It would take a book, and maybe even multiple books, to sum up, Rolex. This Swiss watch brand, founded in 1905 by Hans Wilsdorf, has been the most recognized watch name around the world for decades. The brand created the first water-resistant watch in the early 1920s, which it later named the Oyster, and went on to unveil many firsts in the watch world. It is regularly the partner of choice for explorers, adventurers, and divers, and has set world records. Rolex is best known for its Oyster Perpetual collection, the Cosmograph Daytona, and the Sea- and Sky-Dweller watches.
No watch brand is less in need of an introduction than Rolex. Founded in 1905, Rolex is the brainchild of Hans Wilsdorf, who had the vision to see a watch worn on the wrist. At the time, wristwatches were not very precise nor very common. To convince his customers that a wristwatch could be reliable, he equipped his watches with tiny, extremely precise movements manufactured in Switzerland.
Precision and the quality of his wristwatches were of utmost importance to Wilsdorf. His relentless pursuit of chronometric precision quickly led to success. In 1910, a Rolex watch became the first wristwatch to receive the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision. By 1914 Rolex had also scooped up the class “A” precision certificate, a recognition that had previously only been bestowed upon marine chronometers. Rolex moved to Geneva in 1919, and the brand Montres Rolex S.A. was registered in 1920.
The Rolex Oyster watch was launched in 1926 and was the first-ever waterproof and dustproof wristwatch. It featured a hermetically sealed case, which was a revolution in the watch industry at the time. Rolex was the first to put it on the wrist of, as we know them today, influencers. A young swimmer Mercedes Gleitze swam across the English Channel wearing a Rolex Oyster. After over 10 hours in the water, the watch remained in perfect working order. Upon her success, Rolex took out a full-page ad in the Daily Mail touting her and their achievement, marking the birth of the testimonial ad.
Rolex came up with an ingenious way to test their watches while at the same time ensuring a global showcase. Following the success of the Mercedes Gleitze swim across the English Channel, they equipped the first expedition to fly over Everest with Rolex Oysters. A full-page ad was also dedicated to the success of the team’s mission and the team’s satisfaction with the performance of their Rolex wristwatches. A Rolex watch was on Sir Malcolm Campbell’s wrist, one of the fastest drivers in the world, when he achieved a speed of over 300 miles per hour in 1935.
In 1931 Rolex invented the world’s first automatic, or as it is also known, self-winding movement. By incorporating a perpetual rotor, the watch could wind itself with the movement of the wrist. A real watchmaking breakthrough that is at the heart of every modern automatic watch movement today.
In the early 1950s, Rolex evolved to manufacturing watches for professionals or tool watches as they are known today, which does more than just telling the time. The watches were for professional activities like mountaineering, scuba diving, scientific expeditions, and aviation.
Rolex has been about precision since its launch in 1905. So much so that in 2015 they redefined their Superlative Chronometer certification to surpass the current watchmaking norms and standards. All Rolex watches come with the certification and a five-year international guarantee.
Since 1985, Rolex manufactures its own 904L steel alloy, known as Oystersteel since 2018. Usually reserved for the aeronautical and chemical industries, 904L steel is exceptionally resistant to corrosion and possesses an amazing shine once polished. In 2005, Rolex introduced its proprietary mix of 18-carat pink gold, Everose Gold, which combines pure gold, copper, and platinum, resulting in a rose gold alloy that will never lose its color.
Rolex introduced the Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master with a two-color Cerachrom insert in black and blue in 2013, followed in 2014 with the blue and red ceramic. Both versions are highly sought-after. Each two-color bezel is created from one piece of ceramic, a milestone in the watch industry.
Rolex has appeared in many movies over the years, including Paul Newman in The Color of Money, Dennis Hopper in Speed, Bill Paxton in Titanic, and many others. Rolex is also the official watch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 2017 and is the founding supporter of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
The Wilsdorf Foundation owns Rolex S.A. Hans Wilsdorf established the foundation in honor of his wife Florence Frances May Wilsdorf-Crotty. He moved his 100% ownership of Rolex into the foundation in 1960, where it remains today. They do not publish how many watches they make per year, but the general consensus is between 800’000 and 1 million watches per year.
In 1905, when Hans Wilsdorf was looking for a name for his new watch brand, he tried hundreds, combining the letters in the alphabet every which way he could think of, but none felt right. One morning while he was in London, the story has it that a genie whispered “Rolex” in his ear.
The Rolex Sea-Dweller was launched in 1967 and impressed the diving community with a staggering 610 meters of water resistance and a helium escape valve to release the gas without damaging the watch. Today the Sea-Dweller has a water resistance of 1,220 meters, and the Rolex Deepsea is water-resistant to a staggering 3,900 meters.
The Submariner was introduced in 1953 and was the first divers watch with a rotating bezel and a water resistance of 100 meters. It is today the world’s most famous dive watch. The Submariner Date is available in various case materials such as steel, gold, or two-tone with different dial and bezel colors. The no-date Submariner is only offered in steel with a black bezel and dial.
The first Rolex Datejust launched in 1945 and was the first automatic wristwatch to feature a date window. The Datejust was fitted with a Jubilee bracelet and a fluted bezel, which both remain the hallmarks of Rolex today. The Datejust is Rolex’s best-selling model.
The Oyster Perpetual was first introduced in 1926, a three-handed Rolex watch that is both water-resistant and automatic. They are only made in stainless steel. There are available in many different sizes for both men and women and in various dial colors. The Oyster Perpetual is considered the entry-level Rolex watch.
The Sky-Dweller collection is the latest addition to the Rolex line and its first annual calendar watch. The timepieces come in a 42mm case size with a fluted bezel in a choice of gold, two-tone, or steel.
The GMT-Master was designed to help pilots keep track of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and local time. The GMT-Master II has a 24-hour hand that can be set independently from the 12-hour hand and a Cerachrom bezel. It comes in several different metals and bezel colors.
The Rolex Day-Date is often referred to as the Rolex President since its debut in 1956. Made exclusively in precious metals, it features a calendar window for the day and the date. The three semi-circular link bracelet is called the Presidents bracelet. It is available in a range of sizes, from a 36mm to a 40mm case.
The birth of an icon definitely applies to the 1963 launch of the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. It takes its name from the famous Daytona International Speedway, where Rolex still hosts the annual Rolex 24 at Daytona. A new take on a chronograph with the endurance racing driver in mind, the Daytona features a tachymetric scale on the bezel for calculating average speed.
Rolex sponsors many of the world’s most renowned yachting competitions. Their Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master was launched in 1992, fortifying their link to yachting. The Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master II regatta chronograph, launched in 2007, is the first watch in the world with a programmable countdown with a mechanical memory.
The Lady-Datejust is Rolex’s best-selling model for women and is their most varied collection with a host of choices for case material, size, bracelet, dial, and bezel. One unique feature is that the date changes at precisely the stroke of midnight instead of a slow transition over a few hours.
In 1953, Rolex unveiled the Explorer watch to honor man’s first recorded ascent to Mount Everest’s summit. The design of the watch has remained relatively unchanged. The Explorer I has always been a time-only stainless steel watch with a black dial. While the Explorer II, introduced in 1971, includes a date window and a second-time zone/GMT function, available in a white or black dial.
1956 brought us the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Milgauss, tested at CERN, the world-famous particle physics laboratory, confirming that the Milgauss watch could resist magnetic fields up to 1,000 gausses.
The Cellini collection is for those that love the Rolex name but are looking for a more traditional Swiss watch. This is the collection where you will find complicated timepieces and guilloche dials. The most renowned model is the Cellini Moonphase.
The Pearlmaster collection is the name given to the Datejust models that have been generously set with precious stones. Think diamond-set bezels and fully set diamond dials for this high jewelry line.
First introduced in 1958, the Air-King was made for aviators, with an emphasis on readability. At 40mm, it is smaller than the other pilot watches out there, but with its black dial and oversized 3, 6, 9 indicators in white, it is easy to read the time even in the cockpit.