Montres Rolex SA
Swiss watch manufacture
Hans Wilsdorf founds the company and choses the name 'Rolex'
After an education in business Hans Wilsdorf, born 1900 in the Franconian Kulmbach, leaves Germany in order to work as an employee for an import/export business in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Three years later he moves to London and, together with the case manufacturer Davis, founds the watches wholesale Wilsdorf & Davis in London.
Davis takes over the case production and Wilsdorf the acquisition of high quality watch movements. He orders the movements from the Swiss company Aegler based in Biel. The Aegler factory in Bienne/Biel soon dedicates all of its production to the company. After Wilsdorf & Davis register the brand name "Rolex", Aegler becomes known as Rolex Bienne or Rolex Biel.
The perfection of the wristwatch and the 'Oyster' model
Hans Wilsdorf recognizes long before its competitors the future of wristwatches. In addition, he is committed to the improvement of this - especially in the men's world - still new type of watch: He is especially dedicated to make the watches more resistant to dust, humidity and vibration than the usual pocket watches at that time.
1926, the world's first patented waterproof watch, under the name 'Oyster' is presented. This model is characterized by exceptional ruggedness and water resistance. Caseback and crown are screwed. The glass sits firmly and accurately to guarantee the full protection of the movement. The production of a current Oyster case in steel, gold or platinum needs more than 100 operations, plus the 35 operations for the twin-lock crown to be added.
On 7 October 1927, the young swimmer Mercedes Gleitze first tries to cross the English Channel. 15 hours and 15 minutes she swims with a Rolex Oyster on the arm, which thereafter still runs absolutely reliable. With his secure marketing instinct Wilsdorf, on 24 November 1927, places a full page ad on the front page of the Daily Mail (price: 1,600 pounds or 40,000 SFr., in a total circulation of 1,600,000 copies). Through this extremely spectacular marketing campaign he succeeds to increase significantly the popularity of the brand.
Very successful is one Rolex model launched in 1928, not simply because its unusual rectangular shape writes watch history: the Rolex Prince. But the special feature of this model lies also in the dual dial: The decentralized seconds display is half the size of the rectangular dial of ther watch, so that it becomes known as "doctor's watch". The built-in form movement calibre 877 by Aegler meets all the expectations of accuracy, and so the Prince is the first majorwristwatch produced in large numbers which receives a chronometer certificate.
1931 Rolex brings the famous "Perpetual" on the market. This clock is the forerunner of all modern wristwatches with automatic (self-)winding, to achieve an even greater precision by a uniformly tight mainspring.
To this series of elegant, in many different variants available luxury Oyster models also counts the 1956 presented Rolex Day-Date. It is the world's first waterproof and automatic wristband chronometer with simultaneous indication of the date and the fully displayed weekday. (The selection of the weekday displays includes 26 languages.)
Even for Rolex - you hardly believe it today! - there has been a quartz episode. Starting with the Quartz Date produced from 1970 in small numbers, and then for a longer period with the Rolex Oysterquartz, presented in 1978. Equipped with the model Rolex Oyster Quartz Datejust 17000 Reinhold Messner in the same year climbs Mount Everest without oxygen device. (Today Rolex offers models with quartz movements only in the classically elegant Cellini series, but no more with the Oyster models.)
The Rolex Specials
In the year 1953 the New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing are the first to reach the highest peak in the world as part of the British Mount Everest expedition. This expedition is equipped with Rolex Oyster Perpetual chronometers of the specially developed type Explorer I. Today, this model is still part of the Rolex range, as well as its successor Explorer II, a model especially developed for spelunkers, with an additional 24-hour display.
The 'Submariner' and the 'Sea-Dweller'
Also in 1953, after many experiments, the first special watch for divers is developed - the Submariner. It has a sapphire crystal, a screw-in triple-secured crown and a screw-down caseback. The black, perfectly readable dial has indexes in white gold with tritium coating, the hands are partly skeletonized and also in white gold with tritium coating. The turning bezel to adjust the dive time is rotating uni-directionally. Initially, the water resistance was only guaranteed up to 100 m depth, but increased 1954 to 200 meters and in the current version to 300 m (30 atm). In the first films of the series "James Bond 007" Sean Connery carries a Submariner, which explains the increasing popularity of this model. Today this watch belongs to the lasting icons of watchmaking history.
The 'Daytona Cosmograph'
The chronograph model Cosmograph Daytona becomes known by the appearance of actor Paul Newman wearing this watch in a film, and enters the market in 1961. In the early years the watch is equipped with the Zenith calibre El Primero, slowed down to 28800 A/h; later it will receive an own in-house chronograph movement, the calibre Rolex 4130. In the following decades, this watch reaches cult status, especially in the steel version, whose production is fully booked out for years to come.
Another well-known model, which also has become a classic, is the Yacht-Master. Since spring 2007 there is a new edition, called Yacht-Master II and equipped with the new manufacture calibre Rolex 4160.
Rolex - today one of the world's best-known brands
For almost 100 years the name "Rolex" stands for quality and the associated prestige and is therefore one of the most copied (ie: faked) watch brands worldwide.
Wilsdorf successor Andre J. Heiniger, who has already been commercial director at Rolex since 1954, becomes responsible for the fate of the company as director from 1963. 1992 he gives the reins to his son Patrick, who steers the company in a careful style: instead, as with most other manufacturers, constantly launching new models, he prosecutes a restrained policy with consistent maintainance of the classics and successive detail improvements. Almost all of the watches available today have already been available in its current manifestation some 50 years ago. Although all models in the course of recent decades have been revised, the changes mostly consist of technical improvements.
On 27 March 2004, the definitive merger of the companies Rolex Geneva and Rolex Biel takes place. Currently, each year about 800,000 watches are produced. Rolex is the manufacturer with the most watches with chronometer movements, the number of 600,000 certified movements annually is not reached by any other enterprise. Due to the high proportion of gold watches the company with about 13 tons per year is also the largest consumer of gold in Switzerland. Rolex is one of only seven companies with over SFr1 billion in watch sales in recent years, along with Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe among independents.
The Rolex Foundation
Since he had remained childless, Hans Wilsdorf, when still alive, had converted the company Rolex into a charitable foundation. Since 1972 it gives an annual a well-paid prize to outstanding personalities in public life, in addition to researchers and scientists who with new ideas and special benefits have contributed to the progress and welfare of humanity. Together with the price will always be awarded a particularly valuable Rolex watch. Furthermore Rolex supports also the SOS Children's Villages.
Continued striving for quality and new developments
Since some time there is a fresh wind at Rolex again, after a relatively conservative model policy. Many models have been revised and carefully to the present taste adapted successors have been presented. This is also reflected by some increased case sizes. In addition, new movements were developed which are further optimized in their accuracy and their resistance to strain. The world famous manufacture invested large sums in research, product development, quality testing and service improvement. In other words: It wants to stay in leading position by convincing through real benefits and not only defend its status by beautiful advertisment bogus.
Here is an overview of some new or revived models:
- Air-King - new dials, larger case
- Yacht-Master II - completely new-designed model
- Milgauss - reviving a previous model
- GMT-Master II - follows earlier GMT-Master II
- Sea-Dweller Deepsea - follows the Sea-Dweller 4000
- Rolex Oyster Perpetual Day-Date II - follows the Day-Date, case increased by 5 mm
Another innovation is the development of the Rolex-own rose gold alloy 'Everose'. As the name suggests, this alloy is more color consistent than conventional rose gold. This property was reached by adding a platinum share. So Everose consists of 76% gold, 22% copper and 2% platinum. In this composition, the material is the only rose gold variant which behaves resistant against chlorinated water.
At the beginning of 2012 Rolex launches the Sky-Dweller, which arouses particular attention by its sophisticated and practical handling of the calendar mechanism. This watch features an annual calendar with date and month indication and a second time-zone with 24-hour display. The bezel, here called "Ring Command" bezel, is used for quick settings.
- Vintage Rolex: Sports Models; Author: Martin Skeet; ISBN 0764322486
- Rolex Chronographen. Faszination durch Präzision; Autor Paolo Gobbi; Foto: Filippo Vinardi; ISBN 3766716220
- Armbanduhren Spezial: Rolex. Träume für Millionen; Authors: Peter Braun, Manfred Wegener; ISBN 3893656588
- Das ZEITGEFÜHL-Uhrenbuch; Author: Gerd-Lothar Reschke; ISBN 3-938607-61-0
- Uhren als Kapitalanlage. Wie man von Rolex, Cartier and Co. profitieren kann; Author: Michael Brückner; ISBN 3898791521
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- Rolex - company website
- ZEITGEFÜHL: Rolex - Geschichte einer einzigartigen Uhrenfirma - Firmenchronik
- Oysterinfo - Priv. website
- Oysterworld - Informationen zum Thema Rolex (private Seite)