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Rolex Watches - History

Rolex SA is a Swiss manufacturer of wristwatches and accessories. Rolex watches are popularly considered status symbols. Rolex is the largest single luxury watch brand by far, producing about 2000 watches per day, with estimated revenues of around US$ 3 billion (2003). Business Week magazine ranks Rolex #71 on its 2007 annual list of the 100 most important global brands, top among all watchmakers.


In 1905 German watchmaker Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis founded "Wilsdorf and Davis" in London In 1908 Wilsdorf registered the brand name "Rolex". In 1919 he moved the company to Geneva where it was established as "Montres Rolex S.A. Contrary to popular belief, Hans Wilsdorf was neither Swiss, nor a watchmaker. Wilsdorf & Davis was the original name of what later became the Rolex Watch Company. They originally imported Hermann Aegler's Swiss movements to England and placed them in quality cases made by Dennison and others. These early wristwatches were then sold to jewellers, who then put their own names on the dial. The earliest watches from Wilsdorf and Davis were usually hallmarked "W&D" inside the caseback.

Hans Wilsdorf registered the trademark name "Rolex" in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, in 1908, with the company name Rolex registered on 15 November 1915. The word was made up, and its origin is obscure. Wilsdorf was said to want his watch brand's name to be easily pronounceable in any language. One story, which was never confirmed by Wilsdorf, is that the word "Rolex" came from the French phrase horlogerie exquise, meaning exquisite clockwork. Another story claims that Wilsdorf was riding a bus when he realized that "rolex" was the sound a watch made while being wound. In the book The Best of Time Rolex Wrist Watches by J.Hess & J. Dowling the authors state the name was just made up. In 2007 a Book by Mark A Cooper A Movement in Time with Breitling & Rolex an Unauthorized History claims the name was made by Wilsdorf & Alfred Davis using a combination of Rolls Royce, a maker of motor cars known for quality and perfection of engineering, and Timex, the watch brand. They put these names together to make the name Rolex. It has been claimed that, "this account is possible as Rolls Royce was a well known make, and although the Waterbury Watch company did not use the Timex name in America until 1950, but they appear to have used Timex on watches sold in the UK from 1879." Until evidence in the form of company records, advertisements, or actual examples of what would have been English market Timex pocket watches from the late 19th century can be produced in substantiation of the claim that "Rolex" is a portmanteau of Rolls Royce and Timex, the assertion must be considered speculation. The company name was changed to the Rolex Watch Company during 1919. It was later changed to Montres Rolex, SA; and finally Rolex, SA.

The Wilsdorf & Davis company moved out of the United Kingdom in 1912 as taxes and export duties on the case metals (silver and gold) were driving costs up. From that time on, Rolex has been headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, though it owns facilities in other cities (Biel/Bienne, etc) and continents (North America, Asia, Australia, etc).

Rolex SA is owned by a private trust, and shares are not traded on any stock market .

Among the company's innovations are the first waterproof watch case; the first wristwatch with a date on the dial; the first watch to show two time zones at once; and the first watchmakers to earn chronometer certification for a wristwatch. To date, Rolex still holds the record for the most certified chronometer movements in the category of wristwatches.

Rolex participated in the development of the original quartz watch movements. Although Rolex has made very few quartz models for its Oyster line, the company's engineers were instrumental in design and implementation of the technology during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1968, Rolex collaborated with a consortium of 16 Swiss watch manufacturers to develop the Beta 21 quartz movement used in their Rolex Quartz Date 5100. Within about five years of research, design, and development, Rolex created the "clean-slate" 5035/5055 movement that would eventually power the Rolex Oysterquartz. The first self-winding Rolex watch was offered to the public in 1931, preceded to the market by Harwood which patented the design in 1923 and produced the first self-winding watch in 1928, powered by an internal mechanism that used the movement of the wearer's arm. This not only made watch-winding unnecessary, but eliminated the problem of over-winding a watch and harming its mechanism. Rolex was also the first watch company to create the first water resistant watch to 330 feet. Wilsdorf even had a specially made Rolex watch attached to the side of the Trieste bathyscaphe, which went to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The watch survived and tested as having kept perfect time during its descent and ascent. This was confirmed by a telegram sent to Rolex the following day saying "Am happy to confirm that even at 11,000 metres your watch is as precise as on the surface. Best regards, Jacques Piccard".

Rolex has also made a reputation in watches suitable for the extremes of deep-sea diving, aviation and mountain climbing. Early sports models included the Rolex submariner and the Oyster Perpetual Sea Dweller 2000 (in 1971). This watch had a helium release valve, co-invented with Swiss watchmaker Doxa, to release helium gas build-up during decompression. Another sports model is the Rolex GMT Master II, originally developed at the request of Pan Am Airways to assist pilots in transcontinental flights. The Explorer and Explorer II were developed specifically for explorers who would navigate rough terrain ? such as the world famous Everest Expeditions.


Rolex SA has three watch lines: Oyster Perpetual, Professional and Cellini. Among modern Rolex Oyster watch models here are a few from there vast watch range

The primary bracelets for the Rolex Oyster line are named Jubilee, Oyster and the President. Rolex "dressy" watches are from their Cellini line. The third brand in the Rolex empire is the less expensive, but high quality, Tudor brand. It was started by Rolex founder, Hans Wilsdorf, in 1946. While still sold in Europe and the Far East, the Tudor line was discontinued in the United States as of 2004.

Rolex is the largest manufacturer of Swiss made certified chronometers. In 2005 more than half the annual production of COSC certified watches were Rolex.


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