SINCE ITS FOUNDING OVER A CENTURY AGO, ROLEX HAS ENDURED TO BECOME A SYMBOL OF INIMITABLE QUALITY AND CRAFTSMANSHIP. FAR MORE THAN A SIMPLE WRISTWATCH, IT IS THE EPITOME OF TIMELESSNESS.
In 1905, London was at the height of its influence and a beacon for entrepreneurs, like Hans Wilsdorf, who wished to take on the world. In the early 20th century, the wristwatch was considered a piece of jewellery, and worn almost exclusively by women. The young Bavarian watchmaker quickly recognized its potential and usefulness in the midst of the second Industrial Revolution. Wanting to free themselves of old dictates, young people in a hurry looked for speed and boldness along with practical clothing and accessories. The wristwatch was the ideal match for this new generation, but the mechanism had not yet been perfected. Hans Wilsdorf partnered with his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis, and got to work. He sourced components from the best Swiss companies, including Aegler in Bienne, which was known for its expertise in miniaturization and precision. The partners developed a relatively successful product, but did not stop there. They wanted their watch to become synonymous with modernity and reliability. In 1906, the company submitted the first patent for expandable wristbands, and, in 1910, a Rolex watch received the first chronometer certificate ever awarded for a wristwatch. In 1914, another Rolex watch received the world’s first Class “A” precision certificate for a wristwatch from Kew Observatory, who at that time exclusively tested and certified marine chronometers.
War broke out, and the world order changed. Hans Wilsdorf moved to Geneva in 1919, founding the Rolex Watch Company in 1920. He worked tirelessly to improve the company’s products because although the watches were recognized for their precision, their mechanisms could be adversely affected by water and dust. In 1926, the revolutionary waterproof and dustproof Rolex Oyster wristwatch changed everything. However, the watchmaking industry remained very competitive, so Hans Wilsdorf wasted no time. In 1931, Rolex invented the first self-winding mechanism designed for a wristwatch with a patented perpetual rotor and was the first, in 1945, to add the automatically changing date window on the dial of its wristwatches. Many other innovations followed, including the rotatable bezel, resistance to magnetic fields, and the day of the week spelled out in full in a separate window on the dial. Although Rolex helped develop quartz technology in the 1960s, it has preferred to continue making mechanical watches powered by wrist movement.
Rolex stands out from other watchmakers of its time thanks to its founder’s enterprising spirit and marketing strategy. In 1905, jewellers kept the names of their suppliers a closely guarded secret. Hans Wilsdorf wanted to break with this tradition, and understood the importance of a brand name that was short, and could be easily pronounced in every language. In 1908, he registered the brand name “Rolex,” gradually branding all of his products with it.
He cleverly associated the brand with major events that made headlines. When British swimmer Mercedes Gleitze crossed the English Channel wearing her Rolex, she clearly demonstrated that the watch was fully waterproof. Sir Malcolm Campbell set his final land speed record in 1935 at the wheel of his Bluebird, with the Rolex Oyster on his wrist as a symbol of reliability and precision. However, it was the incredible photos of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay at the top of Everest in 1953 during Sir John Hunt’s expedition that truly marked the public’s imagination. The Oyster, the Cosmograph Daytona, and the Deep Sea Special experimental watch (associated with the exploits of oceanographer Jacques Piccard) became veritable icons for sports heroes and individuals involved in expeditions and adventures.
Hans Wilsdorf, who died in 1960, left a lasting legacy. Rolex continues to sponsor prestigious sports and cultural events like major golf and tennis tournaments, equestrian sports, Formula 1 auto racing, classic yacht races and even the Oscars ceremony and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Since 2002, the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative has paired young artists with recognized masters in the fields of architecture, music, literature, dance, visual arts, film and theatre. In 2016-2017, Robert Lepage mentored young Argentine director, Matias Umpierrez. This year, Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite is working with protégée Khoudia Touré of Senegal.
The classic models and Cellini collection of dress watches, first created in 1928, have received renewed attention. In 1992, to increase the brand’s flexibility and safeguard its production, Rolex purchased its primary suppliers to better control and monitor the quality of production. The brand continues to innovate and refine Rolex products. Marco and Paola Miserendino, co-owners of Bijouterie Italienne, speak elegantly of the Rolex philosophy, the range of new products and the influence of this major manufacturer: “We renovated our store’s interior using high-quality materials in line with the brand’s new directives to create a shop that showcases all Rolex models. Rolex is a timeless brand that has successfully adapted over time, constantly raising the bar to elevate the watch industry, and provide the same deserved quality to every client.”
The Rolex brand is a way of life. Often imitated, never equalled, it has continued to improve on what has enabled it to stand out from the very beginning: quality, innovation and dependability. What more could one ask for in a timepiece?