Rolex / It Doesn’t Just Tell Time, It Tells History

Time … how to measure it, how to keep track of it. That was the question thousands of years ago, and through the annals of time, the obelisks, water and candle clocks, hourglass, sundial, pendulums, pocket watches, etc. travelled through the various mechanisms that brought us to the point where time on our hands is worn on our wrists.

It was in the 1900s that the Rolex adventure was born. Standard pocket-watches fitted to a leather strap were the thing in the early 20th century, until manufacturers began producing purpose-built wristwatches. Hans Wilsdorf (1881-1960) , born in Bavaria, Germany, began his career in watchmaking in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. By a stroke of clairvoyant genius, Hans Wilsdorf saw that the very nature of the wristwatch destined it to become an everyday necessity, provided that it could be precise, waterproof, robust and reliable.

In 1905, he moved to London to open his own business with his brother-in-law Alfred Davis. The firm Wilsdorf & Davis began providing quality timepieces at affordable prices in Great Britain and the British Empire. The watch components were produced by Swiss partners selected for their expertise; among them was the Maison Aegler in Bienne.  His desire to prove to a skeptical public that wristwatches and chronometric precision were compatible was crowned with success in 1910, when a Rolex wristwatch obtained the first certificate in the world granted to such a watch by the Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne, continuing on to win an award in 1914 from Kew Observatory in Greenwich (proof that wristwatches and chronometric precision could go hand in hand).

Hans Wilsdorf left England in 1919 to settle in Geneva, Switzerland, where he founded the company Montres Rolex S.A. in 1920. This choice brought him closer to his supplier in Bienne and allowed him to optimize their collaboration. The international reputation of Geneva, which itself boasted a venerable watchmaking tradition, also played an important role in his decision. Foreseeing the importance of the brand concept, in 1908 Hans Wilsdorf coined the name “Rolex” to sign his creations. He sought a name that would be: short, five letters maximum;  easy to pronounce in any language; pleasant sounding; easy to remember; and possible to inscribe elegantly on the dial and movement of a watch.

The status of Rolex and the unique identity of the brand are products of a history driven by a passion for innovation and a constant quest for excellence. Its story is a fascinating succession of pioneering achievements, encompassing a watchmaking, industrial and human adventure,  interwoven with the history of the watch called the Oyster.

The iconic Rolex Oyster was born in 1926, and became self-winding in 1931 due to the  invention of the Perpetual rotor (the precursor of contemporary self-winding systems). The case was equipped with an ingenious patented system consisting of a screw-down bezel, case back and winding crown, and hermetically sealed, offering optimal protection for the movement. However, it is one thing to claim a watch is waterproof; it is quite another to prove it. In 1927 a Rolex Oyster crossed the English Channel, worn by a young English swimmer named Mercedes Gleitze. The swim lasted over 10 hours and, to the end, the watch remained in perfect working order.

Thanks to the Oyster and its totally innovative waterproof case, Rolex immediately entered watchmaking history. Since its launch in 1926, the Oyster has become the pillar of a collection of legendary watches, among the most recognized and most recognizable in the world. Today, after 110 years, Rolex has filed more than 400 patents throughout its history and continues to give birth to numerous major innovations  that have marked the history of contemporary watchmaking.

Leading brand in the Swiss watchmaking industry and based in Geneva, Rolex enjoys an unparalleled reputation worldwide for quality and know-how. Its Oyster and Cellini watches, all certified as Superlative Chronometers for their precision and reliability,  are symbols of excellence, elegance, performance and prestige.

Foremost manufacturing proficiency

Rolex owes its success and its status to the values inherited from its founder, Hans Wilsdorf, and to the guiding principles that it has continuously promoted: the spirit of enterprise and a visionary outlook, the constant quest for innovation and the passion for perfection. The brand that is synonymous with a watch designs and manufactures in-house nearly all the components of its watches, from the casting of the gold alloys to the machining of components, and to the assembly of the movement, case, dial and bracelet.

Rolex’s unrivalled industrial facilities at four avant-garde sites in Switzerland enable the company to exercise its creative freedom and achieve its full potential for innovation, where the company designs, manufactures, assembles and tests its watches thanks to the know-how and commitment of its more than 6,000 employees, all at the cutting edge of technological progress.

Rolex world headquarters in Geneva-Acacias is home to management, research and development, design, communication activities, sales and after-sales service. Plan-les-Ouates handles all the development and production activities for watch cases and bracelets, from the casting of the gold and forming of the raw materials to the machining and polishing of finished components. At the Bienne site and executed entirely by hand, more than 2,000 highly skilled operators and watchmakers, engage in the manufacture and assembly of the hundreds of components comprising a Rolex movement. The Chêne-Bourg site performs the  development and manufacture of the dials, as well as the gemology and gem-setting activities are realized.

A vast network of official retailers, guarantors of the quality and authenticity of Rolex watches – present in some 100 countries around the world through more than 30 affiliates and after-sales service centers – is unique in its genre, and is based on the skills of nearly 4,000 watchmakers duly trained to Rolex standards and working at the affiliates or at Official Rolex Retailers.

Extraordinary innovation

Rolex watches have continually been associated with major exploits and the list of such initiatives is absolutely inexhaustive.  In 1935, at the wheel of his specially built record- breaking car Bluebird, an Oyster on his wrist, Sir Malcolm Campbell became the first man to reach the mythical speed of 300 mph (approximately 480 km/h). In 1947, the first pilot to break the sound barrier, at the controls of a rocket-powered aircraft, was also wearing a Rolex Oyster. In both cases, the watch was subjected to extremely fast acceleration and strong vibrations without suffering any negative effects.

André J. Heiniger, who succeeded Hans Wilsdorf in 1963, took over the reins of Rolex, continuing his legacy. With the benefit of vast experience in the field, this true commercial strategist accelerated business development and reinforced the presence of Rolex worldwide. He transformed it into a universal watch brand, one of the most prestigious in the world.

In 1968, Rolex created the Cellini collection, which includes all the non-Oyster dress watches offered by the brand over the years. The name Cellini is inspired by the great Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini, sculptor and goldsmith to the popes. A name that befittingly evokes the refined classicism of these elegant timepieces.

Galactic Enterprise’s tireless pursuit of excellence

Because of its immense cosmic and universal influence, inspired by the spirit of enterprise, innovation and excellence, one could probably liken Rolex to a galactic space station. The status of Rolex and the unique identity of the brand are products of a history driven by a passion for innovation and a constant quest for excellence. The new Oyster and Cellini models developed in recent years are the exemplary product of a completely integrated and independent watchmaking company, built on uncompromising values, with unparalleled means to perpetuate its passion for perfection.

Still in the early 21st century, Hans Wilsdorf’s personality and work continue to inspire the company and its corporate culture. His influence is evident in the aesthetics and intrinsic characteristics of a product that has remained faithful to the original, as well as in Rolex’s capacity to draw on its prodigious heritage to advance towards new horizons.