Rolex: History, Notable Achievements, & Iconic Watches


With the goal of bringing the most durable timepiece around, two people started an iconic brand that would change lives and create something that would forever be synonymous with prestige and luxury. The worst thing that could happen to a soldier is have their weapon malfunction, and a watch has the same heft in someone’s life. Whether you were a pilot, a diver, or a scientist, your tools needed to function when you needed it the most and you can always count on Rolex to deliver whatever you needed it do.

Born in Switzerland, the Rolex brand has been developing time and time again, pieces that could withstand the elements and be as trustworthy as the first day someone spent their hard earned money on it. Let’s take a deep dive on what made this brand the epitome of luxury and the rich history behind the marque.

 


The History Behind the Name

In 1908. Hans Wildorf trademarked the name ‘Rolex’, which apparently was just a random name that was strategic: Hans wanted a brand name that was “short, easy to say and remember in any language, and which looked good on watch movements and dials”. The name then stuck and is now part of everyday lexicon whenever someone discusses anything luxurious, posh, or affluent. In order to earn that stellar reputation however, the company had to prove their worth in gold and reputation had to be earned. That’s when Rolex set forth in creating a benchmark for other watchmakers to follow.

Greatness Was Born

In 1926, Rolex made their mark in the wristwatch world when they created and released the Rolex Oyster, which was the world’s first waterproof and dustproof watch. The watch movement was sealed in an airtight enclosure so that it would be protected from the elements. The new technology was then celebrated, praised, and proven when the Oyster crossed the English Channel, worn by Mercedes Gleitze in 1927. According to Rolex.com, “the swim lasted over 10 hours and the watch remained in perfect working order at the end of it.” The self-winding movement was critical for the watch’s success because it eliminated the need for manual winding for power generation. According to The Jewellery Editor, “… the Rolex team managed to perfect and patent the bi-directional oscillating mass, or rotor, in what would become known as the Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch in 1931.” And the rest was history.

“The Calendar Moved Forward; Why Not You?”

Rolex WatchKnowing the date is important and while we take it now for granted, this concept was a luxury back then. I think Dr. Steve Maraboli  said it best,

“Yesterday was not your defining moment. The calendar moved forward; why not you?”

This was stated many decades after Rolex released their next creation but one thing was certain: time is of the essence and the Datejust helped move our generation forward to a better tomorrow. Released in 1945, the Datejust was a self-winding wristwatch that featured the date at 3 o’clock, prominently visible to the wearer. This watch became synonymous with the brand that it is one of their anchor models that Rolex is known for. The Datejust evolved to many variations, including the President, which was worn by some of the most powerful leaders in the world.

Success Knows No Bounds; Determination Can Conquer The Highest Obstacles

Rolex Watch HistoryIn 1953, Edmund Hillary joined the Everest Expedition to challenge the world’s highest mountain: Mount Everest. In order to observe the perils of high elevation and sub-zero temperatures, Rolex created a prototype watch and lent it to Mr. Hilary for his expedition and was expected to return it back to Rolex for post-descent testing. According to Hodinkee, that’s what happened. Edmund Hillary successfully became the first man to summit Mount Everest and sent the watch back, which evolved to what we know as the Explorer today. Another legendary piece was born through man’s determination of beating status quo and setting out new benchmarks. Rolex strived to be better than before, creating a stellar reputation as a dependable tool for everyone to rely on.

Remember that these watches are purely mechanical back then and time wasn’t an easy measurement to achieve unlike today. These were tools, required to continue forth and they needed to last. Activities like this is the reason why Rolex is known for being the best watches because it continues to beat the benchmark set by themselves. They’re the best because they are the benchmark.

Into The Depths of the Unknown We Go

Rolex Watch HistoryAfter conquering the highest parts of the world, Rolex set forth into seeing what the abyss of the oceans had to offer. In 1953, they set the goal of having a companion for divers that could track their time elapsed during their risky expeditions. A diver needed to track how long they’ve been underwater, something that can survive the immense pressure when diving underwater, and a bracelet that could be worn comfortably with a wetsuit. With those goals in mind, the Submariner was born and became the world’s first divers’ watch.

It had a waterproof depth of 100 metres, and a rotating bezel to track their immersion time. The Submariner evolved to offer stronger resistance to the elements, a date window, and a unidirectional bezel to prevent reading error but one thing is for sure: these are watches that a diver can depend on when the weight of the world is on them. Literally.

Jet Lag Imminent

Rolex Watch HistoryThe world continued to evolve in the mid 50’s, and everything was faster, more agile, and things that were a pipedream back then were slowly becoming attainable. Case in point: intercontinental flights. Ever since the Wright Brothers created aviation history in Kitty Hawk, air travel was becoming more and more essential and pilots were exposed to various time zones in short periods of time. They needed a device that could give the wearer accurate time from the moment they depart to the moment they arrive in a different time zone. In 1955, Rolex stepped up to the plate and developed the GMT-Master.

Named after the Greenwich Mean Time, the benchmark for all time zones around it, the GMT-Master became the benchmark (sense a theme, here?) for world travel by having two timezones presented on the watch itself. With a rotating bezel and a 24-hour indicator moving independent of the main 12-hour indicator, it gave the possibility of presenting two distinct times easily and readily. While it couldn’t cure the jet lag involved with air travel, the GMT-Master became such an effective tool. It even became the official watch of several airlines to deliver timely flights that customers expected.

Air travel was a luxury back then but as it evolved, it became a commodity and an essential part of a thriving economy. As usual, Rolex responded and evolved with the world.

A Magnetic Attraction to Innovation

Rolex Watch HistoryThe world became better, more advanced, and more complex. The world’s problems got more complicated and we needed our top minds to be at their best all day, every day.

That meant engineers and scientists needed a dependable tool that can provide accuracy in hostile environments, such as a big exposure to magnetic fields.

These bright men and women were set on discovering what the world has to offer beyond the naked eye and these individuals needed a watch that could resist the power of magnetism. Rolex answered the plight of the people and devised the Milgauss.

Named after the magnetic field the watch is protecting the movement from, the watch can withstand up to 1,000 gauss. Introduced in 1956, it was created for the scientific community in order for them to continue pushing the envelope and making the world a better and a more advanced place to live in.

A Racing Legend Was Up Next

Rolex Watch History1963 brought a desire for speed and to conquer it. There was a desire to track speed to figure out the proper apex, how to get faster laps, in order to be a motorsport legend. Rolex developed a new type of chronograph called the Cosmograph. It was waterproof, had a lap timer, and featured a tachymetric scale on the bezel to calculate average speed. It was another tool developed to answer customer demand and race drivers ate it up. The Cosmograph later became known as the Daytona, named after the Daytona International Speedway in Florida. Various racing legends were known to have sported this watch and their influence rubbed on the silver screen, with the Daytona becoming a favorite of race driver/actor Paul Newman. He loved it so much that he wore his particular Daytona model throughout his career and became associated with it that a ‘Paul Newman Daytona’ is one of the brand’s more desireable pieces. Hodinkee was even able to have a one-on-one session with the actual watch that Paul Newman wore and it’s as majestic as it is useful.

Rolex of Today and Tomorrow

Rolex today has evolved beyond the dependable workhorse tools it became associated with, to a symbol of opulence and luxury. These watches fetch fairly high prices in both new and used markets, and certain models have kept a high resale value, especially with their popular models like the Daytona and the Submariner.

As the company grew and became leaders in horology, they have been certainly been part of history and in our opinion, was vital in helping mankind advance to becoming a better self. Through innovation and the drive to be better than the competition, Rolex developed an aura that is no other. Undoubtedly, their accomplishments and contributions to society supersedes what the competition has done and while that statement may ruffle feathers, we are confident that Rolex will stay on top for many years to come and be known as the watch to have.