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.
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The Fast Lane: Where the hell are we?Financial Times, August 29th
In front of you is a dapper chap in good denim, box-fresh Nike sneakers, a perfectly cut dress-shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow and a stainless steel Rolex. Over his shoulder is a well-worn navy Cordura holdall that's half unzipped and...Read more
Longines, Hamilton, or Omega? The Watcher Will Now Take Your QuestionsEsquire (blog), August 29th
I don't care what watch expert you talk to; Longines has made some of the coolest vintage watches ever. Even even the most diehard Patek or Rolex guys will tip their hat to Longines' past. To this day, they can track any watch they made, going back 100...Read more
Sir Jackie Stewart Talks Rolex And Racing During Pebble Beach 2014Forbes, August 29th
This week of classic, vintage, and modern supercars is held together by four main events, all of which have one thing other than stunning, revving machines in common: they are sponsored by Rolex. These are the Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance, The Quail, ...Read more
Autism Funding Goes Public With Online Jeweler's $10000 Fundraiser for ...Insurance News Net, August 28th
Trumpet & Horn is an online store specializing in authentic vintage engagement rings, Rolex® watches and other fine jewelry; all sales are satisfaction guaranteed and rings with a center diamond over 0.25ct come with full certification from EGL or GIA...Read more
Vintage racers — even more from Monterey motor week.SFGate (blog), August 28th
From August 14 through August 17, dozens of classic race cars — Ferraris, Maseratis, Aston Martins, Jaguars, Porsches — tore around the 2.2-mile track during the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Here was a 1970 Ferrari 512M, there went a gaggle of ...Read more
Gilt Is Giving Away a Vintage Rolex Watch to a Lucky WinnerComplex.com, August 21st
And the first item up for grabs is a two-toned Vintage Rolex that will be given to one lucky NYC fan. Throughout the day, Gilt will release various clues on its social media profiles—Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook—hinting at the watch's location...Read more
VIDEO: Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion GoPro Visor CamsRacer, August 18th
Take a series of incredible rides from last weekend's vintage racing festival at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey California in some of the fastest, coolest and most powerful racecars of yesteryear were pushed to their limits by a number of ...Read more
Giant Vintage Racing Gallery from the 2014 Rolex Monterey Motorsports ...Hot Rod Magazine (blog), August 17th
There are one-off vintage cars that would be rare to see in a museum, let alone running full throttle, and don't doubt that the drivers are in it to win. We saw passes and crashes and plenty of wrenching in the pits to make machines ready for another...Read more