The history of Rolex is inextricably linked to the visionary spirit of Hans Wilsdorf, its founder.
1905 Hans Wilsdorf The history of Rolex is inextricably linked to the visionary spirit of Hans Wilsdorf, its founder. In 1905, at the age of 24, Hans Wilsdorf founded a company in London specializing in the distribution of timepieces. He began to dream of a watch worn on the wrist. Wristwatches were not very precise at the time, but Hans Wilsdorf foresaw that they could become not only elegant, but also reliable.
To convince the public of the reliability of his resolutely innovative timepieces, he equipped them with small, very precise movements manufactured by a Swiss watchmaking company in Bienne.
1908 Genius in five letters He said, “I tried combining the letters of the alphabet in every possible way. This gave me some hundred names, but none of them felt quite right. One morning, while riding on the upper deck of a horse-drawn omnibus along Cheapside in the City of London, a genie whispered ‘Rolex’ in my ear.
1910 The quest for chronometric precision Rolex first concentrated on the quality of the movements. The relentless quest for chronometric precision rapidly led to success. In 1910, a Rolex watch was the first wristwatch in the world to receive the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision, granted by the Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne.
1914 Inventing the Oyster Four years later, in 1914, Kew Observatory in Great Britain awarded a Rolex wristwatch a class “A” precision certificate, a distinction which until that point in time had been reserved exclusively for marine chronometers. From that date forward, the Rolex wristwatch was synonymous with precision.
1920 Geneva Rolex moved to Geneva, a city renowned internationally for watchmaking. Montres Rolex S.A. was registered in Geneva in 1920.
Milestones in watchmaking
1926 The first waterproof wristwatch In 1926, the creation by Rolex of the first waterproof and dustproof wristwatch marked a major step forward. Given the name “Oyster”, this watch featured a hermetically sealed case which provided optimal protection for the movement.
1927 Cross-Channel challenge It is one thing to claim a watch is waterproof. It is quite another to prove it. In 1927 a Rolex Oyster crossed the English Channel, worn by a young English swimmer named Mercedes Gleitze. The swim lasted over 10 hours and the watch remained in perfect working order at the end of it.
1927 The Testimonee concept To celebrate the crossing of the channel, Rolex published a full-page ad on the front page of the Daily Mail proclaiming the success of the waterproof watch. This event marked the birth of the Testimonee concept.
1931 Perpetual movement In 1931, Rolex invented and patented the world's first self-winding mechanism with a Perpetual rotor. This ingenious system, a true work of art, is today at the heart of every modern automatic watch.
1933 Flying over Everest The first expedition to fly over Everest was equipped with Rolex Oysters. The members of the crew were highly satisfied with the performance of the watches.
1933 Sir Malcolm Campbell In the 1930s, Rolex and one of the fastest drivers in the world, Sir Malcolm Campbell, became united by the quest for speed. On 4 September 1935, at the wheel of Bluebird – and wearing a Rolex watch – this “king of speed” set a land speed record of over 300 miles per hour (approximately 485 km/h) at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Sir Malcolm broke the world speed record nine times between 1924 and 1935, including five times at Daytona Beach in Florida.
1935 A living laboratory Rolex recognized the formidable opportunity to test, fine tune and showcase the technical performance of the Oyster in different arenas. The worlds of sport, aviation, motor racing and expeditions constituted living laboratories for the watches' countless technical attributes.
1935 A letter to Rolex “I have now been using my Rolex Watch for a while, and it is keeping perfect time under somewhat strenuous conditions”, Sir Malcolm Campbell.
1945 The first Datejust The year 1945 saw the birth of the Datejust, the first self winding wrist chronometer to indicate the date in a window on the dial. A watch of great distinction, the Datejust was equipped with a Jubilee bracelet created specially for it and a fluted bezel, making it immediately recognizable as a Rolex. It is the pillar of the Oyster Perpetual collection.
1953 Pioneering watches In the early 1950s, Rolex developed Professional watches that served as tools and whose functions went far beyond simply telling the time. These watches were intended for professional activities, such as deep-sea diving, aviation, mountain climbing and scientific exploration. The watches generated lasting enthusiasm and became known as the watches of achievers.
1953 Everest In 1953, Sir John Hunt’s expedition, in which Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mount Everest, was equipped with Oyster Perpetual watches.
1953 The Explorer Inspired by knowledge gained from this fascinating chapter of human adventure, the Explorer, launched in 1953 to celebrate the historic ascent of Everest, immediately acquired iconic status.
1953 The Submariner Launched in 1953, the Submariner was the first divers’ watch waterproof to a depth of 100 metres (330 feet). Its rotatable bezel allows divers to read their immersion time.
1953 The first transcontinental flights As intercontinental travel developed in the 1950s, airliners began to fly swiftly across several successive time zones. For the first time it became important to know the time in various places in the world, simultaneously. It was the dawn of the jet age, and Rolex responded with a watch to match the spirit of the times.
1955 The GMT-Master Designed as a navigation aid for professionals criss-crossing the globe, the GMT-Master became the official watch of several airlines, among them the famous Pan American World Airways, better known as Pan Am. Its most distinguishing visual feature was the two-tone bezel which marked daytime from night-time hours.
1955 The Day-Date In 1956, the Day-Date made its debut. Available only in 18 ct gold or platinum, it was the first wristwatch to display the date and day of the week spelt out in full in a window on the dial. With the President bracelet, originally created specially for it, the Day-Date continues to be the watch par excellence of influential people.
1956 Leadership Rolex watches have long been associated with those who have, over time, guided the destiny of the world. No matter their vision, their domain of excellence, or their achievements, the one thing these exceptional men and women have in common is often their watch: the Day-Date.
1956 The Milgauss The Milgauss, introduced in 1956, was designed to meet the demands of the scientific community and is capable of withstanding magnetic fields of up to 1,000 gauss. The major innovation at the heart of the Milgauss' incredible resistance to magnetic interferences is the shield protecting the movement. Made of ferromagnetic alloys selected by Rolex, it consists of two components, one screwed to the movement and the other to the Oyster case. After rigorous testing by CERN engineers, it earned a reputation as the perfect magnetic shield.
1956 CERN The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the world’s pre-eminent particle physics laboratory, is at the cutting edge of scientific research into the fundamental secrets of the universe. It hosts the world's highest-energy particle accelerator. In the 1950s, CERN was also one of the first scientific institutions to confirm that the Milgauss watch could indeed resist magnetic fields of up to 1,000 gauss.
1957 The Lady-Datejust The Lady-Datejust was the first ladies’ version of the Rolex date chronometer, carrying its heritage of timeless elegance and functionality in a smaller size.
1959 Daytona Beach Daytona Beach, Florida. Long, flat and firm, with hard-packed sand, the beach helped the city of Daytona to forge a legend as the world capital of speed. It boasts 14 world land speed records set between 1904 and 1935, five of them by Rolex-wearer Sir Malcolm Campbell. Over the years, the sand deteriorated. By 1959, a “Super Speedway” was built: the Daytona International Speedway®. This new amphitheatre of motor racing quickly attracted what was to become one of the most prestigious endurance car races in the world alongside the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Although the surface is no longer sand, Daytona still hosts a legendary test of man and machine: the Rolex 24 AT DAYTONA.
1960 Deep Sea Special In the 1950s, Rolex carried out rigorous testing of an experimental watch, called “Deep Sea Special”. Using the knowledge gained from the making of the ﬁrst two models, the third Deep Sea Special was created to withstand the most extreme conditions - the Challenger Deep portion of the Mariana Trench.
The experimental watch
1960 The deepest dive In 1960, the experimental bathyscaphe, the Trieste, successfully descended into the Mariana Trench, the deepest known depression on the Earth's surface. With Lieutenant Don Walsh at the helm, accompanied by Jacques Piccard, the Trieste accomplished a feat so incredible that it forever raised the bar for deep-ocean exploration. Emerging from 10,916 metres (37,800 feet), the bathyscaphe was in perfect working order – as was the Deep Sea Special experimental Rolex watch that had been attached to the outside during the historic dive.
1963 The Cosmograph Daytona Launched in 1963 as a new-generation chronograph, the Cosmograph soon gained the name that became the mark of an icon: Daytona. Designed as the ultimate tool for endurance racing drivers, the Cosmograph Daytona was robust, waterproof and featured a tachymetric scale on the bezel for calculating average speed.
1967 The Sea-Dweller 1967 saw the launch of the Sea-Dweller, waterproof to a depth of 610 metres (2,000 feet). To meet the needs of professional deep-sea divers, the case was equipped with a helium escape valve so that, during long decompression phases in hyperbaric chambers, the helium from the gas mixtures used could be released without risking damage to the watch.