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    

Rare Vintage Rolex Tudor Submariner Navy Ref. 7206 For Parts Or Repair Men WatchRolex Gmt Master 1675 Ss/14k Gold Automatic Men's Watch W/ Brown Dial/bezelGents Vintage 1970 White Gold & Steel Rolex Oyster Datejust Chronometer Vintage Antique Old Rolex Submariner Ref 6536-1 With Inner And Outer BoxesGents Vintage 1992 Rare Black Dial Rolex Oyster Air King Chronometer Genuine Gents Vintage Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer Super-precision WristwatchRare Vintage Rolex Mens 1675 Gmt-master - Black Matte Dial -pepsi Model-1675Rolex Gmt Master 16753 Ss/18k Gold Automatic Men's Watch W/ Date/plastic CrystalRolex Vintage 18k Gold Chronograph 37mm Ref 2508 Beautiful Original Dial Look !1Rolex Tudor Ranger Vintage Stainless Steel Automatic Wrist Watch, Parts/repairGents Rare Vintage 1969 Stainless Steel Rolex Oyster Datejust Chronometer Rolex Submariner BlueRolex Sea-dweller Deepsea 116660 Complete With Box And Card 44mm Stainless SteelMens Rolex Submariner 18k Yellow Gold/stainless Steel Watch Black Sub Sel 1661314k Men's Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust Chronometer W/ Box & Papers Gold Dial Rolex Submariner 14060 No Date Stainless Steel W/black Dial Rare Rolex 1950s Oyster Perpetual Metropolitan Super Precision Watch Ref# 5502Genuine Rolex Submariner 16610t Black Dial Mens Watch Box ManualsVintage Rolex Midsize 14k Yellow Gold Oyster Perpetual Automatic Watch C. 1955Mens Rolex Solid 18k Yellow Gold Day-date Bark President Champagne Diamond 18038Vintage Mens Rolex Datejust Oyster Perpetual 14k White Gold/ss WatchRolex Caliber 3135 Complete Movement Submariner Date/datejustRolex Stainless Submariner 16800 Transitional Stainless Men's Wristwatch & Box1955 Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Ref 6305 Parts Or Repair Cal A296Lady Rolex Stainless Steel Datejust W/silver Diamond Dial & Original Oyster Band1960 Rolex Oyster Speedking Precision Ref. 6420Rolex Rare Stainless Steel White Cosmograph Daytona Zenith Watch, 16520 W/ BoxRolex Submariner Oyster Perpetual Date 16610 Stainless Steel Black WatchRolex Submariner Black Dial Stainless Steel Automatic Mens Watch 114060No Reserve Vintage Rolex Oyster Perpetual Red Date Midsize Watch Automatic 34mmVery Fine 18k Gold Rolex Day Date President Ref 1803 Rare Dail 2 Year WarrantyMens Rolex Stainless Steel Datejust Quickset Sapphire White W/oyster Band 16200Authentic Rolex Yachtmaster 16622 40mm Steel/platnium Full Size Mens WatchRare Mens Rolex Stainless Steel Gmt-master Ii Date Fat Lady Black Red Coke 16760Rolex Mens 16713 Gmt-master Ii - Black Dial - Nato Strap - Rare Unpolished CaseRolex Datejust 16013 Oyster Perpetual Ss/18k Gold Blue Diamond/sapphire WatchVintage 60s Mens Rolex Oyster Perpetual Silver Dial Automatic WatchMens Quality 1940's Rolex Switzerland Vintage 21j Watch Precision ChronometerMens 40mm Rolex Stainless Steel/platinum Yacht-master Date W/oyster Band 16622Genuine Gents Vintage Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-king Precision WristwatchLadies Rolex Date Stainless Steel & Gold Watch Silver Dial 6917 - No Reserve !!!Fully Serviced Men's Rolex Ref 1500 Oyster Perpetual Date Automatic Cal 1570Rolex 1997 Men Datejust Box-books Black Tapestry Diamond Dial Ss/18kt Solid GoldRolex Ww1 Solid Silver Porcelain Dial Officers Trench Wrist Watch 1918 No ReservRolex Oyster Date Thunderbird Bezel Stainless Running Wristwatch Wit Box & PaperVintage Rolex 5512-5513- Faded Gray Long 5 Fat Font Bezel InsertTudor Rolex Mini SubStainless Steel Ref.1501/cal.1570 Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date 1969's MensRolex Submariner Vintage 40mm Stainless Steel Date 16800 No Reserve OysterMens Rolex 2tone 18k Yellow Gold/stainless Steel Datejust Watch Blue Dial 160131945 Vintage Stainless Rolex Oyster Imperial W Rare Criss Cross Dial 1945 Vintage Gold/stainless Rolex Large Round Double Signed Original DialRolex 18k Gold/stainless Steel Submariner Diamond Serti Black Sel Sub 16613 Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust. Two Tone Ladies' Watch. Stainless Steel & Gold.Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date 1501 Ss Thunderbird Bezel White Dial Roman NumeralRolex Gmt Master Ii Factory Serti Diamond Dial 40mm 18k/ss 40mm W/boxRolex Perpetual Datejust Diamond Dial & Bezel Stainless Steel Watch 1981 WowMens Rolex 2tone 18k Yellow Gold/stainless Steel Date Watch Gold Peg Dial 15053Vintage Rolex 1960's Oyster Speedking Automatic Boy Size Steel Watch Ref # 6430Ladies Rolex Stainless Steel Datejust Date Watch W/white Mop Diamond & Bezel

Recent News: Rolex Wristwatches

Source: Google News

Calder Sterling Bracelet Leads Schwenke Auctioneers April 26th Auction
ArtfixDaily, April 20th

Also being sold is a vintage Rolex stainless steel oyster perpetual date "Explorer II" men's watch, circa 2005, with white dial, band marked 78360. Fine silver is also being sold, including a large Durgin sterling silver flatware service for twelve in...Read more

How Djokovic Beat Nadal In Monte-Carlo SFs
ATP World Tour, April 18th

Despite the concentration lapse, on break point, Nadal was at his vintage best. He clawed his way out on two occasions, when the point appeared lost. Nadal saved another break point, on the 17th point of the game, with an ace. Two successive forehand ...Read more

The Essential Vintage Rolex Market Guide
Forbes, April 17th

Rolex is perhaps the most well-known name in the luxury watch world, an esteemed manufacturer famous for turning out iconic timepieces. Despite the acclaim, the vintage Rolex market is not always easy to traverse. One way to get a hold on things is by ...Read more

What the Stylish Team Behind Beautycounter Wears to Work
Racked, April 16th

Gregg Renfrew, founder and CEO, is wearing a Jenni Kayne top, Marni leather jacket, Citizens of Humanity jeans, Chloé heels, a Lela Rose necklace, bracelets by Jennifer Meyer and Lizzie Disney, and a vintage Rolex. What was your first major beauty ...Read more

Eric Clapton's Rare Rolex Cosmograph Daytona 6263 Oyster Albino Goes Up ...
Forbes, April 16th

If you know anything about vintage Rolex, then you probably also know that the most sought-after examples – the ones that make collector hearts beat as fast as they can go – are those that have something unusual about them, something that not every...Read more

Watch Spotlight: An Ultra-Rare Rolex 'Blueberry' GMT Master To Be Auctioned ...
Forbes, April 5th

Of every serious watch collector I have come to know, not one hasn't owned a Rolex 1675 GMT Master. To many vintage watch enthusiasts, this historical, dual-timezone pilot's wristwatch is either their first watch, their first great watch, or their...Read more

Deconstructed: Rolex Sea-Dweller,
Christie's, March 31st

These pieces were never available to the public and today are some of the most sought-after vintage Rolexes, particularly if they have solid provenance. Many COMEX divers were extremely proud of their Rolexes and kept everything the watch came with, ...Read more

Monday Morning Find: 23 Incredible Rolex Watches
Bloomberg, March 30th

There are 23 watches in Christie's sale, though not all of them are truly vintage (not a bad thing, though they're less interesting and more common). It didn't take very long to browse through and find a few favorites. On the bread-and-butter end of...Read more