It’s hard to imagine a world without Rolex. Many people believe the brand has been around for centuries. It sometimes comes as a shock to find out that the company began to come together in the first years of the 20th century. How much do you know about Rolex history? Here are some basics that will help you have a better understanding of how this illustrious brand came about, how it’s changed over the years, and why it remains such a sought-after watch.
For a brand that’s come to be equated with quality and status, Rolex has humble beginnings. The origin of the company is found in the formation of Wilsdorf and Davis in 1905. Founded by Alfred Davis and Hans Wilsdorf and based in London, the original focus was on obtaining movements produced by Hermann Aegler, importing them from Switzerland, and placing them in cases produced by providers like Dennison.
Once completed, the team marketed their watches to watch retailers, including jewelry stores. In many cases, the watches were customized to include the names of the sellers. Even so, the backs of the cases often sported the W&D mark in addition to the customized name.
The origin of the Rolex name dates to 1908. At that time, Hans Wilsdorf registered the name as a trademark. From that point forward, the company began to sell watches under that registered brand.
There are several stories about how the name came about, but the one with the most credence appears to stem from the desire for a name that was easy to remember. Wilsdorf believed that “Rolex” filled that need and was also descriptive of the sound that a watch made as it was wound. The fact that the name was as easy to pronounce as it was to remember made things all the better.
At the same time, the company opened offices in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The headquarters remained in London. The focus was on continuing to enhance the quality of the watches and reaching out to a wider audience of jewelers and retailers. Those efforts paid off in terms of the company receiving what’s known as a Class A precision certificate from the Kew Observatory in 1914. This was significant, since this type of certificate was not normally awarded to wristwatches. Most recipients were companies that produced marine chronometers.
As the Rolex name became more prominent, the owners agreed that the company’s current name needed to change. In November of 1915, Wilsdorf and Davis became the Rolex Watch Co. Ltd.
Changes After World War I
Three significant events took place in the aftermath of World War I. The first had to do with where the company was headquartered. Owing to an increase in taxes levied on the components needed to maintain the quality of Rolex watches, a decision was made to move the company to Switzerland. In 1919, the headquarters as well as the factory were relocated to Geneva, Switzerland.
Another name change occurred soon after the move. The new name – Montres Rolex S.A. – was adopted in 1920. Eventually, the official name would be shortened to Rolex S.A.
The development of the company logo also occurred during this period. Trademarked in 1925, the logo included the company slogan of “A Crown for Every Achievement” as well as settling on the colors of gold and green. The color selection was done with a great deal of thought. This particular combination indicated both the quality and the prestige that comes with wearing a Rolex watch. While there have been a couple of updates in the years since, the entirety of Rolex logo history still focuses on conveying those two qualities.
Perfecting the Quality
Quality has been a hallmark of Rolex watch history since the beginnings. After the move to Geneva, Wilsdorf began to focus on resolving a design issue. That issue had to do with the collection of moisture and dust under the dial and crown. Along with marring the appearance, the dust and moisture would eventually hinder the efficiency of the movement. This led to the creation of the first Rolex watch that was water and dust proof. Dubbed the Oyster, this development only served to enhance the prestige of the brand.
Rolex released the world’s first self-winding watch in 1931. This watch would go on to set the industry standard for this type of movement. It remains the basis for just about every major brand today.
World War II And Beyond
Rolex continued to advance in during and after World War II. The company continued to promote itself as being a watch for those with style, taste, and means. Additional designs were released for women as well as men. While the company continued to seek out new markets that were a good fit for their band, they also began to expand into other areas.
Hans Wilsdorf suffered the loss of his wife in 1944. At that time, he established a private trust in honor of his late wife. Dubbed the Hands Wilsdorf Foundation, he left the majority of his Rolex shares to the trust. When he passed away in 1960, the trust gained full control of the shares and continues to serve as the company’s primary outreach to charitable organizations.
Rolex And The Spoon History
An interesting aside to the history of Rolex has to do with its foray into collectible spoons. Intended to serve as a keepsake or a souvenir, the spoons first made an appearance at Bucherer Jewelers in Lucerne, Switzerland. In order to obtain one of these spoons, the client would need to purchase a Rolex watch. The spoons were never sold separately.
The Rolex Bucherer Lucerne spoon history doesn’t end there. Bucherer operated shops in a number of other cities. They were eventually supplied with spoons sporting the Rolex name and logo, as well as the name of the city where they were offered. All told, spoons with the names of eight different cities were offered.
Of the eight, the Lucerne spoon is considered the most common. A spoon designed for the New York location is considered the rarest today. This is partly because the Bucherer store in New York did not prove to be as long-lasting as the other locations.
These are only some of the highlights of the Rolex brand history. There’s a lot more to know. Spend some time exploring more of how the brand revolutionized the watch industry and continues to serve as one of the premiere brands on the market today.