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.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
National Watch and Clock Museum
Clubs & Associations
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Rolex Wristwatches
Source: Google News
2014 Las Vegas: Ganassi NASCAR Sprint Cup Race PreviewPaddockTalk, March 5th
The white firesuit, complete with a vintage racing stripe running from top to bottom, is one of three new suits for this season that the No. 42 Target team will be wearing. Lucky Number Seven: LVMS is one of only seven tracks to have hosted their...Read more
Vintage and Modern Wristwatches. Rolex, Omega, Cartier, Bulgari, Franck ...Yareah Magazine, March 5th
Vintage and Modern Wristwatches for The Distinguished Gentleman. The auction will be held at their Donnington Priory Saleroom in Newbury, Berkshire, with public viewing in the Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions London saleroom in the heart of Mayfair, ...Read more
Vintage and Modern Wristwatches For The Distinguished GentlemanNews-Antique.com (press release), March 5th
A section of 19 Rolex watches includes the opportunity to own a very rare Rolex Chronograph wristwatch, circa 1940. Reference 2508, the 17 jewel Rolex chronograph valjoux movement makes this an extremely valuable and sought after example, estimated ...Read more
Standing the test of timeWA today, March 2nd
According to Gregor, the secret to buying vintage watches is to look for quality, often Swiss-made, and watches that have been discontinued. The Rolex Sea Dweller, popular in the past few decades, was taken off the market a couple of years ago. Then...Read more
Zac Efron - Oscars 2014 Red CarpetJust Jared, March 2nd
Make sure to watch the 2014 Oscars, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, RIGHT NOW at 8:30/7:30c on ABC! FYI: Zac is wearing a Calvin Klein tuxedo, shirt, and tie, Johnston & Murphy shoes, and a 1967 rose gold vintage Rolex from Wanna Buy a Watch?. Like Just ...Read more
Auction collection includes rare 1940 RolexWatchPro.com, February 21st
Auctioneers Dreweatts & Bloomsbury have announced a collection of 60 vintage and modern wristwatches that will be auctioned at the company's Newbury auction house in Berkshire next month. The Fine Watches, Pens & Luxury Accessories collection will ...Read more
U.S. Antique Shows Presents Elite Global Brands at the LA Antique Jewelry ...PR Web (press release), February 20th
Named the highest attended launch in U.S. Antique Shows' history, this year's LA Antique Jewelry & Watch Show will bring even more one-of-a-kind treasures to the City of Angels. Famous global brands, such as Cartier, Rolex, Tiffany & Co., Bulgari...Read more
2013 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion - Time MachinesVette Magazine, February 6th
This display drew a constant stream of spectators all weekend long, as did the surrounding race cars from the past. Chevrolet pulled out all the stops, emptying the Heritage Center of every vintage Vette it could lay its hands on. 1402 The World S Best...Read more