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. B...
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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WSJ. Magazine June 2013 Editor's Letter: Tried and TrueWall Street Journal, May 20th
In New York City, designer (and chef and craftsman) Alejandro Alcocer's take on collectibles is as risky as it has been successful: A search for a rare black Rolex turned into a passion project of procuring 350 vintage Rolexes and dyeing them matte black...Read more
Treat yourself to some high-end luxuriesStarNewsOnline.com, May 20th
Whether at the helm or relaxing at the club, Rolex's Yacht-Master II from Reeds Jewelers, with twoe locations in Wilmington (926 Inspiration Drive and 3500 Oleander Drive) is the ultimate in sportsman sophistication. This 44mm reference features an...Read more
Alejandro Alcocer Turns Passion Into DesignWall Street Journal, May 20th
Why make just one? Why not create a limited-edition of all-black Rolexes and sell them? So he procured 350 vintage Rolexes—seven different models all made before 1990—and had them dismantled by a watchmaker he knew in Geneva. Then, he had all...Read more
Pre-loved haute couture for the money savvy divaMalay Mail, May 20th
But with the rise of trendy “vintage” and in the wake of economic downturns the world over, thrifty became the new “black”. Enter a A second hand women's Rolex originally retailing at RM35,000++ can be bought for a steal of RM20,000 in mint condition...Read more
WNY Auto Racing: Two authors bring Watkins Glen history to lifeBuffalo News, May 19th
brand new chapter about how many of the cars that raced in those amazing five years, the street years at Watkins Glen as we call them before the permanent Glen track was built, are now worth millions of dollars and have a high interest today among...Read more
Best-in-world car show comes to cottage countryNational Post, May 18th
The local strip mall (complete with a Woolco and Kmart) would fill with vintage cars for an old-fashioned auto show. Many of the vehicles on display were refurbished by the car's owners; some were even rescued from junkyards. Sitting in the driver's...Read more
Fine Italian WatchesBarron's, May 18th
"Many show serious signs of wear, which was due to these highly dangerous missions," says Bacs, who has sold only 15 vintage Panerai watches at auction throughout his career, compared with approximately 5,000 Rolexes and 5,000 by Patek Philippe from...Read more
Why the classic watch will never dieSydney Morning Herald, May 13th
"The Bond effect" caused a spike in sales of the Omega Seamaster. Brands like A. Lang & Sohne, Piaget, Harry Winston and Rolex all continue to excel and are showing no signs of slowing down, despite the potential added competition of the tech giants...Read more