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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Off-the-Field Style Tips From Victor CruzWall Street Journal, October 6th
“A gold Rolex was my first big purchase when I made it to the NFL. It's near to my heart. Growing up, I saw guys ... I like vintage ones from hole-in-the-wall places I find when I'm traveling in London, Paris or Los Angeles.” Brooch, $450, Camilla...Read more
Here's a closer look at why the Rolex Submariner is the ultimate luxury sport ...Business Insider, October 5th
The Rolex Submariner might be the most famous watch in the world. Known officially as the "Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner," it debuted in 1953 and has been continuously improved ever since. In the 1950s, you could get one for $150, but the watch now ...Read more
The One: Racing the Mid-engine BMW M1 Supercar at Mazda RacewayAutomobile, October 5th
MONTEREY, California -- Vintage? Yes. Historic? ... And on this happy day in Monterey, California, Willisch and I are among the 44 cars brawling on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca at this year's Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. I was cautioned that this ...Read more
EBay scammer gets 50 monthsPhilly.com, 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
This Vintage Rolex With Anti-Magnetic Powers Was Made for Atomic ScientistsBloomberg, 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-DateWatchtime.com, 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 SkepticBloomberg, 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
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