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Rolex is the world’s leading manufacturer of luxury wristwatches that produces more than 2,000 watches each day. Since its inception in 1905, it is a name associated with luxury, precision and innovation. Pioneer of luxury watches, the brand is at the origin of true innovations in watchmaking, conquering land as well as sea. From the peak of the highest mountains to the deepest point of the ocean, Rolex timepieces have accompanied many achievers and explorers around the world. This 108 years old watch brand has conquered the world and today, it competes with other prestigious watch brands such as Omega, Cartier, Patek Philippe and Panerai.
The history of Rolex is inevitably associated with the visionary spirit of its founder, Hans Wilsdorf. At the age of 19, Hans Wilsdorf began to work with Messrs as an English correspondent. The company was an exporter of watches, and in this way, Hans got involved in the watchmaking business. He also worked with another watchmaking company, settling in London by 1903. Gaining experience from his previous employment and the last one, Wilsdorf grew his self-confidence and established his own company that specialises in the distribution of watches. He took financial help from Alfred Davis, his brother-in-law and founded the ‘Wilsdorf and Davis’ company.
At that time, wristwatches were not considered enough masculine, but Hans Wilsdorf dreamt of wristwatches and was adamant to design watches that are elegant as well as reliable. Over the years, both Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis dedicated all their knowledge and resources to producing the perfect timepiece.
Hans Wilsdorf wanted his watch company to have a name that was easy to say, short and could be remembered in all languages. The name should also look good on the dials and movements of the watches. Wilsdorf tried to combine the letters in all possible ways to make a good brand name, but none of them clicked.
When he was asked what led to the name finally, he said that one morning he was riding on a horse-drawn omnibus’s upper deck along Cheapside in the City of London when a genie whispered the word ‘Rolex’ in his ear. In 1908, ‘Rolex’ was registered as a trademark and Wilsdorf established their first office in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
The brand initially focused on the quality of movements. With the persistent quest for chronometric precision, Rolex finally designed their first wristwatch that received the Chronometric Precision Swiss Certificate, granted by the Official Watch Rating Centre, Bienne. In 1914, a Rolex watch was awarded a Kew Class-A precision certificate by Kew Observatory, Great Britain.
Hans Wilsdorf was always enthusiastic to produce timepieces that external forces cannot harm or damage. In 1926, the brand manufactured the Oyster collection, the first dustproof and waterproof watch. The Rolex Oyster featured an airtight sealed case that offered optimal protection for the movement.
Mercedes Gleitze, a young swimmer, crossed the English Channel in 1927, wearing a Rolex Oyster. The swim lasted for more than 10 hours, and this timepiece worked precisely until the end. In 1931, the first self-winding mechanism of the world with a Perpetual rotor was manufactured and patented by Rolex. Today, this innovative system is at the heart of all modern automatic watches.
Launched in 1945, the Rolex Datejust was the first self-winding chronometer that displayed the date in a window on its dial. The Datejust featured a Jubilee bracelet and a fluted bezel to make it instantly recognisable as a Rolex. It is one of the most sought-after watches from the brand all across the world to date.
The brand manufactured professional watches in the early 1950s that were specifically designed for professional activities like mountain diving, deep sea diving, aviation and scientific exploration. In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the peak of Mount Everest, accompanied by the Oyster Perpetuals. Inspired by the success of this expedition of Sir John Hunt, the brand launched Oyster Perpetual Explorer that gained iconic status immediately.
In the same year, the first divers’ watch Rolex Submariner was launched, featuring a rotatable bezel for allowing divers to read their immersion time. The watch was waterproof to a depth of 330 feet (100 metres).
Rolex developed the GMT-Master to fulfil the specific needs of aeroplane pilots. The timepiece featured two-tone bezel that marked daytime from nighttime hours. In the following year, the Oyster Perpetual Day-Date was launched in only 18 ct gold or platinum. It was the first wristwatch that exhibited the date and day, illustrated in a window on its dial.
Rolex designed and manufactured the Deep Sea Special to face the toughest challenge in the deepest portion of the Mariana Trench. The experimental bathyscaphe, Trieste successfully subsided into the Mariana Trench piloted by the Rolex Deep Sea Special experimental watch that was attached to the exterior at the time of the historic dive. From then, the brand continued to advance their technology to producing deep sea masterpieces.
The new-generation Cosmograph that made its debut in 1963 was crafted especially for racing drivers. The watch was rugged, waterproof and equipped with a tachymetric scale on the bezel to calculate the average speed.
Launched in 1967, the Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller was developed to meet the requirements of professional deep sea divers. The watch featured a helium escape valve to release the helium from the gas mixtures during the long decomposition phases on hyperbaric chambers, preventing damage to the watch.
The Rolex Awards for Enterprise was introduced for celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Oyster. It honours the extraordinary individuals who have the courage and persuasion to undertake significant challenges. Every Rolex Award for Enterprise is offered for a new developing project in any corner of the world that deserves support for improving lives and protecting the natural as well as the cultural heritage of the world.
However, in the following year, the brand introduced its Sea-Dweller 4000 waterproof to a depth of 4000 feet (1,220 metres).
Rolex launched a new interpretation of the Lady-Datejust, the Pearlmaster. The year also paved the way for the arrival of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master. This new member fortified the bond between Rolex and the sailing world. Rolex also sponsors some of the most renowned offshore races.
In 2000, Rolex designed and assembled the calibre 4130 chronograph movement for the Cosmograph Daytona, incorporating only 290 components.
The Rolex-patented Cerachrom bezel was developed for some professional models to assure lasting functionality as well as beauty even after being exposed in the most extreme conditions. The bezel is made of a robust ceramic element, making it resistant to scratches. Moreover, the ultraviolet rays cannot affect its colour. The diamond-polished surface of the Cerachrom bezel presents an outstanding, and the 24-hour engraved graduations are coated with a thin platinum layer.
The Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master II, the first-ever watch to feature a programmable countdown with a mechanical memory was launched. This unique watchmaking system includes an innovative interactive system between the case and the movement, allowing yachtsmen to cross the line soon after the starting gun.
The following year introduced the Rolex Deepsea that was crafted for extreme underwater explorations. The watch features the Ringlock System, allowing the case to resist the water pressure that is equivalent to a weight of virtually three tones on the crystal.
A brand new technological innovative model, the Oyster Perpetual Sky-Dweller was launched specifically for the world travellers. This new masterpiece comes in an exquisite case of 42 mm and renders a dual time zone. The watch features a specific innovative annual calendar known as ‘Saros’, in respect to the astronomical phenomenon that encouraged it. It is also fitted with a new interface, the Ring Command rotatable bezel for setting its functions efficiently and quickly.
Another remarkable achievement occurred on 26th March 2012 when the National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and filmmaker James Cameron dived into the Mariana Trench. It was the first-ever solo dive into the ocean’s deepest point and the only dive into the Mariana Trench since the 1960 Trieste expedition. There was just one companion on both the voyages – a Rolex timepiece.
In 2013, Rolex got into a long-term partnership with Formula 1® as the Official Timepiece and Official Timekeeper.