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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Look Up Some Old TimersWall Street Journal, November 25th
Until recently, auction sales were primarily the preserve of knowledgeable aficionados and vintage-watch retailers acquiring fresh stock. Over the past 15-20 years, collectible watches have emerged as blue-chip investments, with Rolex “ Paul Newman ...Read more
Afterglow: A 1967 Rolex Submariner Reference 5512 With Still-Radiant Zinc ...Quill & Pad, November 25th
I'm sure you can imagine that it is a lot of fun, although sometimes quite challenging as well, to research vintage Rolex timepieces to make sure they are original. The most important part for me is that the dial and hands match, fit into the correct...Read more
Meet Quill & Pad's Vintage Virtuoso: Boris Pjanic, An Expert In 'Pre-Loved' RolexQuill & Pad, November 25th
A native of Germany, Boris Pjanic (pronounced pee-yon-ich) moved to Chicago in the mid-1990s. He was simply looking for something else to do. “I was looking for a different life, for my opportunity to find fulfillment,” he reveals. “And I did. The...Read more
10 Prized Celebrity Collections Worth More Than $15000Huffington Post, November 24th
Some of the highlights include a $1.2 million McLaren, a number of Duesenbergs, a 1967 Lamborghini Miura P400, and a variety of vintage Bentleys and Jaguars. In total, the collection is said to be worth approximately $50 million. ... Charlie Sheen has...Read more
Counterfeit tires make their way into the USModern Tire Dealer, November 24th
What do fake Louis Vuitton handbags, Rolex watches, "vintage" Bordeaux wines and Pegasus Advanta SUV tires have in common? They are all counterfeit, according to Consumer Reports. At least that is what CR Senior Associate Autos Editor Eric Evarts ...Read more
The Growing Trend of Watch Cases Holding CollectiblesNew York Times, November 20th
“Patek owners talk about the movements, Rolex owners talk about the dials, Romain Jérôme owners talk about how they have a piece of the Titanic on their wrist.” “I think the idea of using historical materials is really quite gimmicky,” said Ben Clymer...Read more
When the World is Your Oyster: Two Sensational Rolex OystersForbes, November 16th
If you look into the vintage watch market, you'll begin to notice what makes up most of a watch's value: Its dial. The cloisonné dial on this Rolex ref. 5029 (circa 1949) is absolutely extraordinary, depicting “a whale and a frigate in full sail...Read more
Mesa paramedic accused of selling stolen Rolex on eBayazcentral.com, November 14th
Jason Edward Alexander, 32, was one of two Rural/Metro paramedics that transported a man wearing the 1969 Rolex Submariner to Banner Baywood Hospital in Mesa on Sept. 21, court documents said. Records say the watch was taken off the patient and ...Read more