented the first automatic winding wristwatch with a date display, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust.
The Rolex Air-King is also introduced this year as a part of Air watches from the Rolex brand. It was specifically produced for the British Royal Air Force and its pilots.
In the early years of the 1950s, Rolex started to develop professional tool watches that were equipped with functions more than its primary task of telling time.
In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mount Everest while using an Oyster Perpetual watch. Making Rolex the first wristwatch and the first watch brand to reach the highest peak in the world.
And to celebrate this milestone, they have introduced the Rolex Explorer.
Also, in 1953, Rolex released the “Submariner,” the first divers’ watch waterproof to a depth of 100 meters or 330 feet. This diving watch became the most sought-after timepiece for deep-sea explorers.
Two years later, the Rolex company introduced a self-winding wristwatch designed as a navigation aid for professionals, the Rolex GMT-Master, which can keep track of two time zones.
And before the end of 1955, the iconic Rolex Day-Date also made its debut.
Rolex didn’t stop at just making amazing functional tool watches. In 1956, they introduced what Rolex calls the “Milgauss,” a timepiece designed for the scientific community that can withstand magnetic fields of up to 1,000 gausses.
In 1960, the Rolex Deep Sea Special was created. It can withstand the most extreme conditions under the sea and has been tested even to the deepest part of the ocean. It is one of the earliest watches used down the Mariana Trench.
And in 1963, Rolex developed one of the most popular sports watches in history, the world-famous Rolex Daytona. It features a chronograph function and a tachymetric bezel paired with a Rolex signature Oyster bracelet.
To honor the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Oyster, in 1976, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise were launched to honor outstanding people who possess the boldness and confidence to take on major challenges.
In 1978, the Rolex family welcomed the newest member of their brand, the Rolex Sea-Dweller 4000, which has a waterproof ability to a depth of 4,000 feet.
The 1980s and 1990s
As Rolex continues its passion for developing high-precision timepieces adorned with elegant designs and features, Rolex created the Yacht-Master watch that builds the bridge between the world of fine watchmaking and world sailing.
In 1992, the Rolex company released one of their classic dress watches, the Rolex Pearlmaster, made in yellow gold.
2000s to Present
By this time, Rolex has cemented its place as one of the leaders in the watchmaking world.
Due to its unparalleled craftsmanship, innovative technological advancements, and meticulous design, Rolex is often compared to Patek Philippe and other watch brands.
And to start the 21st century, Rolex secured the patent for the 4130 caliber movement, whic was entirely developed and manufactured by Rolex in 2000 for the modern models of the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona.
They also launched the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, founded in 2002 to motivate talented individuals through a special program of one on one mentoring with a major figure in their artistic field.
2005 was a memorable year for the brand. By this year, they created the blue Parachrom hairspring, which is widely regarded for its ability to be untouched by magnetic fields and up to 10 times more resistant to shocks than a traditional hairspring.
They also developed a ceramic bezel called Cerachrom to ensure lasting beauty and functionality for Rolex watches, even if it is exposed to extreme conditions.
In 2012, Rolex introduced a new innovative model, the Sky-Dweller, an innovative masterpiece designed for world travelers. It features a dual time zone as well as an annual calendar.
Finally, Rolex watches are now covered by the Superlative Chronometer certification redefined by Rolex in 2015. This exclusive designation testifies that the timepieces made by the brand have successfully undergone a series of tests conducted by Rolex according to its own criteria.
Since then, Rolex has continued to develop its watches by upgrading its watch movements and releasing new models of incredible luxury watches.
Today, Rolex produces a wide range of watches, including sports watches, tool watches, and classic timepieces, all of which are renowned for their quality, functionality, and reliability. As you can see, their history competes with the likes of Patek Philippe.
As long as Rolex is around, you can expect it to continue releasing new offerings that will surely amaze the watchmaking world.
Who Is The Owner Of Rolex?
The current CEO of Rolex SA is Jean-Frederic Dufour. But since the 1960s, Rolex SA has been owned and controlled by the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, a private family trust.
This foundation donates a part of its revenue to charity and social causes in Switzerland.
Rolex SA also owned the brand of Tudor. Tudor watches are reliable and elegant, like other Rolex watches. The only difference between them is that Tudor offers a much more affordable price.
Rolex Ambassadors & Brand Placement
Rolex wristwatch is prominently featured in several James Bond films. Roger Moore’s portrayal of James Bond in the 1973 film “Live and Let Die” features one of the most notable appearances of a Rolex piece in Hollywood films as he wears the iconic Rolex Submariner.
Mentor and Protege Initiative
The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative was established in 2002 to give emerging and well-talented artists time to learn, create, and grow. The program exemplifies Rolex’s long-standing dedication to encouraging individual excellence in the artistic discipline.
Roger Federer is the first man to win 20 Grand Slam singles titles in tennis. He has more than 1,200 career victories and won two Olympic medals. And the best part here is he loves the Rolex brand.
This makes him one of the famous athlete ambassadors of Rolex.
Current & Past Rolex Models
Since the day it was established, Rolex has been consistent in designing and innovating luxury watches that people love to wear.
Over the years, its reputation as a luxury watchmaking house continued to prosper because of its passion and commitment to developing the best timeless models for men and women.
Classic Rolex Watches
Timepieces from this category feature an enduring appeal because of their classy and timeless designs. They are known for their top-tier quality, durability, and remarkable functionality.
This classic timepiece was first released in 1945. It showcases a simple yet elegant design that every man will surely adore. It features a date window on its 3 o’clock, enhanced by the magnifying effect of the Cyclops lens.
Price Range: $4,000 – $82,950
The Day-Date is distinguished by its distinctive and timeless aesthetics.
It was launched in 1955, and since then, has become one of the most beloved models of the brand. Available in white gold, yellow gold, rose gold, and platinum, this timepiece features a watch complication that displays both the week day and date.
Price Range: $17,950 – $83,950
The Rolex Cellini is probably the most formal and refined line of watches made by the Swiss watchmaking giant. It comes with different watch complications that depend on the particular Cellini model. But generally, they are elegant and classy timepieces.
Price Range: $7,250 – $15,950
Another classic timepiece from the brand is the Rolex Oyster Perpetual. This model comes in different colored dials with a case diameter that ranges from 28 to 41mm. This watch is paired with Rolex’s signature Oyster bracelet.
Price Range: $3,500 – $16,500
Introduced in 2012, the 42mm Sky-Dweller model is the youngest member of the Rolex family. This watch features intricate complications, such as dual time zone and annual calendar functions.
Pricing Range: $21,950 – $56,950
Introduced in 1992, the Rolex Pearmaster is a prestigious watch line known for its luxurious design and outstanding craftsmanship. It features a bezel, dial, and bracelet adorned with white diamonds. Some models also use other gemstones like rubies and sapphires.
Price Range: $12,500 – $33,900
The Lady Datejust simply is a Datejust version made for women. It features a 28-36mm case made of precious metals such as yellow and white gold. It is often adorned with gemstones, most often with diamonds, on its dial and bezel.
Price Range: $6,500 – $67,000
Professional Rolex Watches
Rolex is not only known for its elegant and gorgeous classic timepieces.
They are also famous for creating the best tool and sports watches that men can rely on for their functionality, even in the face of an extreme environment.
One of the most recognizable models from the Rolex brand is the Submariner. This dive watch is famous for its durability and legibility. It is waterproof up to 300 meters and equipped with a unidirectional rotating bezel for divers to track their immersion time.
Price Range: $10,950 – $144,950
The Cosmograph Daytona is a legendary sports watch model made by Rolex. It showcases a chronograph function and a tachymetric scaled bezel. It is powered by an in-house calibre 4130 that is renowned for its precision and reliability.
It is the same watch model worn by the legendary actor and race car driver Paul Newman. Paul Newman’s Daytona is considered one of the most expensive watches in the world.
Price Range: $21,950 – $279,950
The first ever Rolex Explorer was introduced in 1953. After a few years, Rolex re-invented this model and launched the Rolex Explorer II. It features a clean and minimalistic design to emphasize its legibility and functionality as a timekeeping device.
Price Range: $7,450 – $15,450
The GMT-Master II is an upgraded version of the original and now discontinued model of GMT-Master, released in the 1950s. This newer model still features a GMT function but now has a two-tone Cerachrom bezel on top of the 40mm case.
Price Range: $13,450 – $92,950
The Rolex Sea-Dweller is a special timepiece developed for deep-sea exploration. It has an exceptional water resistance of up to 1,220 meters or 4,000 feet, which is made possible by the use of a helium escape valve equipped within the watch.
Price Range: $11,500 – $70,000
A specialized watch made for the scientific community. The Rolex Milgauss is designed to withstand magnetic forces up to 1,000 gausses, perfect for professionals working in environments with high magnetic fields.
Price Range: $9,950 – $12,250
Yacht Master II
Another tool watch in this list is the Rolex Yacht-Master. This timepiece was first released in the 1990s and was specifically designed for the sailing world.
The new Yacht-Master II is now equipped with a special regatta timer that can be used for yacht racing.
Pricing Range: $8,000 – $44,000
Another classic and highly functional timepiece model made by Rolex is their Air King collection. It is a watch made for aviators and was first used by the British Royal Air Force in 1945.
Today, it is still on the market and is considered the most affordable Rolex wristwatch available.
Discontinued Rolex Models
In the almost 118-year history of Rolex, the brand has retired a few models from its collection.
But this does not mean that these timepieces aren’t great. In fact, some discontinued pieces make the watch more special and even more desirable for watch collectors.
Daytona ‘John Mayer’
The Rolex Daytona Ref. 116508, more commonly known in the watch community as the “John Mayer’s Daytona,” is a discontinued model of Cosmograph Daytona. It features a yellow-gold case and bracelet with an iconic sunburst green dial.
Price Range: Starts at $110,000
The original GMT-Master, released in the 1950s, has been discontinued for the reason that Rolex has re-invented the model to a much more modern version and upgrades. Although the model was retired, you can still purchase these vintage watches on the secondary market.
Price Range: $13,450 – $16,950
During the 1970s Quartz crisis, the brand released the Rolex Oysterquartz collection, which is obviously, by its name, powered by a quartz movement. But after almost three decades, Rolex decided to retire this timepiece model.
Price Range: $12,950 – $13,950
The last discontinued model on this list is the Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph. It was launched in the market in 1953. Like the Submariner and GMT-Master, this watch featured a rotating bezel and was also used as an aviator watch back in the day.
Price Range: $7,950 – $9,250
Rolex Innovations & Patents
As one of the pioneers of the fine watchmaking industry, Rolex’s history is full of milestones and achievements. The company’s pursuit of perfection has led it to come up with over 500 patents and still counting up to this day.
Since we can’t discuss all of them in this article, here is a preview of some of the most notable innovations of the brand since it was founded:
- The First Waterproof Watch
- Perpetual Rotor
- Parachrom Hairspring
- Cerachrom Bezel Insert
- Syloxi Hairspring
- Paraflex Shock Absorber
- GMT function
- Automatic Date and Day-Date Function
- Helium Escape Valve
Rolex Serial Number Structure
The serial number structure of Rolex watches has developed over the past years.
At first, it was only composed of numbers. But in 1987, after Rolex reached #9,999,999, they began adding a letter to these six-digit serial numbers.
But in 2011, the company began employing randomized serial numbers and letters. Due to this change, it cannot be determined what year a Rolex was made if it was manufactured post-2010.
How To Find A Rolex Serial Number
If you have an older model of Rolex watch, the serial numbers can be seen between the lugs on the side of the case at 6 o’clock. But for you to read it, you must remove the bracelet first.
But if your watch was made in 2005 or later, you can find the serial number engraved onto the rehaut on the inner bezel ring inside of the crystal.
Frequently Asked Questions
The first wristwatch ever made by the brand is the Rolex Oyster watch.
Rolex watches are often perceived as rare because of their limited production per year, controlled distribution, and high market value.
The Rolex company had an estimated output of 8000,000 to 1,000,000 watches per year.
Rolex Watch History – Conclusion
And now we’re done! These are the key points you need to know to fully understand the long history of Rolex, the most renowned Swiss watchmaking company.
With that being said, we hope that this guide can help you deepen your appreciation of every timepiece made by Rolex.
Now, if you want to own a luxury watch but don’t know if you can afford a Rolex watch, check out our article about some of the most affordable luxury timepieces here.