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History of Rolex Watches

Rolex, despite its many competitors in the watch market, is arguably the most familiar watch brand that even the worse horological ignorant people know or at least have heard of at some points in life. It is a name that represents the long journey on a quest for the perfect wristwatch in terms of both design and functionality. There are basically two different perspectives towards Rolex among horology enthusiasts. One side that sees the brand as the ultimate Holy Grail everybody should wear, while another side regards Rolex watches as unnecessary yet often overpriced timepieces. But then again, most watches are not built merely out of necessity but as an attempt for accomplishments of which Rolex has plenty. And as the new Rolex campaign goes, there is an undisputed truth behind “It Doesn’t Just Tell Time, It Tells History.”

In every Rolex model you see today, both new and old, the design and engineering have come a long way from the past, particularly in early 1900’s when the company started to gain its well-know reputation. In 1910, or only about 5 years after Hans Wilsdorf had founded a company that eventually became Rolex, a piece of engineering solution received the first ever chronometer specification or officially referred to as Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision issued by the Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne. This was also the first reputable recognition for Rolex in watch industry.

history of rolexAlthough Rolex today does not communicate this achievement in details, the company proudly talks about a similar certification received 4 years later. Driven by the earlier accomplishment, Hans Wilsdorf noticed the true potential that he and his team had at Rolex. Further research of wristwatch movements eventually led to the invention of a small gold Rolex watch that received “Class A’ certificate by Kew Observatory in Great Britain.

Every Rolex watch manufactured today proudly bears the “Chronometer” label as undeniable evidence that it is not merely jewelry and flashiness, but a truly functional tool with non-questionable timekeeping accuracy. To earn the Chronometer certification, a watch must be rigorously and thoroughly tested under which it cannot fail to tell precise time at any given moment in any condition. To keep them in top notch condition requires rolex repair at recommended intervals. With that in mind, we tend to take Rolex watches accuracy for granted, but a glance back at their history can probably encourage us to give the appreciation they deserve many times over. In the following simple timeline of the history of Rolex watches, we will make many jumps from the start to the end and list only some of the most notable years in the company’s journey until now.

1905 – Hans Wilsdorf founded a company in London, but the business was mainly distribution of timepieces. To convince the public, he also used small precise movements manufactured by a watchmaking company in Switzerland

1908 – The name “Rolex” came into existent. Hans Wilsdorf tried many different combinations of letters to make a one-word and easy to remember brand. Rolex was born.

1910 – The movement manufactured in Switzerland received the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision issued by the Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne. It was the first wristwatch to get certified for chronometric accuracy.

1914 – It took Rolex only 4 years since the first certification to develop another fully functioning movement which received the “Class A” precision certificate, this time by the Kew Observatory in Great Britain. Until that point, the same certificate had been only used for marine chronometers. Afterwards, Rolex and precision timepieces became inseparable entities.

Note: Rolex needed to pursue another certification even after it had secured Swiss Chronometer because Kew Observatory was one of the most reputable institutions to issue chronometer certificates. At that time, the observatory was responsible for testing all submitted watches and clocks to make sure that the Royal Navy used only reliable timepieces for any purpose. Rigorous testing performed by Kew Observatory included a demanding 45-day long performance check during which the watch was put in 5 different positions and exposed to extreme temperatures (freezing cold, ambient, and steaming hot). The submitted Rolex survived all conditions with an impressive average of only ± 0.7 seconds per day.

The historical Rolex watch that received certificate for accuracy issued by Kew Observatory in 1914. All images are taken from A Blog To Watch.

1919 – Rolex moved from London to Geneva, a city with an undisputed reputation for quality watchmaking. Montres Rolex S.A. was registered a year later.

1926 – The birth of Oyster, the first waterproof and dustproof wristwatch. It was major breakthrough by Rolex.

1945 – Rolex Datejust was born, the first self-winding chronometer-certified wristwatch to feature date indicator on the dial.

1950s – Starting from the early 1950s, Rolex developed wristwatches for specific purposes, not only for telling time. Rolex watches became professional tools for aviation, diving, scientific exploration, and even extreme sports such as mountain climbing and racing. Many of highly-praised Rolex watches started their reigns in today’s horological world from that point. Some of them are:

1953: Rolex Submariner, or the first divers’ watch to feature water-rating of 100 meters (330 feet). Its rotating bezel helps divers to tell diving time easily.

1955: Rolex GMT-Master. It was developed mainly for pilots in their cross-continent flights.

1956: the debut of Oyster Perpetual Day-Date. Once again, it was also the first wristwatch to include day and date indicators on the dial. In the same year, Rolex came up with the Milgauss. Its popularity was boosted by recognition from European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), confirming that the watch was indeed magnetic resistant to 1,000 gauss.

1963: a watch with arguably the most recognizable tachymetric scale on the bezel, Rolex Cosmograph Daytona with its robust and waterproof case was designed for endurance racing drivers.

1967: another iteration of the Oyster, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller is water resistant to a depth of 610 meters.

1978: the improved version of Sea-Dweller was introduced, but this time the water rating reached the depth of 1,220 meters (4,000 feet).

2012 – Jumping forward to the more recent events, one of the latest accomplishments by Rolex was the 2012 Deepsea Challenge in which the Oyster Perpetual Rolex Deepsea Challenge set the record for the deepest divers watch reaching the depth of 12,000 meters. This is an experimental timepiece designed to withstand water pressure at ocean floor. The story goes on, and with Rolex, it has always been history in the making.