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 DomedRolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner Ref 5513 Mens S/steel 40mm Sold For Parts Wow!Tudor Rolex Submariner 7016 Lollipop Mens Project WatchRolex Diamond Datejust Stainless 18k Gold Ladies Watch 74.3 Grams NrGenuine 6569 Rolex Oyster Perpetual Vintage 1959 Mens Stainless Steel WatchVintage Authentic Rolex Tudor Prince Jubilee Linen Dial Men's WristwatchRolex Datejust 1601 Two Tone 18k/steel Leather Swiss Automatic Dress Men's WatchMen's Rolex Daytona Stainless Steel & 18k Gold Watch Black Dial Ref 116523 #4025Rolex Mens 18k Solid Yellow Gold 36mm Vintage Datejust 1601 No Holes 109.7g Wow18k Gold Ss Genuine Rolex Datejust Mens Beautifully Running Watch See PicsRare 1965 14k Gold Rolex Ref 1011 Mens Bombe Bombay Lugs Arrowhead MarkersMens Vintage Tudor Prince (by Rolex) 9ct Gold Oysterdate Wristwatch - HallmarkedVintage Rolex Viceroy Art-deco Manual Wind WatchMens Rolex 18k Yellow Gold/stainless Steel Submariner Date Watch Blue Sub 166131991 Rolex 17000 Datejust Oysterquartz Stainless Steel, One Owner Box & PapersVintage Rolex 14k Yellow Gold Textured Finish Ladies Watch 35.1 Grams NrGenuine Rolex Submariner No Hole 18k Yellow Gold Men 16618 Black Dial Watch BoxRare Rolex Tudor 90800 Jumbo Prince Osyterdate Stainless Steel Man's WatchMen's Rolex Submariner Date All Stainless 16610 Mint Condition Black Sub.Rolex Gmt Master 2 16710 Serial N At No Reserve Auction.... Steel Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner Watch 5513Men's Rolex Sea Dweller Steel No Hole 1220m Diver Watch Ref 16600 Z Serial #4014Men's Rolex Yacht Master Ii Stainless Steel Blue Ceramic Ref 116680 Unworn #4026Vintage Original Rolex 19mm 18k Gold Riveted Bracelet Daytona 6263 6265 6241Rolex Milgauss Green Crystal Pvd Coated Black Out 116400 Y SerialRolex Mens Presidential Datejust 1601 18k Solid Gold W/ Black Diamond Dial & BoxRolex "air King" Oyster Perpertual Mens Automatic Watch Stainless Graphite DialRare Rolex Submariner 1680 Red Era. Year 1972 Unpolished White DialRolex Mens Ss/18k Wg Stainless Datejust Quickset W/ Raised Silver Roman Dial16622 Platinum Ss Rolex Yacht Master W Original Box PapersMens Rolex Submariner Date 2tone 18k Yellow Gold/stainless Steel Watch Black SubMinty Genuine Ladies Rolex President 18k Gold Watch Box PapersRolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust 18k/stainless Watch White Diamond Dial 16233 Nr!Gent's Vintage 9ct Gold Rolex Precision Wrist WatchRolex Mens Ss/18k Wg Stainless Datejust Black Dial Quickset Serviced WatchRolex Datejust 16013 35mm 18k Gold/s.steel Bracelet Watch Qs Cal.3035 S/n 8.6milVintage Manual Winding Rolex Oyster Rare Wrist Watch BoxedVintage Tudor/rolex Oyster Prince WatchMens 18k Gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust President black Diamond Dial Tudor Oyster Price Little Rose Ref. 7995 Rare Vintage 1966 Automatic By Rolex1977 Rolex 1680 Submariner Tight Bracelet, Serviced By Abc, Matte, Silver Date!Vintage Authentic Rolex Oyster Perpetual Automatic Bubbleback Men's Wristwatch Rolex Submariner 16610 Date Stainless Steel Black 40mm Men's Watch No ReserveRolex Men's Gents 18k Yellow Gold Rolex Day Date #19018, Quartz Mint 138.3gramsRolex Datejust 16030 Stainless Steel Silver Stick Fluted JubileeMens Rolex Stainless Steel/18k White Gold Datejust Black W/jubilee Band 1601Genuine Rolex Ladies Datejust Oyster Gold Diamond Bezel & Face Watch ValentinesRolex Mens Ss Stainless Datejust Oyster Perpetual W/ Silver Textured DialMen's Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date 1500 Stainless Steel Blue Dial WatchLadies Rolex Datejust 18k/stainless Steel Automatic Quickset Watch 69173 No Res!Luxury Vintage Rolex Cellini 18k Solid Gold Swiss Made Ladies Watch Circa 198118kt Y.g. Rolex Daytona On Black Leather StrapRolex Daytona Mens Watch 116523 18k/ss Gold Steel Original Diamond DialMens Rolex Stainless Steel Datejust Watch Jubilee W/black Diamond Dial & BezelMens Rolex Stainless Steel Air-king Precision No-date Watch Oyster Silver 14000Rolex 7206 Oyster Rivet Bracelet 67 Submariner 5513 5512 1675 1016 5508 6538Rare Rolex Oyster Rivet Bracelet Usa Version Year 1968 5513 5512 1675 1016 1019Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date C1980 Automatic Chronometer Rare Gold Sigma DialVintage Rolex 6244 From 1953-4

Recent News: Rolex Wristwatches

Source: Google News

Vintage Eye for the Modern Guy, Part 25: Zodiac Sea Wolf
Watchtime.com, February 7th

Released in 1953, during the initial boom of the dive watch, the Sea Wolf (vintage version above) slowly but surely became the go-to piece for divers either unwilling or unable to pay the prices commanded by Rolex, Omega, and other luxury brands...Read more

Lessons of a Chinese Rolex
NWAOnline, February 7th

Among the items taken—one of the few things I cared about—was a Rolex watch of 1960s vintage that had belonged to my father. The watch had a great deal of sentimental value to me, and I wore it nearly every day for 20 years or so. But when the...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

How to Spend Up to $10000 on a Watch
Bloomberg, February 3rd

The sport watches get all the attention from vintage Rolex collectors, so these gold dress watches are still undervalued for the most part. Likewise, two legendary chronographs, the Omega Speedmaster Professional and the Heuer Carrera both get...Read more

ANTIQUES: Vintage wristwatches sale at Clevedon Salerooms - Rolex, Breitling ...
Western Daily Press, February 1st

Clevedon Salerooms have been selling fine quality watches for many years and when an empty Rolex box can command £100 at auction, it is time to start looking through the dressing table drawer to see just what un-worn and un-loved wristwatches are there ...Read more

Vintage Eye for the Modern Guy, Part 23: Rolex Submariner
Watchtime.com, 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

A Less Flashy Vintage Rolex You Can Wear With Anything
Bloomberg, January 13th

Unlike other vintage Rolex sport watches, the Explorer doesn't have a colored metal bezel that can fade and change over time, giving it a cleaner (if slightly less charming) look. At 36 millimeters, it's also smaller than something like the Submariner...Read more