Founded in 1905 as Wilsdorf and Davis, the company that would become Rolex has British and Swiss roots. It was established in London as an importer of Swiss Aegler wristwatch movements, which Wilsdorf and Davis inserted into cases and sold to jewelers, who would then put their store name on the dial. The word "Rolex" was trademarked in 1908 so that Wilsdorf and Davis would have a name of their own to put on some of these watches.
It is not precisely clear where the word "Rolex" came from. Most authorities say the name derives from horlogerie exquise, which is French for "exquisite watch making." Others, including wristwatch collector Jeff Hess, believe the name was simply made up.
And then there’s the story of how Hans Wilsdorf’s partner and brother-in-law, Alfred Davis, wanted his watches to have the quality of a Rolls Royce and the ubiquity of a Timex. Borrowing the beginning and end of those two venerable brands, Davis created a new one of his own, or so the legend goes.
Whatever its origins, the name stuck, but wristwatches were still a curiosity at the beginning of the 20th century. To gain the public’s trust, Aegler had its movements tested by timing laboratories in Bienne, while Wilsdorf and Davis did the same at the Kew Observatory in England. In 1914, the movement was awarded a Class A Certificate, Kew’s first chronometer rating for a wristwatch.
In 1920, Rolex relocated to Geneva, where it remains headquartered to this day. But the major event of the 1920s for the growing company was the introduction of the Rolex Oyster in 1926. This waterproof wristwatch was given a serious test (and garnered much publicity) a year later when a young stenographer named Mercedes Gleitze wore a Rolex Oyster when she became the first British woman to swim the English Channel.
The vintage Oysters from the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s are among the most collectible Rolexes on the market today. Especially rare is the original Oyster from 1926, with its classic cushion-shape case, and the first Rolex Oyster Perpetual, a self-winding wristwatch developed in 1931.
Other vintage Oysters to look for are the Piccolinos from the 1930s, the "bubble-back" models from the 1940s, the cloisonné-dial watches from the 1950s, and the commemorative Rolex Oyster Observatory Chronometer "Kew A" Certificate from 1953...
Another Rolex watch model to gain prominence in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s was the Prince, a slender, rectangular dress watch with cases made of sterling silver and various combinations of pink, white, and yellow gold — the striped cases are particularly handsome.
After the war, in 1945, Rolex celebrated its 40th anniversary with the Datejust, the first self-winding chronometer to show the date in a window on the dial. The 1950s brought the Submariner (1953) and GMT (1954) lines, the latter a favorite of Pan Am pilots and test pilot Chuck Yeager. The Explorer also appeared in the 1950s — its most famous customer was Sir Edmund Hillary, who wore a Rolex Explorer when he summited Mt. Everest in 1953.
Finally, in 1961, Rolex introduced its Cosmograph Daytona line to mark the 24 Hours of Daytona race (Rolex was one of the race’s sponsors). The most collectible watches in this vintage Rolex line are the so-called Paul Newman Daytonas, whose sub-dials are in a contrasting color from the main dial, and whose sub-dial faces feature blocks instead of lines to mark unnumbered minutes and decorative crosshairs at their centers. Paul Newman Daytonas can be further verified by making sure they have any of the following Reference numbers: 6239, 6241, 6262, 6263, 6264, or 6265.
Key terms for Vintage Rolex Wristwatches:
Chronometer: A watch that has been certified by the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute not to lose more than four seconds per day, nor to gain more than six.
Cloisonné: A technique in which filaments of metal (often gold or copper) are soldered to a surface to create compartments that are then filled with ground enamel, fired, and polished.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
National Watch and Clock Museum
Clubs & Associations
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Rolex Wristwatches
Source: Google News
David SK Lee, A Chinese-American Renaissance Man!Huffington Post, July 30th
And because he loves rare vintage wines, he collects and drinks them from his 3,000 bottle wine cellar. Then he created one of the best ... I'll stick with my 40-year old Rolex. I asked David what drives him to such extraordinary efforts to succeed at...Read more
Mpls. Man Creates Hand Crafted Watches In Northeast BasementCBS Local, July 28th
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – There is a small, but growing, movement of Americans who are making their own crafts and goods again. J. W. Hulme, the St. Paul leather-goods company whose gained attention in fashion magazines ad Hollywood for their makers ...Read more
A Simpler Time for Men's WatchesWall Street Journal, July 25th
As for the shift from complicated to simple, Mr. Clymer said, "It sort of goes along with the whole vintage revival, which, in many ways, is about the search for pure design." Indeed, the ... falls into that camp. He wears a clean, sporty Rolex...Read more
WHERE TO BUY ITGQ Magazine, July 24th
BELT: vintage. WATCH: Omega, at Omega, nationwide; see the Directory below. RIGHT, JEANS: Ralph Lauren Black Label Denim, similar styles at Ralph Lauren, select stores; see the Directory below. BLAZER, $1,695, and TIE, $115: Ralph Lauren Black Label...Read more
Is There Such a Thing as an 'Investment' Piece?Fashionista, July 23rd
One category DiNunzio reports growing: Luxury watches, specifically Rolex or Cartier. "They buy a really good investment ... "I think it's important to note that vintage pieces do actually invest over time," Bib + Tuck founder Sari Bibliowicz says...Read more
Reviewing: The Rolex GMT-Master II in White Gold with Pepsi BezelHaute Living, July 23rd
Rolex knows the new GMT-Master II in White Gold with Pepsi Bezel will do very well, and it makes the brand a little more exclusive, while protecting its vintage market. The other major talking point, which is a little more interesting technically, was...Read more
Two iconic Maseratis featured on Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion posterRacer, July 16th
monterey poster Two of the arguably most iconic Maserati racecars ever constructed served as the inspiration for this year's Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion poster art that was revealed today: The Maserati Tipo 61 and 250F Grand Prix car. Maserati...Read more
Charity shop is given £2000 Rolex watch donationEdinburgh Evening News, July 3rd
A VINTAGE watch donated to an Edinburgh charity shop is to be auctioned to raise funds to help the homeless. The 1960s Tudor Advisor, made by Rolex, was handed in to Shelter Scotland's Morningside shop along with a bag of other items. Valued at almost ...Read more