Home Continuing Series Historical Horology Historical Horology: Taking a Look at Rolex

Historical Horology: Taking a Look at Rolex




Last week, we had an overview of Omega’s history. Today, we’ll take a look at the brand Omega is competing with, in terms of market share – Rolex. There’s been a lot of information bouncing around lately on Rolex (including our own mentions lately), I think in large part due to their recent invite of four prominent watch bloggers to tour their facilities. Today’s article is just a happy coincidence, as I’ve had this one in the queue for a bit.

As you most likely are aware, Hans Wilsdorf is the man who started Rolex. This business started up in 1905, when Wilsdorf began importing watch movements to place in cases – quite a radical difference from today’s makeup of just about in-house everything at Rolex.

Hans Wilsdorf
Hans Wilsdorf

In 1908, Wilsdorf officially registered the Rolex Watch Company name (prior to this it was known as Wilsdorf & Davis). A few years later, in 1910, Rolex asked the Swiss Chonometry Society to certify their movements. Why? Then, just as now, precision in a timepiece was highly prized. By obtaining this certification, they were able to prove that their wristwatches were just as accurate as the pocket watches of the day.

It was 1914 that saw Rolex move from the UK to Geneva, to avoid the fairly high tax (33%) that the UK had on imported goods. Throughout this period, Rolex had focused on getting smaller movements (as compared to pocket watches), and ensuring precision. In 1927, they focused in on a new strength – making their watches water- and dust-proof.


While they had this done from a technical standpoint, Rolex just didn’t have name recognition with the public. Wilsdorf overcame this when he came up with an ingenious way to prove the water-tightness of his watches – he placed his watches into aquariums which were then setup in shops where his watches were sold.

This led, of course, to the long line of waterproof watches that Rolex has today, and the famous Oyster case. In 1931, Rolex introduced another innovation – the automatic movement which had built-in protection from over-winding. Fast forward to the ’60s, and we see Rolex start to get into sponsoring sporting events. It’s from these sponsorship efforts where models like the Daytona Chronograph and the Explorer line came into existence – created for specific events, their popularity continues on today.


These days, Rolex as a brand seems to be a polarizing one – either people don’t like the brand for being a mass-market status symbol, or they appreciate the brand for it’s longevity, reliability, and precision. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, it’s undeniable that Rolex is a heavyweight in the watch industry, and isn’t going to be going away any time soon.

If you’d like to read more about their history, you can check out these other sources:


All images courtesy of Rolex

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