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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Recent News: Rolex Wristwatches
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Thai intelligence chief jailed on corruption charges owned Rolex watches and ...The Independent, March 5th
At a military base outside Bangkok, soldiers stand guard over Buddha statues, showcases of Rolex watches and some very expensive French wine – a $4,000 (£2,625) bottle of Petrus and choice vintages of Dom Perignon. It all belonged to a man who led ...Read more
Home raider jailed for £80k safe theftNews North Wales, March 4th
One was a Breitling watch valued in excess of £40,000 and another was a vintage Rolex watch which had belonged to his wife's late father. About £30,000 worth of the stolen property had not been covered by insurance. Lesley Stokes Boreham told in a...Read more
Deconstructed: Tudor Day-Date, Ref. 7017, circa 1969Christie's, March 3rd
Among the classic 1960s Tudors, this 1969 reference 7017 drew obvious inspiration from its vintage Rolex counterpart. On the surface, it's almost identical to the Rolex Day-Date reference 1802 released in 1958. Side by side, however, the Tudor is...Read more
Here's a look at the huge Apple Watch spread in The Sunday TimesBusiness Insider, March 2nd
In the Style special she says she already has an "iPhone 6 and a vintage Rolex, but I want an Apple Watch like a four-year-old wants to eat cake at a birthday party." Croft remarks that she's keen on the 18ct gold version, estimated to be priced at £4...Read more
Ask a Specialist: Value vs. ConditionChristie's, February 27th
And it also shows use, which gives a watch a story. It hasn't just been sitting on the shelf. That's particularly appealing with vintage Rolex sport watches which could have been used anywhere from a racetrack to a mountaintop to a deep sea military...Read more
Antiquorum to auction rare vintage Rolexes in GenevaClassic Driver, February 25th
In mid-March, the eyes of all serious watch collectors will be on Antiquorum's Geneva sale, as the American auction house will offer many rare timepieces from the likes of Rolex, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe. We bring you the most desirable ...Read more
Five reasons Rolex Guys love RolexChristie's, February 12th
Rolex really is considered the original 'tool watch.' Vintage Rolex collectors love the romantic notion that so many of the classic models were created for specific, functional purposes — and often very adventurous ones — not simply as jewellery or...Read more
Ryan Seacrest Rocked a Vintage Rolex Daytona at the Golden GlobesBloomberg, January 12th
Award shows are prime time for product placement. The ubiquitous question "Who are you wearing?" is an invitation to buzz market everything from gowns to gems to tuxes, with each celeb strolling down the red carpet like a walking billboard. That's why...Read more