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.
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Calder Sterling Bracelet Leads Schwenke Auctioneers April 26th AuctionArtfixDaily, April 20th
Also being sold is a vintage Rolex stainless steel oyster perpetual date "Explorer II" men's watch, circa 2005, with white dial, band marked 78360. Fine silver is also being sold, including a large Durgin sterling silver flatware service for twelve in...Read more
How Djokovic Beat Nadal In Monte-Carlo SFsATP World Tour, April 18th
Despite the concentration lapse, on break point, Nadal was at his vintage best. He clawed his way out on two occasions, when the point appeared lost. Nadal saved another break point, on the 17th point of the game, with an ace. Two successive forehand ...Read more
The Essential Vintage Rolex Market GuideForbes, 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
What the Stylish Team Behind Beautycounter Wears to WorkRacked, April 16th
Gregg Renfrew, founder and CEO, is wearing a Jenni Kayne top, Marni leather jacket, Citizens of Humanity jeans, Chloé heels, a Lela Rose necklace, bracelets by Jennifer Meyer and Lizzie Disney, and a vintage Rolex. What was your first major beauty ...Read more
Eric Clapton's Rare Rolex Cosmograph Daytona 6263 Oyster Albino Goes Up ...Forbes, April 16th
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
Watch Spotlight: An Ultra-Rare Rolex 'Blueberry' GMT Master To Be Auctioned ...Forbes, April 5th
Of every serious watch collector I have come to know, not one hasn't owned a Rolex 1675 GMT Master. To many vintage watch enthusiasts, this historical, dual-timezone pilot's wristwatch is either their first watch, their first great watch, or their...Read more
Deconstructed: Rolex Sea-Dweller,Christie's, March 31st
These pieces were never available to the public and today are some of the most sought-after vintage Rolexes, particularly if they have solid provenance. Many COMEX divers were extremely proud of their Rolexes and kept everything the watch came with, ...Read more
Monday Morning Find: 23 Incredible Rolex WatchesBloomberg, March 30th
There are 23 watches in Christie's sale, though not all of them are truly vintage (not a bad thing, though they're less interesting and more common). It didn't take very long to browse through and find a few favorites. On the bread-and-butter end of...Read more