The History of Rolex | How Hans Wilsdorf Built Rolex

The History of Rolex

If you’re someone who enjoys luxury accessories, few brands are as prominent as Rolex. Rolex is renowned for its fine watches and timepieces, making it iconic in the industry. If you’ve ever wondered about the history of Rolex, you’ll find there’s a lot you can learn about the company and its founder, Hans Wilsdorf. Read below to find out what we here at Las Vegas Jewelry and Coin Buyers have discovered.

Hans Wilsdorf’s Humble Beginnings

2 Rolex Side by Side

While most people associate Rolex with top-of-the-line timepieces worn by athletes, CEOs, and celebrities, the company’s early days were much humbler. Although Wilsdorf faced difficult circumstances in his youth, becoming an orphan when he was 12 years old, he was working as a London-based entrepreneur when he created Rolex.

Wilsdorf originally worked at a watch company called La Chaux-de-Fonds. He became familiar with the world of pocket watches but realized the benefit of wearing a watch on the wrist. He would go on to open a business with his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis.

The duo originally named the company Wilsdorf and Davis after themselves. At first, they imported watch parts and put them into a variety of watch cases for sale. They sold the watches to jewelers, who then put their names on them. The Rolex name came about in 1908. At this point, Wilsdorf wanted to use a name that was easy to remember and pronounce no matter what language someone spoke. 

Early Rolex Watches

In the early 1900s, Rolex was still trying to find exactly where it would fit. Because of the high import taxes England imposed on luxury items, including watches, in 1919, the company moved from England to Geneva, a city in Switzerland known for its watchmaking.

One of Wilsdorf’s original goals was to ensure that dust and moisture couldn’t infiltrate a watch. Throughout the 1920s, this was a common challenge for watchmakers, as dust and moisture can permanently damage the movements inside a wristwatch. A third party created a case for the Rolex watches that would be waterproof and dustproof. A milestone in watchmaking history, Rolex named this watch the Oyster. Rolex purchased the patent for the watch and used aquarium displays to demonstrate how well the watches worked.

Wilsdorf didn’t just create state-of-the-art watches. He also focused on marketing the pieces he created. For example, in 1927, Rolex marketed its Oyster watch by having Mercedes Gleitze carry it with her as she became the first British woman to swim across the English Channel. The watch successfully kept the time after being underwater, proving that Rolex had something to offer.

In 1931, Rolex designed a wristwatch with a self-winding mechanism, resulting in a perpetually winding rotor that uses the energy from a wearer’s wrist movements rather than manual winding. The Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute has conducted extreme testing on these movements that make the watches so precise and reliable. This design would culminate in a new version of the wristwatch called the Oyster Perpetual, a seemingly indestructible watch, especially compared to the Oyster.

Mid-Century Rolex Models

In the 1940s, Rolex produced the Datejust model, followed by the Submariner less than 10 years later. During this era, the company designed the first watch with an automatic date to appear on the dial of the piece.

Rolex wasn’t only concerned with exploring the depths of the ocean. The company also set its sights on the sky. Rolex designed the GMT Master for pilots. In advertisements, people learned that the watch was on board during the first non-stop Pan Am flight from New York to Moscow.

Several other Rolex models joined the team throughout the 1950s, including the Day-Date and Milgauss watches. The Day-Date wristwatch was the first timepiece to offer both the day and date on its dial. Rolex continued to use and improve on the Oyster case throughout the 1950s. For example, the company began using a magnifying lens in 1953. This component is called a Cyclops lens, and it enhances the date on the Datejust watch. This part of the lens is anti-reflective and scratch-proof.

During the 1960s, Rolex launched several more models. The first Deep-Sea Extra Special and Sea-Dweller waterproof models were both released during this decade. The Sea-Dweller, which became available in 1967, could withstand a dive of up to 4,000 feet thanks to a helium escape valve. The Cosmograph Daytona was another significant development in the 1960s. In the following decade, Rolex released one of the brand’s most popular watches, the GMT Master II, a model that still draws collectors.

Rolex Enters the 21st Century

While the Yacht-Master and Pearlmaster, which both debuted in 1992, were great successes, more modern designs would further build on the use of high-quality materials. The Yacht-Master II, DeepSea, Datejust II, and Sky-Dweller models were also largely successful. Rolex intended the Sky-Dweller for travelers. It offered a dual time zone display and an annual calendar, giving wearers the most accurate timing no matter where they were.

Since those early days, Rolex has been a leader in wristwatch innovation. For example, it was in 2012 that Rolex created the first wristwatch featuring a multi-use command bezel. Bezels offer a variety of information you can see at a glance, such as the time in another time zone, a 24-hour display, or your diving time.

Rolex has never stopped exploring the depths of the ocean. The Rolex was the only passenger on both dives James Cameron made into the Mariana Trench, which helped Rolex’s reputation as the watch for adventurers and explorers.

Check Out Pieces You Love

Rolex has never stopped striving for a flexible watch that can withstand anything life throws at you. Las Vegas Jewelry and Coin Buyers understand the deep love people have for gorgeous and innovative timepieces. If you’re looking to buy or sell a Rolex, we can help you find whatever you’re looking to add to your collection. Check out our inventory of amazing watches or see how we perform appraisals to initiate the process.

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