For more than 100 years, Rolex has been the quintessential luxury watchmaker worldwide. The timepieces from this independent Swiss manufacturer are visually in a class of their own and synonymous with top performance, prestige, and precision.
Rolex watches are icons of luxury like a Porsche, a Chanel dress, or a Louis Vuitton bag. The secret to this manufacturer's success lies in their consistency: The design of the Rolex Oyster series has barely changed over the decades. Improvements to minute details are often only noticeable upon second glance. This strategy allowed the watches to become classics, making them easily recognizable and raising their collector's value. These watches retain their value in large part due to this timeless and consistent design. The situation is similar for other well-known Rolex models such as the Daytona
, and Submariner
Rumor has it that the Geneva-based manufacturer sells approximately one million watches each year, meaning they turn over about two million Euros. They also introduce more gold into circulation than any other watch manufacturer.
Another secret to their success is their discreet company policy: Tours of their factory workshop are rare, the CEOs seldom give interviews, and their annual profits are kept private. Their reputation is also supported by the fact that they've remained independent and their watches are almost completely crafted in-house. Many other well-known watch manufacturers belong to large concerns.
Rolex Oyster: Top Performance Under Extreme Conditions
A Rolex is more than just a piece of jewelry on your wrist - the watches represent a long tradition of technical developments. The history of this unique watch manufacturer reads more like an encyclopedia of horology. The original Oyster model was introduced in 1926 and was the world's first water-resistant and dustproof wristwatch. It remains the ultimate classic to this day.
The watch is water resistant thanks to a hermetically sealed case, screw-down crown, and synthetic watch glass that fits firmly in the case. To prove its water resistance, the manufacturer decided to display the Oyster ticking away in a fishbowl filled with goldfish. In 1927, a further marketing opportunity presented itself: British swimmer Mercedes Gleitze swam for more than 10 hours through the English Channel with an Oyster. Although she failed to complete her swim, the watch survived.
From the Floor of the Pacific to the Top of the World
On January 23rd, 1960, the deep-diving bathyscaphe Trieste reached the bottom of the Challenger Deep with a special passenger on board: Rolex's Deep Sea Special. The watch had been specially designed for the dive and was attached to the outside of the bathyscaphe. It handled the extreme conditions of the ocean floor impressively well and proved the Swiss manufacturer's capabilities. The watch functioned perfectly even at a depth of 10,916 meters. Rolex repeated this test in 2012, attaching the watch to the robotic arm of the Deepsea Challenger. It reached a depth of 10,908 meters. This watch is water resistant up to 12,000 meters and can withstand up to 1,500 bar of pressure.
A Pioneer Among Diving Watches: The Rolex Submariner
Rolex's watch designers had already expressed their passion for the sea in 1953. That year, the company presented one of the first diving watches, the highly sought-after Submariner. The original watch, nicknamed "the diver's friend," was water resistant up to 100 meters thanks to its Twinlock crown. It featured a black matte dial and a bi-directional bezel. The bezel allowed divers to time their dives to the minute. At the time, Rolex was a pioneer in the field of diving watches, as recreational diving wasn't yet a widespread activity.
Former Rolex director René-Paul Jeanneret was an avid recreational diver and gave valuable input regarding the design of the hands, dial, and case. The watch survived various tests and a total of 132 dives. Supposedly, the watch was even dropped from a two meter height onto a concrete dock. The watch still functioned; the drop only caused a piece of the luminous material from one of the hands to fall out. The Submariner's successor was water resistant up to 200 meters and was made the official watch of the English, Canadian, and Australian marines.
Another milestone in Rolex's history occurred in the same year that the Submariner was introduced. Climbers Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay struggled over rubble and ice to reach the top of Mt. Everest at a height of 8,848 meters. According to reports, both climbers wore the Oyster Perpetual
. Whether they had them on at the top or not is disputed. However, Rolex was one of the official sponsors of this Everest expedition led by Colonel Sir John Hunt. The manufacturer presented the Oyster Perpetual Explorer
in 1953 in celebration of the undertaking and to honor the summiteers.
For Race Drivers and Actors: The Rolex Daytona
The Rolex Daytona quickly established itself as one of the manufacturer's most sought after and successful automatic watches. However, the sport chronograph was a slow seller at the beginning of its career in the early 1960s. Actor and car racer Paul Newman and Formula One racing driver Jackie Stewart both helped transform the watch into an icon in no time at all. Versions with a contrasting second subdial received the nickname "Paul Newman" in the 1980s and are considered particularly valuable collector's items. The watch's name comes from the legendary Daytona Beach circuit in Florida. The city is a record breaker for speed: Between 1904 and 1935, 14 speed records were recorded there. Five of them were made by Sir Malcolm Campbell, who had a Rolex on his wrist.
A Unique Story: The Five-Pointed Crown
The history of this watch manufacturer began back in 1905. German Hans Wilsdorf, together with Alfred Davis, founded the watch wholesaler Wilsdorf & Davis in London. The company would later become Rolex. Davis oversaw the production of watch cases, while Wilsdorf obtained the necessary movements from the Biel-based company Aegler. In 1908, the name Rolex was trademarked. The catchy name most likely comes from "rolling export," but there is no solid proof of this. Gradually, the company began to add their name to the dials - an unusual practice at the time. It was custom to only include the retailer's name on the dial, if anything at all. The short brand name still allowed enough space for the name of the retailer, and thus Wilsdorf sold more watches under their own name. It would be 19 years before Rolex was the sole writing found on the dials, cases, and movements.
The five-pointed crown became a mark of the brand in 1925. The story behind the development of the logo remains a secret. Experts suspect that the five-pointed crown stands for the five fingers of a watchmaker or the letters in Rolex. The crown logo, as well as the name Rolex, now appears on every dial, crown, and clasp, and has since 1939.
Revolutionaries Che Guevara and Fidel Castro also recognized and appreciated the qualities of Rolex. It's not known whether the robustness of the watch helped the Cuban Revolution of 1959, but Che and Fidel certainly contributed to the brand's myth. No other watch manufacturer has managed to appeal to such a wide variety of customers, such as those in power, the Dalai Lama, and the model Elle Macpherson.
Certified Precision Since 1910
The Rolex calibers made in-house are considered to be especially precise. Each watch comes with a certificate from the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC). The COSC measures the precision of a movement in five different positions and three different temperatures based on a standardized testing method. The entire testing process lasts 15 days. Rolex founder Wilsdorf already valued precision at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1910, he sent a watch to a local watchmaking school in Biel so it could be evaluated. The movement was subjected to a 14 day test, which it passed. At the end of this two week procedure, the testers issued the first wristwatch chronometer certificate worldwide and sent it to London.
The next sensation followed only four years later: Wilsdorf sent an Aegler movement to the National Physical Laboratory in London. The caliber passed their tests with flying colors. It was subjected to three different temperature conditions and five different positions - crown facing up, left, and right, and dial face down and face up. After 45 days, the watch, with its golden case and blue enamel bezel, was named the first wristwatch in history to receive a class A certification. This type of certification was previously only awarded to larger watches, such as navy chronometers.
Rolex's Robust Automatic Watches
By the beginning of the 1950s, Rolex had proved that robust movements and watch cases were a part of their repertoire. An impressive example of this is the Milgauss
from 1956. Like its name suggests, it can withstand magnetic fields up to 1,000 Gauss. Its name is a combination of the abbreviation of the French word for a thousand, "mille," and the last name of the German physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss. The European Center for Nuclear Research
(CERN) officially confirmed this resistance on August 10th, 1970. Thanks to the automatic caliber 1065 M with its soft iron inner case and other anti-magnetic components, the watch functioned well despite the presence of magnetic fields. The watch was a blessing for engineers, power plant operators, and many others who worked in close contact with magnetic fields. This highly-coveted collector's watch features green shimmering sapphire glass, a red triangle on the bezel, and the distinctive lightning bolt-shaped second hand.
Rolex's Social Commitment
Whoever buys a Rolex is simultaneously doing a good deed. Wilsdorf never had any children of his own, and after his wife's death he left all of his Rolex shares to the newly established Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. The foundation belongs to Rolex and receives a large part of their annual profits. This money is used to support social initiatives, environmental protection programs, and scientific, artistic, and cultural projects.
The Perfect Combination of Financial Investment, Prestige, and Technology
Whether new or vintage, whenever you buy a Rolex, you're buying more than just a watch. Rolex has been the undisputed number one in the world of luxury watches for decades and is among the most well-known brands. Rolex stands for top quality Swiss watchmaking, harmonious designs, and stable value - qualities that are highly valued in the watchmaking scene. Rolex has something for everyone's taste. Platinum, 18-karat solid gold, and the typical design aesthetics represent the prestige embodied by Rolex. The stainless steel models are perfect for whoever is searching for robustness, simple functionality, and a companion for years to come.