Rolex is a byword for many things: luxury, craftsmanship, European design. The company has earned its reputation through over a hundred years of producing watches that are infallible in the most difficult conditions on mountains, deep diving and in aviation. Each decade of the company’s life is full of fascinating achievement.
1900s – 1930s: Founding of Rolex
Hans Wilsdorf registered the Rolex trademark in 1908, La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Ironically, Mr. Wilsdorf was not Swiss nor was he a watchmaker, but he would create a brand that would become synonymous with both. The Rolex Oyster was the world’s first waterproof and dustproof watch.
1940s: The War Years
Rolex history is tied to individuals who have pushed the boundaries in sports and engineering. In 1945, Chuck Yeager attempted to break the barrier of sound. The man conducting the first supersonic flight had a Rolex strapped to his wrist – the Rolex GMT-Master II, to be specific.
Not only that, Rolex forged a bond with many British Prisoners of War by delivering a Speedking watch to their prison camps, to be paid for at any time the prisoner chose. Hans Wildorf (a German national presiding over a Swiss-registered company) wanted to pay tribute to the idea of the honest Allied soldier and in doing so created a legend for the company.
1950s: Records in the Sea and Sky
Rolex created the first watch to show the date and day of the week on the dial. The first Day-Date was produced in 1956. The President bracelet was supposedly named for Dwight. D. Eisenhower. The men’s Day-Date is sometimes simply referred to as the President (the women’s watch is called the ‘Lady-President’.)
In 1953, a Rolex was sent to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, attached to the side of the Trieste Bathyscaphe. It managed to remain water resistant in the deepest part of the world’s oceans and also kept perfect time.
1960s: The Bond Connection
Although the Submariner model has never been mentioned by name, Ian Flemming mentioned in the Bond novels that the famous spy wore a Rolex. This is because Flemming was an ardent fan of the watches himself. Somewhat ironically, Rolex declined an initial product placement offer in the original Bond movie starring Sean Connery (Dr.No, 1962), so movie producer Cubby Broccoli gave Connery his own Rolex (no crowns, black crocodile strap) to wear during filming. The importance of adding a Rolex was just one many minor details which had to be perfect in order to introduce the character of Bond as a refined gentlemen. The clothing and style had to be just right; the champagne had to be Dom Perignon.
1970s: Engineering Quartz Movement
In the early 1970’s, the Rolex company played a key role in helping to create quartz technology. Rolex went on to make very few quartz watches in its own Oyster line.
Even nowadays, all Rolex R & D is done in-house. Every Rolex component is tested and re-tested, all of these elements can take up to a year to complete from start to finish. A bezel alone can take up to 40 hours to complete. Many of the best watchmaking technologies are exclusive to and patented by Rolex, like the blue parachrome hairspring. It continues to be sold in showrooms of Watches of Switzerland (www.watches-of-switzerland.co.uk).
Rolex remains unrivalled as a brand and has over 100 years of history making and close connections with innovators in every field. The brand continues to be the watch of choice for celebrities and movers and shakers, and has recently had a lot of success with the mens-watches-for-women trend.