Hans Wilsdorf (the founder of Rolex) started his early career in England where he teamed up with Alfred James Davis (Founder of Rolex as well) and together they decided to create their own watchmaking company.
Hans brought his extensive knowledge of the watchmaking industry while Davis had the financial backings.
The company of Wilsdorf & Davis, LTD was created in the early 1900’s while both men were equal partners.
During that time wrist watches were not popular at all and men & soldiers at that time were using pocket watches to review the time. It would take away from their duties as they would have to take out the pocket watches and check the time. Some soldiers even went so far to wear the pocket watches on their wrist. So essentially Hans had to create a new category for wrist watches as it didn’t exist. Hans knew that the market was there, he just had to create it. Additionally, he knew that advertising alone would not push the company to great heights. Teaming with athletes, public figures and influential people while still, creating a following, an aura around Rolex that to this day is still going strong for the brand.
A great example came in 1927 when Rolex gave Gleitze a Rolex which will be the first waterproof Oyster watch, to accompany her for a swim across the Channel. Hans realized that the exposure from such media coverage would put Rolex on the map and allow them to gain loyal fans and clients. The watch ad proved right as Rolex claimed it withstood water, dust, and heat as well as tropical conditions.
It is fair to say that Rolex was not the first company to invent the waterproof case, but they were the first to patent the Oyster case and defend it in courts.
Following their successful run with the media, Rolex realized that they have a golden formula. Find the best ambassadors in every in category and let them wear the watch and advertise it. From race car driver Sir Jackie Stewart to singer and song writer Eric Clapton to Roger Federer in tennis; Rolex has been able to attract the best stars.
From its early invention of the Oyster sealed case, Rolex has been able to create many inventions including the sealed crown, the oyster flip-lock bracelet, and among them the automatic movement. The automatic movement allowed the rotor to move in an Aegler motion allowing the rotor to move in both directions, giving the watch power by the wearer. The mainspring allowed the watch to have a reserve of power to give enough support to the movement.
With the automatic movement came precision and COSC. COSC stands for Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres.
Rolex leadership knew that it was important to achieve excellence and they proved that by receiving certificates from all four of the main observatories that are located in Geneva, Besancon, Neuchatel and Kew.
Wilsdorf faced a very difficult decision on how to combat fluctuation in prices. In 1931 such obstacles became a reality and Rolex had to relocate their headquarters to a place which had a more stable monetary policy. Rolex suffered tremendously, reducing all exports by 60% and causing the Rolex prices to rise. If the company were to survive they had to have companies outside of Britain and they did so successfully by creating sub companies in Milan, Paris and Buenos Aires. They gained an outstanding expansion and their facility was able to produce more watches, increasing productivity by 10 folds.
The Rolex company is registered as a foundation. It is interesting because essentially it was created by Hans Wilsdorf and another business partner. Hans put in writing that when he dies, the company will never be able to be publicly traded or sold.
The first Datejust, Caliber 740 was introduced in 1945 to commemorate the company 40th birthday. The Datejust name as it sounds, makes the Date aperture at 3’ o’clock and the Just stands for “Just in Time” marking that the calendar adjusts just at 12’ o’clock (Just in time).
Rolex continued to innovate and create more excellent patents that withstood the pressures of strength and nature. In the 1950’s the Rolex Explorer was introduced to allow Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay to summit mount Everest on May 29, 1953, wearing the pro-type Rolex Explorer. Other inventions during that year and following it were the Deepsea, a watch that can withstand depths of up to 10,335 ft. The test was conducted when the Deepsea watch was attached to Auguste Piccard’s exterior bathyscaphe and submerged 10,335 feet in deep-sea exploration.
First Cosmograph Watch:
Rolex introduced in the 1960’s a Rolex Cosmograph that can calculate the time it takes to lap lapse. Rolex introduction of the Daytona was an innovation of its time. The steel Tachymeter bezel allowed racecar driver to measure the time it takes to complete one lap. A couple of decades later the Rolex Daytona was used in one of Paul Newman movies “Winnings” which he played a racecar driver.
Following the death of its founder Hans Wildrof, the Rolex company converted into appointees which not only made sure Rolex would never sell or be publicly traded, but also it had strict rules about who would lead the company. From 1963 to 1992 Rolex was lead by Andre J. Heiniger who controlled the company and created many innovative watches. Some say he was the force of the evolution of Rolex. He created the models that represent Rolex today such as the Cosmogrpah Daytona, Airking, Datejust, Submariner, Sea Dweller, and Yachtmaster to name a few. Following the strict leadership of Rolex, after the death of Andre death in 1992, his son Patrick took the reigns of the company and lead them until December 17, 2008.
Rolex Historical Milestones
- 1905: Where it all began: The Creation of “Wilsdorf & Davis. Company” A distributor of watchcases, watchstraps, and other items headquartered in London.
- 1908: Hans Wilsdorf registers the Rolex trademark located at La Chaux-de Fonds, later moving to Bienne.
- 1910: The first Official Swiss Chronometer certificate is obtained by Rolex
- 1914: Rolex obtains a Class “A” certificate, Kew Observatory in English as the first wristwatch to outperform a pocket watch.
- 1926: Rolex patents the screw-down crown, and creates the oyster case with a screw down caseback and bezel.
- 1927: Mercedes Gleitze wearing a Rolex Oyster watch swims across the English Channel. The first waterproof case watch by Rolex.
- 1928: Rolex obtains a First Class Certificate from the Geneva Astronomical Observatory, the first ever awarded for a 6 ¾” wristwatch.
- 1939: The first chronograph with 30-minute and 12 hours totalizers are introduced by Rolex.
- 1945: The first DateJust, an automatic and water resistant chronometer watch is introduced.
- 1947: The “Sound Barrier” is broken by Chuck Yeager in a Bell X-1 wearing a Rolex Oyster, the same watch he wore throughout his deployment in WWII.
- 1950: Rolex introduces the Turn-O-Graph which is the model prior to the Submariner, the first Rolex with a rotating bezel.
- 1953: The Rolex Submariner is introduced to the market for the first time. The first watch that can withstand 100 meters of diving.
- 1954 & 1956: Rolex introduces the Rolex Gmt-Master and the Rolex Day/Date, two models that will continue the legacy of the Rolex company.
- 1959: Rolex introduction of the model 5512, a Submariner which is equipped with the ability to withstand 200 meters of diving.
- 1960: Rolex founder, Hans Wilsdorf, passes away on July 6, leaving the Rolex company to appointees stated in the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation.
- 1963: Rolex introduces the first cosmograph Rolex Daytona models ref 6263 and 6269.
- 1964: Rolex registers their patent for an innovative waterproof case and waterproof chronograph push buttons.
- 1967: Pete Knight wearing his Rolex Gmt-Master sets a world record of Mach 6.72 (4,534 MPH) in an X-15 aircraft.
- 1969: The introduction of the Rolex Submariner 1680, Rolex Submariner with a Date.
- 1971: Rolex introduction of the Rolex Explorer 1655 with the 24 hour hands and the orange hand also known as the Steve Mcqueen.
- 1982: The Rolex Gmt gets a face-lift and Rolex introduces the 12-hour hand, which allows the wearer to view 3 different time zones.
- 1986: Rolex factory is producing more than 4 million movements a year and they are awarded the “Chronometer” title officially.
- 1988: The Rolex Daytona is redesigned and launched and referred to as the Rolex Zenith Daytona.
- 1992: Following the death of Andre I, Patrick the son takes the leadership and role of the Rolex CEO.
- 2000: More attention on making in house movements, Rolex launches the Rolex Daytona with the new Rolex 4130 movement.
- 2005: The Gmt Again gets a face-lift, the movement is changed to the 3186 with the Paracrom hairspring, and the new ceramic bezel.
- 2007 & 2008: Rolex launches two new models from their older generation the Deepsea from the Sea Dweller and the Milgauss (The antimagnetic watch)
- 2011: Rolex names a new CEO, Gian Riccardo Marini, formerly Rolex Italy SpA’s chief.
- 2014: Rolex launches new models with the first time every annual calendar capabilities, the Rolex Sky Dweller.
- 2017: Rolex introduces the new Rolex Sky Dweller in stainless steel and two tone where they were previously only available in white, yellow or white gold.