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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Watch terrifying moment brazen armed robbers raid jewellers before speeding ...Irish Mirror, July 3rd
It stocks a range of new and vintage jewellery including diamond rings and second-hand watches from top brands such as Rolex. Another eyewitness said: "I heard a big bang behind me and I turned around to see them skid up to the window. They smashed it ...Read more
Danish Delights - A day exploring the incredible Frederiksen CollectionClassic Driver, July 2nd
We grab a few minutes with Frederiksen's long-serving resident mechanic, who sports a wristful of tattoos, wears a nice vintage Rolex, and has a rather dry sense of humour. “Will I miss the cars? No, not at all – the day they are sold, I can finally...Read more
Monday Morning Find: This Brash Patek Philippe Has a Strange Secret InsideBloomberg, June 29th
The Beta 21 was Switzerland's answer to the quartz movements coming out of Japan, and it was developed by the Centre Electronique Horloger (Electronic Watch Center), a coalition of many brands including Patek, Rolex, and Piaget. The movement was ...Read more
It's All in the Cards: a Lifelong Obsession Garners Rare HonorWall Street Journal, June 26th
Then, with a tug on the sleeve of his monogrammed French-cuff shirt and a twirl of a gold Rolex, he opens a deck of cards and begins his sleight-of-hand show that merges the history of magic with the charm of old-school theater. With a shy smile, his...Read more
Monday Morning Find: A Tudor Submariner That Could Win a Rolex FightBloomberg, June 22nd
That's even more true with vintage Tudor and Rolex watches. The dial on this 1963 Sub is incredible. It has a soft patina throughout, showing the age, and the luminous markers have faded to a creamy color that has a soft yellow tinge. What makes this...Read more
Nas Talks His Love of Rolex, Diamonds, and the Apple WatchGQ Magazine, June 17th
I was just given a nice watch from my friend Steve Stoute—I don't have to borrow watches from him like I did in the 90's—he gave me a vintage Rolex for my last birthday with my kid's initials on the back of it. The band is animal skin and it's really...Read more
Vintage Watch Prices Keep on TickingThinkAdvisor, June 13th
Although prices are generally higher than in the past, the vintage market is experiencing the same “flight to quality” seen with other collectibles, says James Dowling, co-author of “The Best of Time Rolex Wristwatches: An Unauthorized History” and ...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