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 Oysterdate Prince Ref 7928Rolex Tudor 79180 Complete Wrist Watch, Stainless Steel Vintage Rolex Gmt Master Stainless Steel Ref #1675 Year 1968 All Original Vintage Rolex Tudor Mans Watch No Reserve1945 Vintage Stainless Steel Rolex Bubbleback Oyster Perpetual Chronometer2011 Rolex Submariner Ref# 116610 Green, No ReserveMint Rolex Datejust 16233 Two-tone 18k Gold Stainless Jubilee Mens WatchRare Vintage Rolex Precision 6694 Manual Wind Date Stainless Men's Watch 1999 Rolex Daytona Zenith Stainless White Dial A- SerialRolex Vintage Oyster Date Manual Wind 1958 Model # 6694 Needs To Be ServicedMens Rolex Datejust With Diamond BezelRolex Submariner 16618 Solid 18k Yellow Gold Blue Dial Date Automatic Mens Watch1941 Men's Rolex Oyster Perpetual 1002 Watch Automatic Chronometer 26jWw1 Rolex Officer's Trench Watch. Silver 1914.Rare Vintage British Rolex 9k Gold Watch From 1949Men Rolex Solid 18k Yellow Gold Day-date President Wood W/dark Green Strap 18038Rolex Oyster Perpetual Gmt Master Retro Ref 16713 Steel And 18k Gold Oyster BandRolex Stainless Steel & 18k Gold Womens Automatic Datejust Watch 69173 "s" 1993Rare Rolex Tudor Oyster Ref. 7903 Calibre 1182 Watch Shock Res. Honeycomb DialRolex Datejust 18k Black Roman Dial Sapphire 36mm Mens 16013 Two Tone Quickset Authentic Rolex Cellini Ref.4309 18k White Gold Case Manual Mens Wrist WatchWatch Joblot Rolex OmegaRolex Submariner Perpetual Date Oyster - 16610 - L Serial -ex Condition- No ResVintage Rolex Gents WatchRolex Mens Datejust Oyster Quartz 17013 Steel / 18k Gold Mens Rolex 16013 Datejust Two Tone Stainless And GoldRare 1972 Rolex 1503 Oyster Perpetual Date Solid 14k Yellow Gold Man's WatchMens Rolex Two-tone 14k Yellow Gold & Stainless Steel Datejust W/champagne DialRare 1987 Rolex 16613 Submariner 18k/ss Purple Color Change Blue Dial, Mint!Rolex Stainless Steel Datejust W/ White & Black Roman Dial & Jubilee Band 1603Mens Rolex Stainless Steel Datejust Oyster W/black Diamond Dial & Diamond BezelRolex 1989 Oyster Perpetual 67193 Ss/18k Automatic Diamond Dial Ladies WatchMens Rolex Stainless Steel Date Watch Ss Oyster W/ Silver Diamond Dial 1501Rolex Submariner 14060 Stainless Steel Oyster Perpetual Black Bezel No Reserve!!Vintage Men's Rolex Oysterdate Precision Blue Dial Stainless Steel 34mm WatchMen's Rolex Datejust Oyster Perpetual 18k White Gold/ss Blue Diamond WatchRolex Ladies Datejust Oyster Perpetual 18k Yellow Gold/ss Ice Blue Diamond WatchLadies Rolex Pink Diamond Datejust Oyster Perpetual 18k White Gold/ss WatchRare 9ct Gold Cased Tudor Rolex Mens Watch C1940sMens Rolex Stainless Steel Gmt-master Ii Date Watch Black Red Coke Bezel 16710Rare Vintage Rolex 6090 Bombay Fancy Lugs 14k Yellow Gold 1950s No Reserve!Rare Vintage Rolex Oyster Watch With Unusual Bb Case And Sector Dial. Military?Men's Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Yellow Gold 116528 Black IndexRolex 16613 Submariner Watch 18k Gold Stainless Steel With Dial & BezelRare 1968 Rolex 1803 President Day/date Solid 18k Yellow Gold Man's Watch, Nr!Rolex Explorer 2 Ii Oyster Stainless Steel White Dial 16570 Certificate Nice36 Mm Mens Rolex Datejust 18k S/s Watch 2.4 Ct Diamond Bezel DialRolex 6719 Oyster Perpetual 18k Gold Stainless Steel Ladies Watch NrMens Two-tone 18k Yellow Gold/stainless Steel Rolex Datejust Date Watch1980s Rolex Ladies Datejust Watch, Ss & 18k, Ref. 69173, Jubilee Band, Runs WellRolex Sea Dweller 2001 K Series Stainless Steel Nice ConditionVintage Rolex Date 18k Ss Ladies Quickset 69173 Wristwatch Great Preownwed Cond.Mens Rolex Datejust 18k Gold Bezel & St.steel Automatic Blue Dial Ref.1601Men Rolex Stainless Steel Air-king No-date Watch Oyster Silver Diamond Dial 55001960ca Rolex Precision 9659 Cal 120 18k Solid Gold Case Serpico Y Laino StunningGenuine Vintage Rolex Steel Precision Oyster Date Model 6694 "red Stella Dial" Rolex Tudor Tiger Daytona Chrono Chronograph 40mm- Excellent ConditionWomens Rolex Datejust Oyster Perpetual 18k Gold *** Diamonds Everywhere ***Lovely Vintage 18k Rolex Women’s Presidential Datejust Watch 18k BraceletGents Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust Stainless Model 16000 Cal 3035 Serviced

Recent News: Rolex Wristwatches

Source: Google News

Vintage Eye for the Modern Guy, Part 8: Zenith El Primero, October 4th

Its movement has not only distinguished (and named) Zenith's most famous series, but also powered the Rolex Daytona for a number of years and now even crops up in some of its former competitor, TAG Heuer's pieces (including a variation of the Monaco ...Read more

EBay scammer gets 50 months, September 30th

BMWs were sold but never shipped. A vintage 1971 Rolex Submariner watch turned out to be fake. The Montgomery County man behind a string of eBay scams pleaded guilty Wednesday to creating a series of deceptive auctions that pitched luxury cars and ...Read more

Investing in Watches: Is It Worth the Risk?
International New York Times, September 29th

“Now if you want a blue-chip brand and you want vintage, you are going to pay for it.” A 1,500 percent return on investment — like Christie's achieved with the 1949 Rolex — is certainly not the norm and usually applies to rare historic models from a...Read more

This Vintage Rolex With Anti-Magnetic Powers Was Made for Atomic Scientists
Bloomberg, September 14th

The first Milgauss was introduced in 1956 and was a very different watch from the one you see here. It had a lightening bolt-shaped hand, a textured black dial, and a big black bezel marked with numbers one through six around the edges. It might just...Read more

Vintage Eye for the Modern Guy, Part 5: Rolex Day-Date, September 13th

For this fifth edition of Vintage Eye for the Modern Guy (you can check out part 4 here), we're diving deep into what is, undoubtedly, one of the most iconic wristwatches of all time. This single model in the Rolex repertoire has in its 60 years become...Read more

Here's a Big Gold Rolex for the Gold Watch Skeptic
Bloomberg, August 31st

I'm not normally a big gold Rolex kind of guy. But this watch? This watch is just straight up incredible. Hopefully at this point in the summer you've been able to spend a little time outside the confines of the office and maybe you've got a bit of a...Read more

Restored Vintage Rolexes Are More Common Than You Think
Forbes, June 7th

It's disheartening, but true. Some high-end watch dealers, specifically Rolex dealers, have utilized laser-welding technology in order to bring their beat-up sports watches back to factory-fresh condition. This begs the question, how many of today's...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