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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch and Clock Museum

This virtual museum, created by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, lets you stroll through tim… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Rolex Submariner 5513 660ft Year 1970 Box And Certificate No Reserve Rolex Submariner 5513 200m First. Lovely Tritium Super DomedRare Vintage 70's Rolex Tudor Monte Carlo Chronograph Men Watch (valjoux 234 ) Rare Rolex Submariner 1680 Red Era. Year 1972 Unpolished White DialVintage Ss 1603 Rolex Pie Pan Datejust Mens Watch AwesomeRolex Oyster Perpetual Date C1980 Automatic Chronometer Rare Gold Sigma DialRolex Gmt Master 2 16710 Serial N At No Reserve Auction.... Steel Rolex Submariner 5513 Sports Model Watch Meters First Dial 1964Vintage Rolex Gmt 1675 - Gilt Glossy Dial And Small 24 Hr Hand, No ReserveRare Rolex Tudor 90800 Jumbo Prince Osyterdate Stainless Steel Man's WatchMens Mint Original 1968 Rolex Tudor Prince Oysterdate Automatic Stainless WatchTudor Submariner Mini-sub 73190 Rolex Oyster CaseVintage Tudor/rolex Oyster Prince Watch18k Gold Ss Genuine Rolex Datejust Mens Beautifully Running Watch See Pics1954 Men’s Rolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer Ref.6284 Explorer Submariner.Mens Rolex Oyster 1600Rare Rolex Gmt Master 1675 Gilt Chapter Ring Dial Pointed Cg Era ExclamationVintage Rolex Submariner 1680 Red Dial Mk 3 Dial Open 6 No ReserveRolex Daytona Mens Watch 116523 18k/ss Gold Steel Original Diamond DialRare Rolex Oyster Rivet Bracelet Usa Version Year 1968 5513 5512 1675 1016 1019Rolex Milgauss Green Crystal Pvd Coated Black Out 116400 Y SerialMens Rolex Stainless Steel Submariner Date Watch Sub W/black Strap Band 16800Rolex 7206 Oyster Rivet Bracelet 67 Submariner 5513 5512 1675 1016 5508 6538Luxury Vintage Rolex Cellini 18k Solid Gold Swiss Made Ladies Watch Circa 1981Rolex Mens Ss Stainless Datejust Oyster Perpetual W/ Silver Textured DialGent's Vintage 9ct Gold Rolex Precision Wrist WatchExcellent Rolex Oyster W/sticker And BoxRolex Mens WatchRolex Men’s Submariner Black Dial Stainless Steel 16610 AutomaticRolex Men's Gents 18k Yellow Gold Rolex Day Date #19018, Quartz Mint 138.3gramsRolex Submariner 16610 M Date Stainless Steel Black 40mm Men's Watch No ReserveMens Rolex Datejust Quickset 18k Gold/ss White Mother Of Pearl Roman Dial WatchLady Rolex Stainless Steel Datejust Watch Jubilee W/silver Diamond Dial & BezelRolex Mens Ss Stainless Datejust Oyster Perpetual W/ Silver Textured DialRolex 5500 "air King", Box/papers, Worn Only Few Times, Oyster/cal 1520/perfectVintage Rolex 6244 From 1953-4Used Tudor Rolex Ref. 79220 Submariner Heritage, Black Bay Blue Bezel, All SsVintage Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air King 5500 Stainless Steel Mens Wrist WatchTudor Oyster Prince Rolex Automatic Black Wristwatch Vintage 1950s-1960sVintage Rolex Submariner 5513 1680 5512 Tritium Hands Patina 1016 1665Rolex Explorer I Automatic 39mm Black Dial Stainless Steel 214270 Mens Watch 1953 Vintage Gents Rolex Oyster Perpetual 6202 6206 / 84 Bubble Rolex Lady Datejust 18k White Gold & Ss White Automatic Diamond WatchMens Rolex 18k Yellow Gold/stainless Steel Submariner Date Watch Black Sub 16613Men's Rolex Date Stainless Steel & 18k Gold Watch Ref 15203 X Serial #4031Spectacular 1940s Mens Vintage Rolex Watch 15 Rubis - WorkingRolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust Ladies Auto Ss Silver Dial Diamonds WatchVintage Rolex Tudor 7926 Advisor Manual Winding Alarm Men WatchRolex Submariner No Date Stainless Steel 5513 1966 With No Reserve Rolex 6694 Special Military Uae United Arab Emirates Eagle Logo Dial Men WatchGenuine Vintage 14k Gold 1950s Diamond Dial Rolex 17767 WatchSteel Rolex Gmt Ii K Ser# Oyster Fliplock Bracelet Box/books Mint No ReserveLady Rolex Stainless Steel Datejust Watch White Mother Of Pearl Mop Diamond 6916Rolex Daytona Stainless Steel 16520 White DialGenuine Swiss Rolex Ladies Art Deco 9 Carat Gold Cased WatchLadies Rolex Datejust 18k Yellow Gold/ss Silver Dial Diamond WatchWyler Wyler Code R Chronograph Automatic 2415/3999 (incaflex) Panerai, Rolex, 1940's Ref. 4643 Solid 18k Gold Rare Rolex Square Bubble Back Wristwatch! Wow!Rolex Stainless # 16030 Men's Wristwatch Oyster Perpetual DatejustRolex Datejust 6917 Ss/18k Gold 1.04ct Vs1/g Diamond Automatic Ladies Watch

Recent News: Rolex Wristwatches

Source: Google News

Shifting Gears: A weekly digest of news and notes
Florida Times-Union, February 12th

Special for Drive Porsches take over Daytona A Ligier-HPD Honda might've won the 54th Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 31, but it was the Florida Crown Region of the ... Here's the tally so far for the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association's 2016 Amelia...Read more

Great Escape: a mobile safari in Botswana, February 12th

By flying there in your own vintage plane, of course, before landing it dexterously on a dusty runway while your friends look on in admiration. This is how Ralph Bousfield, one of Africa's finest and most sought-after guides, reaches us. And though...Read more

Inside A Historic Z Car
Speedhunters (blog), February 11th

As we saw in my recent feature on the Z Car Garage x OS Giken 240Z, Z Car Garage is a shop that knows a thing or two about building a well-performing street car. But Rob and the guys can also be found at the track quite often, and one of their weapons...Read more

Swiss Watches Are Getting More Affordable
Fortune, February 11th

Interested in a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona in platinum? is selling one for 15% off at $70,125. “Yes, the gray market has exploded,” says one large east coast retailer who deals in both contemporary and pre-owned certified vintage ...Read more

Rolex vs. Tudor: A Tale of Two Vintage Day Dates
Bloomberg, February 9th

With vintage watches, it's the little details that matter: Two may look nearly identical from across a room, but a few key differences visible up close can make one of them far rarer—and perhaps an incredible value—for the astute collector. This...Read more

A Vintage Cuban Rolex Submariner Preserves A Piece of History
Cigar Aficionado, February 4th

As Cuba emerges from isolation, poised for transformative changes, a recently discovered late-1950s Rolex Submariner is a talisman from the country's turbulent past. The watch had been smuggled out of the country in the wake of the Cuban Revolution in ...Read more

Steal Paul Newman's Classic Style with These Custom Rolex Daytonas
Maxim, February 3rd

Part of a new Bamford collection devoted to the history of sports watches that also includes a black and orange Rolex Explorer, the Bamford Heritage Daytona ($26,250) replicates details of the original '60s models down to the bakelite bezel and vintage ...Read more

Vintage Eye for the Modern Guy, Part 23: Rolex Submariner, January 24th

Since we covered the Tudor Heritage Black Bay, a watch heavily influenced by historical Tudor dive watches, last week, I thought it would be appropriate this week to take a look at Rolex's modern diver: the Submariner. This incredibly iconic watch ...Read more