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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch and Clock Museum

This virtual museum, created by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, lets you stroll through tim… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Super Rare Swiss Vintage Rolex Tudor Oyster Full S.steel Wrist Watch Superb!1969 Rolex Submariner 1680Tudor Rolex Submariner Watch - Vintage 7016/0 1969 Automatic V Rare Stunning Vintage 1980s Complete Set Rolex Airking Date Ref. 5700 S/steelAuthentic Swiss Mens Rolex 1601 Oyster Perpetual Datejust Black Dial WatchVintage Early Rolex Manual Wind Oyster Date Movement Dial Hands Project Rolex Gmt-master Ii 116718 ( D Series Box And Papers)Stunning 18k White Gold Rolex Datejust Black 1601 Automatic 36mm Jubilee 1977Tudor Oysterdate Chrono Time Big Block 94300 Automatic Chronograph Rolex VintageMen's Rolex Gmt Master Ii 16713 Two Tone Steel & Gold Ss Oyster Black Dial WatchMen's Vintage Rolex Gmt MasterExcellent Vintage Rolex Explorer 5500 Precision 1002 No ReserveVintage Rolex Tudor Prince Oysterdate Automatic Men,s Watch In Excellent ConditiAuthentic Men's Rolex Stainless Grey Dial Cal. 1560 Oyster Datejust Circa 2005 Rolex Men 15203 18k Solid Gold Stainless Steel Automatic Date Watch 1997Rolex Mens Ss Explorer Ii Black "p" Serial 16570 9+/10! Mint!Ladies Rolex Datejust Two Tone 18k Yellow Gold/ss Salmon Diamond WatchVintage Rolex Red Submariner 1680 3.4m Serial Ca. 1971, Full Set Punched PapersRolex Vintage 14k Solid Gold Date 1503/7 Mens President Factory Diamond DialEstate $8000 Mens Rolex Black Dial Explorer 2 Ss Oyster Band Watch Nice!!!Rolex Submariner Automatic 31j Stainless Steel Black Dial Men's Watch #16610Vintage 1967 Solid Gold Rolex Cal 1200 Rare Case Ref 30000 Gents Wristwatch VgcVintage Rolex Submariner 5512, 5513, 1680, 1665 Faded Fat Font Bezel InsertRolex Submariner Sea-dweller Double Red 2000ft=610m Stainless Steel Ref. 1665Gent's Vintage Stainless Steel Rolex Oysterdate Wrist WatchGenuine 1016 Rolex Explorer Vintage 1570 Ss WatchMens Rolex 2tone 18k Yellow Gold/steel Datejust Date Watch W/black Diamond DialRolex Vintage Ss Bubbleback Honeycomb Dial Oyster Perpetual Chronometer, 6284Gent's Vintage 9ct Solid Gold Rolex Precision Wrist Watch Tudor By Rolex - Solid Gold 9ct (375) Ladies Watch - Superb - No Reserve!!Mens Rolex 2tone 14k Yellow Gold/steel Oyster Perpetual W/white Mop Diamond 6565Rolex 9ct Gold Precision 1215 Mechanical Manual Ald Dennison 12865 Vintage 1950sVintage Rolex Movement Calibre 1520 For Part Or Projects Men's Rolex President 1803 18kt Day Date Used Condition No Reserve!!Rolex Vintage 18k Rose Gold Honeycomb Dial Oyster Perpetual Bubbleback, 6084 Vintage 70's Men's Rolex Tudor California Dial Oyster Date Automatic Watch RunsRare Rolex Vintage 1981 Date Automatic Solid 14k Gold 35mm Watch 15037 BoxRolex President Day Date 18 K GoldVintage Rolex Tudor 14k Solid Gold Case, Awesome Condition, Classic, Rare.2007 Rolex Submariner Date 16610 Z Serial Stainless Steel 40mm No Holes CaseMens Rolex 18k Rose Gold Day-date President W/black Leather Band & White Dial Rare 18k Solid Gold Rolex Retro Period Diamond Rope Band Ladies Wrist Watch MhcVintage 1920s Rolex Swiss Made Wrist Watch30’s Men’s Deco Style Levinson’s Rolex 2pce. 9ct Solid Small Sec Manual Watch15jRolex Mens Stainless & Yellow Gold Oyste Perpetual Automatic Watch Ref. 1550 '67Vintage 1915 Solid Silver Rolex Watch W&d Ww1 Military Trench Style WatchVintage 1930s Rolex Prima Ladies Gold WatchRolex Datejust 69173 Two-tone Automatic Women's Watch With Diamond Bezel!Rolex Oyster Perpetual Air-king Precision Stainless Steel WristwatchTudor Rolex Oyster Date Watch Prince Automatic - Eta 2484 1968Vintage Early Rolex Manual Wind Oyster Date Movement Dial Project Very Rare Vintage 1966 Complete Set Rolex Oyster Date Ref. 6694 S/steelLadies Rolex Datejust 2 Tone Watch 1.5 Ct Diamond Bezel And DialVintage 1958 Rolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer Model 6559 Cal. 1030 Nice BezelRolex 6536-1 Very Rare 4 Line Vintage James Bond Submariner, No Crown Guards16263 Genuine Rolex Datejust 18k Gold Ss Watch Box Papers Champagne DialRolex Tudor Prince Oysterdate Jumbo Watch Nr!Rolex Daytona White Index Dial 18k Yellow Gold & Stainless SteelRolex Submariner Two Tone 18k 16613 Sel Gold Clasp Mint AuthenticLadies Rolex 2tone 14k Yellow Gold/steel Datejust Tahitian Mop Diamond Dial 6917

Recent News: Rolex Wristwatches

Source: Google News

The Fast Lane: Where the hell are we?
Financial Times, August 29th

In front of you is a dapper chap in good denim, box-fresh Nike sneakers, a perfectly cut dress-shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow and a stainless steel Rolex. Over his shoulder is a well-worn navy Cordura holdall that's half unzipped and...Read more

Longines, Hamilton, or Omega? The Watcher Will Now Take Your Questions
Esquire (blog), August 29th

I don't care what watch expert you talk to; Longines has made some of the coolest vintage watches ever. Even even the most diehard Patek or Rolex guys will tip their hat to Longines' past. To this day, they can track any watch they made, going back 100...Read more

Sir Jackie Stewart Talks Rolex And Racing During Pebble Beach 2014
Forbes, August 29th

This week of classic, vintage, and modern supercars is held together by four main events, all of which have one thing other than stunning, revving machines in common: they are sponsored by Rolex. These are the Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance, The Quail, ...Read more

Autism Funding Goes Public With Online Jeweler's $10000 Fundraiser for ...
Insurance News Net, August 28th

Trumpet & Horn is an online store specializing in authentic vintage engagement rings, Rolex® watches and other fine jewelry; all sales are satisfaction guaranteed and rings with a center diamond over 0.25ct come with full certification from EGL or GIA...Read more

Vintage racers — even more from Monterey motor week.
SFGate (blog), August 28th

From August 14 through August 17, dozens of classic race cars — Ferraris, Maseratis, Aston Martins, Jaguars, Porsches — tore around the 2.2-mile track during the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Here was a 1970 Ferrari 512M, there went a gaggle of ...Read more

Gilt Is Giving Away a Vintage Rolex Watch to a Lucky Winner, August 21st

And the first item up for grabs is a two-toned Vintage Rolex that will be given to one lucky NYC fan. Throughout the day, Gilt will release various clues on its social media profiles—Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook—hinting at the watch's location...Read more

VIDEO: Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion GoPro Visor Cams
Racer, August 18th

Take a series of incredible rides from last weekend's vintage racing festival at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey California in some of the fastest, coolest and most powerful racecars of yesteryear were pushed to their limits by a number of ...Read more

Giant Vintage Racing Gallery from the 2014 Rolex Monterey Motorsports ...
Hot Rod Magazine (blog), August 17th

There are one-off vintage cars that would be rare to see in a museum, let alone running full throttle, and don't doubt that the drivers are in it to win. We saw passes and crashes and plenty of wrenching in the pits to make machines ready for another...Read more