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.

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    

1970 Vintage Orig Rolex Gmt Master Ref. 1675 "matte Dial"1961 Rolex Tudor Submariner Pcg Gilt Chapter Ring Tropical Brown 7928Estate Rolex Orchid 3.00ct Diamond 18k Gold Ladies Watch 57.0 Grams Nr1978 Rolex Submariner Ref. 5513 Maxi Dial Men Divers With 6.2 Million SerialGenuine Rolex Submariner 5513 Mid Part Case Vintage OriginalMens Rolex Submariner Black Dial Stainless Steel Watch 40mm 14060 No Reserve !!!Rolex Vintage Gmt Stainless Steel Ref.1675 Dates 1960's Starts At 0.99!Gen 1655 Rolex Explorer Ii Chronometer Orange Hand W Copy Of Original PapersRolex Mens Datejust 1601 18 K & Ss W Original R Diamond Dial In Mint Condition Rare & Vintage 1959 Rolex 6542 Gmt Master No Crown Guard Rolex Submariner Date Black Face 11610ln W/ Ceramic Bezel Oyster PerpetualRolex Submariner Black Dial Bezel Steel Mens Watch AutomaticStainless Steel Ref.6610/cal.1030 Rolex Explorer 1956's MensRolex Datejust Mens Wristwatch. Stainless Steel, Quickset Date. Nice!Genuine Rolex Submariner 5513 Rear Cover Case BackVintage Rolex Oyster Perpetual Airking 5500 Steel Watch - Cal 1520 26 JewelsVintage Mens Rolex Datejust 18k White Gold/ss 1.00 Ct Diamond WatchMens Rolex Stainless Steel Air-king Watch W/black Dial & Oyster Bracelet 14000Rolex Explorer Ii Oyster Perpetual Date Chronometer Mens Watch Stainless Steel 1987 Rare Rolex Explorer Ii Ref. 16550 "creme Rail Dial" @ No ReserveRolex Daytona 116520, White Dial, G Series, Mint Box And PapersLady Rolex Stainless Steel Datejust Date Watch White Mop Diamond Oyster Bracelet100% Authentic Rolex Explorer 114270 Stainless Steel Black Dial 36mmRolex 1570 Caliber Movement For 1601/ 1603 Steel Or Steel And Gold Model WatchMens Rolex Day-date President 18k Solid Gold *** Diamond *** !!!Genuine Rolex 16600 Sea Dweller Black Dial Ss Mens Watch Box Papers TagsLadies Rolex Stainless Steel Datejust Date Watch W/white Mop Diamond & BezelRolex Submariner Date Black Face 11610ln W/ Ceramic Bezel Oyster PerpetualMens Rolex Date Stainless Steel Watch W/silver Diamond Dial & Jubilee Band 1500Tudor Rolex Prince Date Automatic 14k / Ss Watch €Rolex Daytona 116520 White Dial Luxury Men’s Wrist WatchVintage Rolex Bubbleback Perpetual Gold Stainless Steel Men's Watch NrRolex Watch Co. Precision Chronometer In Pilots Style Steel Case.Rolex Daytona 11652 Two Tone Gold Mens Watch Great Condition With Paper/box Rolex Submariner (r16803) - Mens 2 Tone Watch W/ Box & Papers (read Description)Authentic Rolex 18k Solid Yellow Gold 8385 President Day-dat Hidden ClaspLuxury Vintage Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Automatic 18k Gold 36mm Watch 15038 !Men's 1969 Rolex Gmt-master WatchRolex Cellini 18k White Gold Diamond Bezel Manual Winding Blue Dial Ref.380716710 Genuine Rolex Gmt Master Ii Black Dial Ss Men S WatchRolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer 14k/ss Men's Watch 1005, Cal. 1560Authentic Swiss Mens Vintage Rolex 1603 Oyster Datejust Black Dial Watch1963 Vintage Rolex 5513 Submariner Oyster Perpetual Watch Point Guard Crown Rolex Mens 2tone 1675 Brown "rootbeer" Gmt-master - Horween Strap - 1675 ModelLadies Rolex Oyster Perpetual 18k Gold & Ss Blue Dial Automatic Ref.6917Rolex Tudor Prince - Vintage - Submariner - Snowflake 94110 - Item Revised!!Rolex Mens 40mm 18kt Yg & Stainless Steel Submariner Blue Index 16613 LovelyMens Rolex Stainless Steel Datejust W/oyster Band & White Mop Diamond Dial BezelGreat Rolex Mens 18kt Gold S/s Datejust Champagne Diamond Dial Swiss Watch Rolex Presidential Datejust 69178 18k Gold Diamond Dial Ladies Watch W/ B&pRolex Datejust 16014 Black Coated Pvd/dlc W/ Black Diamond Dial 36mm JubileeLadies 14k Solid Gold Rolex Wrist Watch With Solid 14k Gold Bark Affect Dial Rare Vintage Ladies Rolex Oyster Automatic 1968 Immaculate 6516 Date # A741Scarce Tropical Bubble Back 6050 Vintage Mens Rolex Watch To FixRolex Presidential 1803 18k Diamond Dial Day/date Auto Bark Textured Men's WatchRolex Mens 16030 Watch Ss Oyster Band Quickset Black Dial W 14k Diamond Bezel Mens Rolex Stainless Steel Datejust Date Watch Silver Diamond W/president Band18k Pink Gold Bezel -rolex Datejust- Ref.1601 Cal.1560 Circa 1970Men's 2001 Rolex Submariner 16610 Watch Stainless Black Dial With Box K-serial #Stunning Rolex Datejust 1601/3 -blue Diamond Dial, Sapphire Crystal, Extra Links

Recent News: Rolex Wristwatches

Source: Google News

2015 Renovo Coupe
Top Speed, August 20th

Not much information has been released in the interior department, but we do know it will retain the vintage look enjoyed by the classic Shelbys, with a flat instrument panel that will span the entire dashboard. The gauge display will be updated into a...Read more

Controversy surrounds Woodlands closet heist
KPRC Houston, August 18th

HE TOOK ALL MY ROLEX, ALL MY CHANNELS, DIAMETERS, OSCAR DE LA RENTA JEWELRY. IF YOU GIVE ME AN ADDRESSLY SEND YOU SAMPLES. TESTIFY SELF-PROFESSED THIEF SENT ... LOT OF WOMEN, TERESA HAS A MIX OF EXPENSIVE VALUABLE JEWELRY AND COSTUME JEWELRY. ROMER...Read more

Owner IDs some of loot stolen from lavish closet
Chron.com, August 18th

Some have sentimental value like a bracelet given to her by her children on Mother's Day, and others are vintage pieces loaned by her stylist for a photo shoot. She was thrilled the stolen item most precious to her - the silver locket with strands of...Read more

Closet heist victim speaks with Montgomery County detectives
KPRC Houston, August 18th

IN ? ? ? The SEC Network is here and it's better on U-verse Can your cable provider give you all this? YES, THEY ARE HERS. YES, SOME ARE FAKE. TONIGHT TERESA ROMER ADMITS NOT EVERYTHING THAT GLITTERED WAS GOLD. SOMEBODY ...Read more

VIDEO: Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion Visor Cams
Racer, 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

Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance: the Anointed One
Racer, August 18th

Fasnacht was presented with a Rolex timepiece in recognition of his dedication during the Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance lunch stop in Carmel. Coincidentally another car that has caught Fasnacht's imagination is the Cord. Another front-wheel drive car...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

The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering: In a class of its own
Racer, August 17th

The Quail, A Motorsport Gathering, founded in 2003 and where Rolex has been the Official Timepiece since 2005, is a confluence of positives that have forged an impressive occasion: a rare moment where an enviable reputation fails to do justice. Each...Read more