THE biggest, some say the best, and inarguably the most famous watchmaker in the world is Rolex. Chrono Hunter is pleased to inform you of the history of Rolex.
From its establishment in 1905 in London to its present-day position of Forbes magazine’s world’s 64th most powerful brand with an estimated worth of in excess of £6billion, Rolex has built its reputation on innovation, quality and exemplary marketing.
After establishing a watch company three years earlier, Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis, registered the name ‘Rolex’ as a trademark in 1908.
Their choice of name was never explained, but it is rumoured in some takes on the history of Rolex that it is a compound version of the French phrase ‘horologie exquise,’ meaning ‘exquisite clockwork.’ It’s also a practical name - short enough to fit on a watch face and easily pronounceable in any language.
In 1914, a Rolex watch was awarded a Class A Precision Certificate by Kew Observatory- this was significant in the history of Rolex because the award was formerly only given to marine chronometers, which were large timepieces known for their extreme precision and accuracy. This was an early sign of Rolex’s technological pioneering.
The year 1919 saw the company relocate to Geneva, where Wilsdorf had learned the art of watchmaking. The Great War had had a considerable impact on the cost of importing materials for the watches and Switzerland proved a better commercial base.
Seven years later, in 1926, Rolex developed the Oyster Wristwatch, perhaps the product the company is best known for. The feature that set it apart from other watches at the time was the fact that it was waterproof- something that had never been seen before in a wristwatch. This innovation was combined with a self-winding movement in 1931 to create the Oyster Perpetual which was another significant point in the history of Rolex.
Versions of this watch are still very popular today, with the most expensive model going for almost £47,000. Other key dates for Rolex innovations include the first wristwatch to show more than one time zone at once in 1954, as well as the first watch to automatically change the day and date on the dial in 1956.
Another popular watch made its debut in 1956: the Rolex Day-Date ‘President’. It was the first watch to include the day of the week written in full, with the day written at 12 o’clock and the date at 3 o’clock. The first version’s band was what became known as the ‘President Bracelet,’ which contained semi-circular links. The Day Date is still in production and has developed through many designs. The latest design was released in 2015, with a power reserve of 72 hours and improved accuracy.
Also released in 1956 was the Rolex Milgauss, a watch designed for scientists. What made it revolutionary was the fact that it could withstand a magnetic force of 1000 units. The Milgauss took a long time to become popular with the public. In 2007 the ref.116400 included orange highlights under a green tinted sapphire crystal glass and instantly became a firm favourite.
With a 55-year history, the Rolex Daytona has a place in many people’s hearts, due to its astonishing accuracy. The watch was designed for the primary use of racing drivers, and Paul Newman’s ownership of the model brought it extreme popularity. The Daytona models released following the launch mainly just featured updates on the colour scheme until 2000. This Daytona had a huge technological advancement, with in-house movement, 44 jewels and a 72-hour power reserve which all still feature in today’s models.
The Submariner is probably the most recognisable Rolex watch. Initially built for divers, the Submariner was launched in 1953. It set new standards for water resistance. The dial and band have been consistently updated in line with technological advancements, but it has remained recognisably the same watch.
After the death of his wife in 1944, Wilsdorf established the institution that still owns Rolex today: The Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. He left all his Rolex shares and ensured that a percentage of the income went to charity. He died in 1960, at the age of 79, and the Foundation still runs Rolex today.
In 1966 the design of one of Rolex’s watches famously helped to reveal the identity of a murderer. A man named John Coprik discovered the body of Ronald Platt in the English Channel while out fishing. The only distinguishable item found on the body was a Rolex watch. The police were able to uncover the time of death from the watch, due to it having a reserve of two to three days of operation when inactive, leading to the arrest of the culprit.
For decades, Rolex has had a huge problem with their watches being counterfeited. While these counterfeits are usually sold for a lot less than the real watches, with the customer aware of what they are really buying, there have been numerous cases that involve scamming, resulting in Rolex losing a considerable amount of money from people buying counterfeit watches from third parties for thousands of pounds. One example is a fake Rolex dealer named Jamie Thorpe, who was caught selling counterfeit Rolexes for £2,425. It was later revealed that he had made a profit of £659,000 from the hundreds of watches that he had sold. He was consequently fined a mere £28,000 for his actions.
For almost a century, Rolex have been known to attach its name to the biggest sporting competitions. Over the history of Rolex they have proudly branded themselves the official timekeeper at events such as Wimbledon and Formula 1, saying their long history of sponsorship at events such as these mean that they are not seen as just a sponsor, but also a partner.
As well as Rolex being used at big sporting events, the company benefits from the support of many celebrities. This dates back into the history of Rolex to the 1060s. The James Bond franchise introduced watches into the films from the start, with Sean Connery wearing a Rolex Submariner 6538 in his debut film, Dr No. He continued to wear the same watch in the following three films, which brought added popularity to the Rolex brand. Modern day celebrities taking pride in the Rolexes that they own include Roger Federer, Ed Sheeran and Rihanna.
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