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    

Rolex Tudor Oyster Prince Ss With Pointed Crown Guard/chapter Ring Ref: 7928Very Rare 1975 Rolex Submariner Ref. 5513 With Pre-comex / Mil Sub Coronet DialVintage Gents Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer Watch Ref1016 C1950sGenuine 5512 Pointed Crown Guard Rolex Submariner 1961Rolex Submariner Autodate Ref 16610 Used Mint Condition 100% Authentic One OwnerRolex Vintage 5513 From 1967Ladies Rolex Datejust Oyster Perpetual 18k White Gold/ss M.o.p. Diamond WatchVintage Men's Rolex 1501 Datejust Cal 1570 Automatic Black Dial Watch Swiss MadeMens Beautiful 1920's Rolex Switzerland Vintage Skeleton Watch Quality EngravedRolex Gmt Master 16753 Ss/18k Gold Automatic Men's Watch W/ Date/plastic CrystalVintage Rolex Tudor Oyster Royal S/s Mans Watch Boxed No ReserveRolex Sea-dweller Deep Sea 116660 44mm Automatic Dive Watch G Series UnwornRare Rolex Tudor 1970s-80s Chronograph "big Block" Steel Watch Case Ref.94300Tudor Rolex Vintage 1962 Submariner 7928 Pcg W/ Tropical Brown Chapter Ring Dial*rare Vintage Mens Rolex Oyster Perpetual Big Bubble Back "6107" Watch C1953*Men's Rolex 1601 Datejust Automatic 18k Gold Bezel Blue Dial Watch Swiss MadeAntique Chrome Plated Rolex Mens Watch 1940 Rolex Case Separate Second Hand MintRare Gents Vintage 1950s Larger Size Rolex Oyster Perpetual BubblebackVintage 1975 Rolex Submariner Date Ref.1680 With Yellowish Tritium Dial DiversRolex Oysterdate Precision Manual Winding Mens Watch 6494, Caliber 1215Rolex Gmt Master Ii 16710 Black Face 2004Men's Vintage Rolex Submariner Steel Automatic Date 300m Diver Ref 16800 #3295Rare Rolex 1970 Gmt-master Oyster Steel Mens Wristwatch Case Ref.1675 Case Only Rolex Submariner Vintage 1992-1993 Rolex Tudor Prince Submariner 79090 Watch Great ConditionVintage Men's Rolex 6694 Oysterdate Precision Manual Black Dial Watch Swiss MadeLadies Rolex 67198 Oyster Perpetual 18k Gold Champagne Dial Fluted Bezel Watch Rolex Tudor 1940s Oyster Manual Steel Mens Wristwatch With Rare Winding CrownRare Rolex Watch Movement - Prince Model .Vintage Rolex Men’s Submariner Date Stainless Steel 1680Mens Rolex Datejust Oyster Perpetual 18k White Gold/ss Diamond WatchLadies Rare Vintage Rolex Precision Diamond 18k Gold & Stainless #a2345Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust 18k/ss Mens Watch 1601, Caliber 1570 -circa 1967Rolex Speedking Speed King 1940's, Super Balance MovementRolex Gold Oyster Perpetual Date Men's Chronometer 1550 Genuine Rolex Oysterdate Automatic Men's WatchVintage Men's Rolex 1603 Datejust Automatic Black Dial Watch Swiss MadeVintage Rolex 20mm 93150/580 Oyster Bracelet 5512 5513 1680 1665 1675 1655 1016Authentic Rolex Submariner Dial Fits 5513 ModelRolex Submariner 16610 V Series 2010 ( Box And Papers)Rolex 18k Submariner Yellow Gold-blue-116618- Low Reserve Estate SaleGenuine Ladies Rolex Datejust Diamond Dial Diamond Bezel Q.s. 69173 WatchVintage 34mm Mens Rolex 6426 Oyster Precision White Dial WatchAuthentic 1960s Ladies Rolex 6517 Oyster Perpetual Date 14k Gold Steel AutomaticAntique 9ct Solid Gold Rolex Mens Watch 1931 2 Marks Rolex CaseLadies Rolex Datejust Two Tone 18k Yellow Gold/ss Ice Blue Diamond WatchLady Rolex Stainless Steel Datejust Date Watch White Mop Diamond Oyster BraceletLadies Rolex 2tone 14k Gold/stainless Steel Datejust Date W/white Mop DiamondMens Rolex Stainless Steel Datejust Quickset Date Watch Black Diamond Dial 16220Vintage Mens 34mm Rolex Oyster Date Precision 6694 Gray Dial Watch1953 Gents 9k Gold Rolex Tudor In Excellent Condition.Superb Nr Nos Mens Gold Ss Rolex Tudor Oyster Prince Date W/watch Fluted BezelMen's Vintage Rolex Day Date President Solid 18kt Gold~ Model #1803Rolex Jubilee 6251h Bracelet Band Gmt Explorer 1675 1016 5513 1601 1971 1qVintage 1940's Rolex Tudor 17 Rubis All Steel Swiss Made Mens Watch Serviced !!Rolex Daytona Ref.116519 18k White Gold Y Series Box & Papers 3 Extra Oem StrapsMen's Rolex Submariner Stainless Steel 200m Diver Automatic Watch Ref 5513 #3296Original Men's Rolex Datejust 16013 Mop Diamond Dial 14k Gold/ss Automatic1970s Rolex Oyster Perpetual 2-tone Gold Steel All Original Signed Ladies WatchLadies Rare Vintage Rolex Precision Diamond 18k Gold & Stainless #a2348

Recent News: Rolex Wristwatches

Source: Google News

Rolex Middle Sea Race: Escaping the Shroud of Mount Etna
BYM News (press release), October 20th

After yesterday's farewell in Grand Harbour, the 122 participating yachts in the Rolex Middle Sea Race have enjoyed a beam reach for the first day of the race, as they raced north east, leaving Malta in their wake, heading for the south east corner of...Read more

For Luxury Watch Buyers, One Just Isn't Enough
NDTV, October 19th

They are people like Bill Bartlett, who last Thursday brought six of his 36 watches, most of them made by Rolex; Victor Calanog, a nattily dressed economist who came wearing a vintage rose gold perpetual calendar watch from Patek Philippe whose ticket ...Read more

Kroplick's Chrysler wins at Americana
The Island Now, October 16th

Vintage cars are not really the specialties here, so to win in that kind of context is exciting.” The show's guests of honor were David Donohue, winner of the 2009 Rolex 24 at Daytona and a Porsche 918 client relationship manager, and automotive...Read more

How To Spot A Fake Luxury Watch
Business Insider, October 15th

Rolex Business Insider VideoEvery vintage watch has a history. Speaking of the watch's history, if your seller doesn't know the vintage watch's provenance (history of ownership), that's a bad sign. “Check into the history of the watch's ownership...Read more

2015 Audi A3
Autoblog (blog), October 15th

Splashing out on a true luxury timepiece from Rolex, Bell & Ross or Breitling serves as a sort of human plumage display to connote, "I have thousands of dollars – at least – of disposable income. ... That said, just as that vintage Omega Seamaster says...Read more

LA watchmaker Cameron Weiss thinks his time has come
Los Angeles Times, October 14th

The San Diego native has entered a business that clings to conventions upheld by old-school firms like Rolex and Patek Philippe, whose hand-assembled timepieces are coveted for their intricacy and beauty. And now this upstart says he's trying to...Read more

From eBay Seller to $20 Million Revenue Business
Huffington Post, October 13th

OJ adds, "In fact, Panerai is the only company that's ever been able to buy watches from Rolex, put their name on those watches, sell those watches with Rolex dials or Panerai dials. When Rolex collectors had finally owned every vintage Rolex watch...Read more

Shanghai Masters: Federer Turns Back Clock In Breath-Taking Win Over Djokovic, October 11th

1 who summed up best what we saw unfold during semi-final number two at the Shanghai Rolex Masters on Saturday evening. “He played a perfect match,” Djokovic said. “Tonight is definitely one of the best matches he has played against me, that's for sure...Read more