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    

Original & Rare Rolex 6234 Chronograph Wrist Watch W/ Original Rare 2 Tone DialRolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner No Date Black Stainless Steel 14060m Au30Men's Vintage Rolex Quickset 18k & Ss Oyster Perpetual 1982 Automatic #x7110Original Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Stainless Steel Ref.1500 34mm WatchGenuine Rolex Explorer Ii 2 16570 With Custom Black "dlc/pvd" CoatingRolex Datejust Stainless Steel Watch Black Dial 16030Mens Rolex Stainless Steel Gmt-master Ii Date Oyster Bracelet Black Watch 16710Womens Rolex Datejust 18k Solid Gold *** Diamond *** !!!Mens Rolex Day-date President 18k White Gold Silver Diamond Bezel WatchRolex Ladies Datejust 69174 Steel - White Gold Bezel - 26mm - BoxedRolex Cellini Gold Dial 18k Solid Gold Case Manual Mechanical Cal.1601Original Rolex Air-king Stainless Steel Ref.5500 Silver Dial 34mm AutomaticRolex Ladies Datejust Plastic 18ct Yellow Gold, Diamond Dial And Bezel- AftesetRolex Oyster Perpetual 1002 Elegant 1968 Automatic Men's Watch W/ Silver DialMen Rolex Solid 18kt 18k Yellow Gold Day-date President Florentine Diamond 18038Rolex Submariner Stainless Steel G Serial 2012 14060Rare Men’s Vintage Rolex Oysterdate Perpetual 6518 Precision 1960s Brevet W BoxMens Rolex Solid 18k Yellow Gold Datejust W/blue Dial & Brown Crocodile BandVintage Rolex 18k Solid Gold President Ref 6917 Oyster Perpetual AutomaticRare 1930's Rolex Prince Jumping Hour Chronometre 18kt Yellow Gold Men's Watch1986 S/s & 18k Gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust Chronometer Watch 69173 RunsRolex Stainless Steel Gmt Master Pepsi Bezel Ref 16750 Circa 1984 No ReserveRolex Men's Watch Gmt Masters Ll S/steel Black Ceramic-16710-polished - Stunning! Rolex Datejust 18k Wg Graphite Grey Diamond Dial Auto 36mm Mens 1601Rolex Vintage Watch Date 18k Gold Reference 1501 Collectable ServicedRolex Ladies Datejust 69174- Steel, White Gold Bezel- Salmon Dial- 26mm - BoxedCrisp No Stretch Scarce Rolex President Oysterquartz 19018 Watch 18k GoldRolex Thunderbird 16263, 18k/ss, Rhodium Dial, L Serial.Rolex Cellini Cellisima 6621 18k Gold Elegant Quartz Ladies Watch E-serial #Genuine 18k Gold Ss Quickset Rolex Datejust Factory Diamond Dial 16013 Watch1984 Fully Serviced Rolex 16013 Datejust Quick Set 36mm 3035 Movement.Antique Silver Rolex Screw Back Trench WatchVintage Ladies Genuine Rolex 14k Yellow Gold Mesh Bracelet CocktailRare Vintage Rolex Submariner 5508 Year 1958 James Bond No Date " Project Watch"Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust Men's Auto Ss Black Dial Diamonds Watch2005 D Serial Gents Steel Rolex Explorer Ref.114270 In Excellent Condition.Original Rolex Oyster Precision Ref.6427 Silver Dial 34mm Manual WatchEstate ~ Rolex President Datejust Ladies 18k Gold Diamond Dial & Diamond BezelOriginal Rolex Datejust Stainless Steel Ref.1603 Black Dial 36mm Automatic Watch1965 Vintage Rolex Day-date Ref 1807 Bark Finished Non Quick Set President 1556Rolex 6516 Cal 1161 Oyster Date Steel Ladies Non Working Watch 7204 66 1960'sMens Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust Needs Work 18k1991 Rolex Datejust Gents Wrist Watch Ref #16233 Box & Papers 18k Gold WorkingMens Rolex Datejust Oyster Perpetual 18k White Gold/ss Silver Diamond WatchTudor Prince Oyster Date Ss/14kt Big Rose Model 7986 By RolexRolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust Diamond Stainless Steel Ladies Watch 54.1 GramnrRolex Ladies Vintage Watch Datejust Reference 6917 Mop Dial ServicedRolex Mens Gmt Master Oyster Perpetual Ss/18k Gold Diamond/sapphire/ruby PepsiVintage Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air King 5500 Wrist Watch For Repair Or Parts NrMen's Rolex Gmt-master Ii | With Date | Stainless Steel | Black Dial & BezelMen's Rolex Gmt Master "pepsi" 1675 Analog, Quartz: Kinetic, Stainless Steel Rolex Mens Datejust Oyster Perpetual 18k White Gold/ss Gray Dial Diamond WatchVintage 18k Solid Yellow Gold Rolex Cellini Hand Winding Ref 4112.. 82 GramsRolex Men Submariner Oyster Perpetual 16610 Stainless Steel Blue Diamond WatchMen's Rare Rolex Oyster Perpetual 18k & Ss 1974 Automatic #x7103Vintage Rolex 18k Solid Gold President Ref 6917 Oyster Perpetual AutomaticRare Vintage Rolex Bubbleback V18 Tibette Art Deco Mens Watch Works Auto RotatorMens Rolex Stainless Steel Date Watch W/black Dial & Oyster Band Bracelet 1500100% Authentic Men's Rolex Datejust Blue Index Dial Ss Watch 36mm Ref #16200 Serviced Rolex Oyster Perpetual Ref 1002 Automatic Mens Wristwatch

Recent News: Rolex Wristwatches

Source: Google News

Q&A: Adam Carolla on His New Paul Newman Racing Documentary
Indianapolis Monthly, May 22nd

Ahead of the Indianapolis screening, IM interviewed Carolla about the film, his restoration of Paul Newman's cars, vintage racing, and the lasting impact of Newman as an actor, a sports-car race driver, and an IndyCar team owner. Why should we trust...Read more

Steel Patek Philippe And Eric Clapton's Rolex Daytona 6263 Oyster Albino ...
Forbes, May 11th

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

How to Make a Glamorous Entrance at Cannes ... in a Vintage Yacht
Hollywood Reporter, May 10th

One way to make a glamorous entrance at Cannes is aboard a restored classic yacht — like a vintage Rolex, it's just as impressive (and pricey) as a newly built model but makes a less flashy statement. Efforts to preserve these historic vessels have...Read more

Rolex Worn During WWII 'Great Escape' Could Fetch Nearly $40000 in Auction (blog), May 6th

Calling all vintage Rolex collectors: A piece worn by a British prisoner of war during the famous Great Escape is now up for grabs. That's according to the Mirror, which reports Flight Lieutenant Gerald Imeson ordered the Rolex Oyster Chronograph in ...Read more

Art on the Wrist: Rolex, the Watch of Adventurers

Notwithstanding the youth of the watch collector's market, which started about 25 years ago, Rolex watches have consistently been fetching higher prices at auctions, according to auction house specialists. Vintage Rolex models from the 1950s and 1960s...Read more

John Mayer's Wrist Is a Wonderland
New York Times, April 30th

In one Hodinkee post, he assembled a handy guide to the five best vintage Rolex watches under $8,000. In another, he chronicled his unlikely purchase of a women's Chanel Mademoiselle Privé. A widely circulated entry was his impassioned open letter to ...Read more

How to restore a vintage watch, April 30th

That's not to say that a replacement has vastly detrimental impact on the value, but for example if a vintage Rolex Submariner with original dial and original hands had a newer replacement bezel insert [the coloured part that fades], the watch would...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