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Rolex, watchmaker's history

Rolex brand's history

Rolex, the finest in watchmaking


In the beginning


More than a hundred years has gone by, and Rolex tirelessly reminds us of its rich history through its inventions and patents that have deeply influenced the development of luxury watchmaking worldwide.


The story began in 1881, on March 22nd to be exact. That day, in Kulmarch, Germany, Hans Wilsdorf - the future founder of the prestigious watchmaking factory – was born. Hans Wilsdorf got his true start in watchmaking in Chaux-de-Fonds, where he settled in 1900 and began working for a watch exporter. In 1903, he decided to leave for London, where he founded a watch shop named Wilsdorf & Davis two years later. Though only 24 years old at the time, his ideas already made him a visionary.


Indeed, in the 1900s a new era was dawning, one full of promise for the watchmaking world, with the advent of major lifestyle changes. Though at this time it was deemed less elegant than the pocket watch, the young entrepreneur saw in the wristwatch a potentially huge market just waiting to be developed. All he had to do was found his own brand and distribute his products.


He did just that on July 2nd, 1908, registering the Rolex brand under number 24001. According to the legend, Mr. Wilsdorf was looking for a name that was easy to pronounce in several languages and recognizable to all.  


Innovation and perfection as leitmotifs


Just two years later, in 1910, Rolex earned the first “Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision” awarded to a wristwatch. Other successes soon followed, and on July 13th, 1914 the first class “A” precision chronometer was certified by the Kew Observatory in England. In 1920, Hans Wilsdorf founded the Rolex Watch S.A. company in Geneva.


The years 1926 and 1927 saw a host of new innovations: on the technical front, the world’s first truly waterproof watch was manufactured. From a commercial standpoint, an unprecedented advertisement chronicled the amazing feat of Mercedes Gleitze, who swam across the English Channel in 15 hours 15 minutes, an Oyster Rolex on her wrist. Through this campaign, Rolex revealed to the world how reliable and resistant its watches were, in even the harshest of conditions.


In 1931, the company filed a patent for the world’s first self-winding mechanism with a perpetual rotor: the Rolex Perpetual. The release of new models then followed, with the Datejust in 1945, the Submariner in 1953, the GMT Master and the Milgauss in 1954, the Day-Date in 1956;  the “Cosmograph Daytona in 1960, and the Explorer II in 1971, to name but a few. The Cellini collection and the Air King, Pearlmaster, Sea Dweller, and Sky Dweller models have also been celebrated for many years.


After the death of his wife in 1944, Hans Wilsdorf created the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. He left all of his shares in Rolex to this charity. On July 6th, 1960, the founder of Rolex passed away, leaving his successors with a booming company at the height of its fame. The seven board members of the Foundation, which thereafter held 100% of Rolex’s capital, took over the house, running it in a more conservative fashion, yet managing to find new markets (Asia in particular) to further enhance the group’s aura.


When he founded Rolex, Hans Wilsdorf aimed to make the finest high-precision timekeepers on the market. To this day, quality and excellence remain cornerstones of the company’s strategy, maintaining it as one the world’s most famous luxury watch brands, with a unique ability to stir true passion among fans. Some enthusiasts and collectors have even fallen victim to a new phenomenon know as “Rolexmania”.

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