Brand Profile: History of Rolex

‘The “king of watches” maintains its leading position by showing an unceasing ambition to set new limits in mechanical innovation.’ 

The Beginning of a Watchmaking Tradition

Established in 1905 by Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis, Rolex has become synonymous with technological ingenuity and unparalleled functionality. The ‘king of watches’ maintains its leading position by showing an unceasing ambition to set new limits in mechanical innovation. 

The history of Rolex stretches back to 1902. That year, a German watchmaker, Hans Wilsdorf, joined powers with his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis. The pair established a company based in London, specialising in the distribution of timepieces. Throughout the first years of the company’s existence, they imported quality movements, subsequently incorporating them into fine watch cases made by firms such as Dennison.


Hans Wilsdorf


1908 marks the date of establishment of ‘Rolex’. Following a lengthy search for a brand name that was a short as well as easy to remember and pronounce in any language, Wilsdorf finally settled on the now iconic label. Rumour has it that the name also appealed to him for the fact that it imitates the wounding of a watch.

The Early Years

Even from its early days, Rolex occupied a leading position among the most innovative watchmakers. Its first significant success occurred in 1910 when the company’s first wristwatch received the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision (COSC). Only four years later, their top performing watch was awarded a precision certificate by the Kew Observatory in Great Britain. This was particularly noteworthy, as hitherto only marine chronometers received such awards.

Following the years of initial success, Wilsdorf decided to move his company to Geneva in 1919. Here, the company could prosper at the epicentre of luxury watchmaking. The Rolex headquarters remain there to this day.


Advertisement showing Rolex Headquarters in Geneva


Significant Milestones

Arguably the most significant milestone for the brand occurred in 1926. That year, Rolex developed the first ever water-resistant and dust-proof timepiece, known as the Oyster watch. The following year, the watch was tested by Mercedes Gleitze, an accomplished English swimmer, while she attempted to cross the English Channel on October 7th. Although she never completed the swim, her watch withstood the test and gained an almost equal amount of publicity. This was the brand’s first significant marketing event, with Gleitze serving as Rolex’s first brand ambassador. From that moment on, Rolex has engrained itself in public consciousness as the top watchmaker, offering precision and remarkable durability.

In 1931, Rolex invented and patented the world’s first self-winding mechanism with a perpetual rotor. This was another important milestone in the history of watchmaking at large. It marked the revolutionary invention of a timekeeping mechanism entirely dependent on the wrist movement of the wearer.

In subsequent years, Rolex embarked on a new endeavour. They began equipping daring adventurers and explorers with top-class timepieces capable of withstanding extreme conditions. Thus, Rolex was present at numerous history-making events. For instance, a Rolex was the timekeeping companion of the first crew to fly over Everest in 1933. Furthermore, Rolex returned to the Himalayas in 1953 on the wrist of Sir Edmund Hillary as he reached the summit of Mount Everest with Tenzing Norgay.


Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay after ascending Everest


The Birth of Iconic Models

1945 saw the birth of Rolex’s most fundamental model – the Datejust. This was the first self‑winding wrist chronometer that indicated the date in a window on the dial. Soon, it became the pillar of Rolex collections. It was initially offered solely for men, but the following decade saw a launch of the ladies’ collection. To this day, the Datejust shows Rolex’s conservative approach to watchmaking, offering the most practical aspect of a watch with no superfluous detail. The model has been worn by many eminent individuals, including President Dwight Eisenhower.


Rolex Datejust 1945


In the following decade, in 1956, Rolex released its Day-Date in 1956. This model has become popularly known as the ‘Rolex President’. Its bold gold case attached to a gold bracelet continues to serve as an instant indicator of the high status of its possessor.

A Legacy that Lives on Today

In the years to follow, the company has launched numerous additional watches that are now regarded among the brand’s most quintessential timepieces. This, of course, includes Rolex Professional models, such as the Explorer, Submariner, Cosmograph Daytona, and Yacht-Master.

The brand maintains its status as one inherently linked with luxury lifestyle. They’ve established a firm presence at numerous prestigious sports events, including golf, sailing, tennis, and equestrian tournaments. In addition, Rolex entered into a partnership with Formula 1 Racing in 2013, becoming the Official Timekeeper and Official Timepiece of the event.


Sailboats sponsored by Rolex

Rolex Giraglia Regatta


Producing about 2,000 watches per day, Rolex remains an uncontested industry leader. Through the impeccable quality of its products, it maintains its reputation as one of the very best high-end watchmakers on the market, guaranteeing not only reliable functionality but also outspoken prestige to its possessor.


Images ©: Header. Laings 1. The Jewellery Editor 2. Logo My Way 3. Hillary Tenzing Edition 4. Watch Chest 5. Giraglia Rolex Cup