Rolex SA manufactures luxury watches in Geneva, Switzerland. Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis founded Wilsdorf & Davis in 1905, and it is now one of the most prestigious international law firms. In 1908, Rolex became the company’s brand name and became Rolex Watch Co. In 1915, it became a limited company. After World War I, the company took its operations to Geneva due to an unfavorable economy in the United Kingdom; Rolex SA was formed after the war, and the name later changed to Montres Rolex SA. The company was then transferred to the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation in 1960, a private family trust. Let’s know more about Rolex history.
A visionary spirit defined Rolex’s history in the year 1905, London, United Kingdom. Its founder, Hans Wilsdorf, embodied this spirit. Hans Wilsdorf, who was 24 years old at the time, founded a company in London that distributed timepieces.
Early Period of History
Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis established the company in London, England, in 1905. At the time, Wilsdorf and Davis primarily dealt with the importation of Swiss watch movements, which were placed in cases made by Dennison and others. A number of jewelers purchased early wristwatches and branded them for their own use. On the back of the case of Wilsdorf and Davis’ earliest watches is usually the reference “W&D”.
A watch brand called Rolex was born in 1908 from Wilsdorf and Davis watches. Switzerland-based Mr. DeFonds opened an office. It was important to Wilsdorf that the brand name be short enough to fit on a watch face and could be easily pronounced in any language. As well as sounding like a watch being wound, he felt that the name “Rolex” had an onomatopoeic quality.
This distinction was normally given by Kew Observatory only to marine chronometers. Rolex was awarded the same distinction in 1914. Rolex Watch Co. was renamed in November 1915. As a result of high export duties for silver and gold used for case construction after the war, Hans Wilsdorf moved the company from England to Geneva, Switzerland in 1919. Montres Rolex S.A. was the new official name of the company in 1920. The company later became Rolex SA.
When Wilsdorf’s administrative concerns were addressed, he turned his attention to a technical issue: that dust infiltration and moisture damage to the movement. A waterproof and dustproof wristwatch was first developed and manufactured by Rolex in 1926, dubbed “Oyster”. Hermetically sealed, the watch case provided the best protection for the movement.
When this watch was released, consumers remained skeptical about its waterproofing. For display in Rolex’s main points of sale, Rolex sank oyster models into aquariums as a demonstration. First Rolex ambassador Mercedes Gleitze wore a Rolex oyster pendant in 1927 while crossing the English Channel. Daily Mail’s front page featured an advertisement celebrating the achievement.
Perpetual rotors, semicircular plates that move freely using gravity to wind the watches, were patented by Rolex in 1931. In its system, it introduced the world’s first 360° rotating rotor wristwatch and inspired all future automatic wristwatches. Oyster Perpetual was renamed a few years later.
William Wilsdorf established the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation in 1944 to give all his Rolex shares to charitable purposes.
Developing Marketing Innovations
The idea of an adventurous and athletic brand ambassador is not something Wilsdorf invented. Watches from Cartier and Jaeger LeCoultre were popular on the polo field, and Jaeger LeCoultre’s Reverso adorned the wrists of famous pilots. Wilsdorf, despite this, succeeded in getting his watches on the wrists of some of the most courageous people in his era. The 20th century was obsessed with setting records, and Wilsdorf understood that by setting a record, you’re going to make paper. In stark contrast to most watch brands at the time, Rolex’s rugged, adventure-ready timepieces were uniquely suited for adventurers and daredevils.
Rolex Oyster’s resistance to water had still not convinced many consumers. He answered those doubts by installing aquariums in the windows of department stores, like Harrods in London, which featured submerged oysters, and he advertised that the image of them was spreading worldwide.
Wilsdorf didn’t stop there. Mercedes Gleitze, who swam over 10 hours across the English Channel in 1927, wore an Oyster that Wilsdorf made sure was around her neck instead of her wrist after she completed the feat. The papers also covered the second invention of Wilsdorf: an advertisement in which Gleitze testified to the watch’s performance. Wilsdorf would milk the testimony concept with excellent results for decades despite many others copying it.
1933 – As part of the Houston Expedition, a Rolex aircraft flies over Mount Everest at an altitude of 33,000 feet.
1935 – Sir Malcolm Campbell clocked 276 mph in a Rolex alongside the world record. He would go on to break the 300 mph barrier on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah a few months later.
1953 – Rolex accompanied Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary as they climbed Mount Everest for the first time. In the same year, Rolex released another version of that watch called the Explorer.
1955 – In the early days of commercial intercontinental flights, Rolex watches accompanied the pilots. Pan American pilots are then equipped with GMT Masters by Rolex.
1956 – Rolex advertises heavily as a result of Lyndon B. Johnson’s association with Rolex Day-Date watches.
1956 – Milgauss has been tested at the CERN particle accelerator and has been proven to withstand magnetic fields of 1,000 gausses. Engineering and science were the target audience for the ads.
1960 – A Rolex Deep Sea Special descends to the bottom of the Mariana Trench aboard the record-setting submarine Trieste, making headlines worldwide.
1963 – The Cosmograph Daytona is an automobile-inspired chronograph that ties the brand inextricably to one of the most famous roads in the world.
1966- Toward the latter quarter of the 20th century, the world began to lose interest in famous explorers and record-setters. In an age when most of the world has been mapped and the race for space is slowing, the digital age has pushed our frontier into the virtual realm as well. As exploring tools became digital, mechanical watches became increasingly out of date. Rolex stepped up its role as a benefactor of art and science, partnering with star athletes and sponsoring sporting events (particularly tennis, golf, motorsports, and yachting).
1976 – With the 50th anniversary of the oyster approaching, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise program recognizes those whose contributions have made a meaningful impact on society, across a range of areas such as medicine, conservation, and education. In its explanation, Rolex says the awards were developed to achieve social impact by giving recognition to pioneers who did not have access to traditional funding and were developing innovative solutions to important social challenges.
1992 – To this day, Rolex sponsors yacht races across the world and introduces the Yacht-Master.
2002 – Mentoring and partnering with a variety of creative individuals, Rolex’s Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative supports artists, musicians, and performers. Cultural capital and affiliations have some value for Rolex, but the main reason for their important status may be to allow Rolex to fulfill Wilsdorf’s vision of becoming a beneficial company.
The Latest Development
Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, a charitable foundation registered as a private company, owns Rolex SA. According to a Rolex spokesperson, the Wilsdorf Foundation made no donations to charity in 2011 according to Rolex. Two Geneva social institutions have been gifted housing buildings from the company, which is based in Geneva.
It is estimated that the brand value is $8.053 billion based on the Brand Z report of 2017. The wearing of Rolex watches is recognized as a status symbol. Thousands of timepieces are manufactured each year by the company.
Consistency in Design
The aesthetics of the Rolex watches remain consistent year after year due to the company’s reputation for making only incremental changes. As a result, Rolex’s designs set such a high aesthetic standard in the 20th century that Rolex rarely needed to adjust their designs. The unchanged design of Rolex watches also plays into the emerging trend of retro-styled watches because mechanical wristwatches have been outdated for over half a century. If we compare Rolex’s design legacy to that of any other watch brand, we can see that it is unique among mass producers.
Today’s Rolex Submariner is virtually unchanged from the 1950s replica watch. There is only one reference of the Rolex Submariner, the 6204.
It was Blancpain who launched the first dive watch one year before Rolex, the Fifty Fathoms, which was changed up according to the fashion of the 1970s, which led to Blancpain’s decline as a watchmaker. The catalog was eventually withdrawn from this model. This vintage-styled model was revived by Blancpain in 2007 and has since become a catalog staple. IWC and Patek Philippe chased the market with their Ingenieur and Nautilus watches, respectively, but it was Audemars Piguet who launched the trend for steel sports watches in the 1970s. To address this situation, Rolex increased production of the GMT Master, Submariner, and Daytona, but made only marginal changes to the original designs. Rolex did not adapt to the changing trends in dress watches in the 1990s, keeping most models virtually unchanged.
There are many avant-garde aspects to the Rolex Cellini line, especially for the women’s models, which come and go over time. In spite of this, the Cellini line remains Rolex’s least recognizable, least celebrated, and least collectible model (aside from the vintage refs. 6062 and 8171, which have moon phases and fetch top dollar at auction). The same can be said about Rolex Oysterquartz watches, which appeared in the 1970s. Rolex has a reputation for producing forgettable watches whenever it follows a trend. The Rolex watches that are most collectible and popular are the ones that stick to their core design. The steel professional models produced by Rolex were especially scarce because they were produced in low quantities and despite their growing popularity.
Scarcity with a selectivity
Rolex’s short supply of modern versions of classic steel professional Rolex models may have been influenced by Rolex’s scarcity of steel professional models on the vintage market. Alternatively, like most luxury brands, Rolex may be using a scarcity strategy to create a feeling of exclusivity. Even though Rolex boutiques might not seem to carry steel versions of certain models in their lineup, such as GMT-Master, Submariner, Deep Sea, Explorer II, Sky-Dweller, Yacht-Master I & II, and the Daytona. There are comparatively few Rolexes that are much more difficult to get than the Explorer I, Milgauss, and Air-King.
Since Rolex cannot meet the demand for their professional steel watches, there have been long waiting lists at authorized dealers. Dealerships usually put your name on the list, but if pressed on how they select customers, they appear to favor their most loyal customers while new customers are unlikely to be contacted. The psychology playbook of Ferrari comes to life here.
In the 1950s and ’60s, there was no well-dressed person out there who would wear the watches outside of the workplace, but Rolex has managed to repurpose these tools and turn them into watches that are exclusive and luxurious. Day-Dates and Datejust watches in solid gold would have matched a suit or gown. In this ironic situation, gold Rolexes seem boring to watch aficionados who are delighted with any steel GMT Master.
Additionally, Rolex’s decision to short the steel models market led to escalating prices on the secondary market. It is a faux pas to flip watches with authorized dealers, as they attempt to weed out flippers by verifying the identity of their customers. Many watch collectors even boast about buying their watches at retail from their dealers. These folks would be viewed as an exclusive group if they made such a claim.
By shorting this market, Rolex has obviously been able to sell like hotcakes and ramp up production. The experience of walking into a Rolex dealer and asking if they can get a steel GMT Master or Sky-Dweller wraps the retail experience in an ineffable aura of exclusivity. Furthermore, Rolex fans’ talks about the “unobtainium” watches generate street-level buzz unknown to most other brands.
If Rolex were purely driven by quarterly profits, it’s hard to imagine they could fail to meet market demand. This practice is a testament to Willendorf’s visionary long-game, which perfectly embodies his innovative methods for generating buzz at all costs. As new materials and technologies slowly make their way into Rolex watches, Rolex’s commitment to its original designs may have kept watches from going out of style. For the foreseeable future, Rolex will be king because it is eternally in vogue.
How Did Rolex Become Rolex?
A watch brand called Rolex was born in 1908 from Wilsdorf and Davis watches. Montres Rolex S.A. was the new official name of the company in 1920. The company later became Rolex SA.
Did Rolex Start With an Orphan Founder?
His father was a successful ironmonger in Bavaria (Germany) who was born in 1881. Twelve-year-old Hans was an orphan due to circumstances beyond his control. An aunt and uncle took care of him and promptly enrolled him in a boarding school in Coburg, Germany, about 25 miles from his home.
How does Rolex Watches Symbolize Something?
Numerous influential people have worn Rolex watches. While the Rolex Submariner and the Cosmograph Daytona are symbols of success, security, and masculinity, the iconic Rolex Submariner has become a staple in men’s watch collections.
Today, Rolex is renowned for its innovative features that made the watch well-suited for everyday wear almost from the beginning. The brand’s success can be attributed to this reason. Chronometer certification was offered by the renowned Kew-Teddington observatory to Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf in 1914.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is Swatch the owner of Rolex?
Despite several notable independent brand names such as Rolex, Breitling, Audemars Piguet, and Patek Philippe, the Swiss watch industry overall relies on the Swatch Group to manufacture and produce watches.
- Are Rolex Watches Swiss or British?
Rolex was also known as Wilsdorf & Davis Ltd. (1905–15) and Rolex Watch Co. (1915–20) until it became Montres Rolex SA.
An elegant and rugged Swiss watch manufacturer. The headquarters of the company are located in Geneva.
- How Does Rolex Differ from Other Watches?
The 904L steel is extremely hard and capable of taking (and holding) polishes well when properly processed. Rolex is the only brand that has been able to take advantage of it (so far), and it is something very unique. The benefits of Rolex steel watches are immediately apparent when you hold one.