Facts About Rolex Watches: Evolution of an Iconic Design

Written by: Maz P
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Rolex Submariner Watch

With a reputation as the ‘King of Watches’, Rolex is renowned for luxury and precision. Rolex has become one of the most iconic and recognizable watch brands in the world, famous for their exceptional craftsmanship and timeless design. Rolex timepieces are some of the most highly sought in the industry with each Rolex watch meticulously crafted from the finest materials. From the legendary Submariner and Daytona to the classic Datejust and Day-Date models, Rolex offers a diverse range of watches to suit every style and occasion. With a rich history of innovation, Rolex continues to set the standard for luxury watchmaking. We’ve researched some facts about Rolex you may not have been aware of.

Rolex Watch Crown

The Birth of Rolex

In 1905, Hans Wilsdorf founded the company in London with his brother-in-law Alfred Davis, specialists in importing Swiss watch movements to use in other watch cases. He had a dream to create a wristwatch that was actually reliable and used these parts as a step in his process. In 1910, a Rolex was the first wristwatch in the world to receive the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision. Four years later, they were awarded an A-class precision certificate by Kew Observatory, a rating that was previously reserved for marine watches. Since then, the brand has been synonymous with precision and accuracy. Due to the high taxes on luxury imports after World War I, the business was relocated from England to Geneva, cutting out the middleman and establishing Rolex as a Swiss watchmaker.

The Rolex Name

When the brand was founded, it was named Wilsdorf and Davis after the owners. In 1908, three years after the brand was founded, Wilsdorf was on the hunt for another name. He wanted a name that was easy to pronounce in any language and short enough to be showcased on the watch face. He spent time combining letters of the alphabet, creating multiple names but not one seemed like the right fit. The story then says that as he was riding through London on a horse-drawn omnibus, a genie whispered ‘Rolex’ in his ear. The trademark Rolex was then registered but the brand did not officially become the Rolex Watch Co. until 1915.

Rolex Watches

The First Waterproof Wristwatch

Making its debut in 1926 the Rolex Oyster was the first waterproof wristwatch, marking a significant milestone in watchmaking history. The Oyster featured a hermetically sealed case that protected the movement from water and dust, ensuring durability and reliability that had never been seen before. To demonstrate the watch’s waterproof capabilities, the Oyster took on a Cross Channel challenge. A swimmer traveled the length of the English Channel wearing a Rolex Oyster where it successfully endured the rigorous conditions of the open water. This groundbreaking innovation not only revolutionized the watch industry but paved the way for the modern dive watch.

Rolex Sea Dweller Watch
Rolex Submariner Watch

Deep Sea Exploration

The brand’s next underwater success was the release of the Submariner in 1953. This timepiece was the first commercially available dive watch and could withstand depths of up to 100m. Its rotatable bezel also allowed divers to read their dive time and the Submariner has remained one of the most popular Rolex models that they have ever released. In 1960, a descent to the Mariana Trench, the deepest-known part of the Earth’s surface, was accompanied by the experimental Deep Sea Special. It was designed to withstand the most extreme conditions and was still in full working order when it emerged. When James Cameron embarked on the second manned trip to the Mariana Trench, Rolex was present too. Rolex has continued to innovate dive watches and push the boundaries of design and technology.

Expedition Everest

For the very first expedition of flying over Everest, the crew was equipped with Rolex Oysters. This milestone connected Rolex to aviation forever and the crew were extremely impressed with these timepieces. Then in 1953, twenty years after Rolex’s first Everest expedition, it embarked on another. Sir John Hunt’s world-famous expedition to Mount Everest was equipped with Oyster Perpetual watches. During this expedition, Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay were the first climbers ever to reach the summit and Rolex accompanied them. Inspired by the knowledge acquired from this expedition, Rolex released the Explorer to commemorate this moment in history.

Aviation

In addition to the first flight over Everest, Rolex has had other strong connections with aviation. In 1927, British aviator Charles Lindbergh wore a Rolex Oyster during his historic solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris. When intercontinental travel took off in the 1950s, Rolex took on a challenge to create a watch that would allow you to know the time in multiple places at once. This was extremely important when crossing time zones and Rolex released the GMT-Master, designed specifically for aviation professionals crossing the globe. The timepiece became the official watch of multiple airlines and cemented Rolex’s role in aviation history.

Perpetual Movement

In 1931, Rolex took on another world-first. The brand invented and patented a phenomenal system that is at the heart of every modern automatic watch. The self-winding mechanism with a Perpetual movement was a massive development for the watch industry.

The Datejust and Day-Date

When Rolex released the Datejust in 1945, it was the very first self-winding wristwatch to feature a date window on the dial. It was designed to commemorate the brand’s 40th birthday but changed the horological landscape yet again. It is one of the most popular models that Rolex has ever released and has played a significant role in the success of the company. Eleven years later, Rolex developed the Datejust into the Day-Date, a timepiece that also showcased the day of the week in addition to the date.

Presidential Association

The Rolex Day-Date quickly became known as the ‘President’ watch due to its popularity among world leaders and influential figures. It has been the watch of choice for several US Presidents including Nixon, Ford, Raegan, and most recently, Trump. However, it was Johnson who wore the Day-Date most prominently and established the model’s relationship with the Presidency. He was the first US President to wear the timepiece while in office.

Rolex History

Racing History

Rolex has played a role in racing, almost since the company’s inception. When Sir Malcolm Campbell set the land speed record in 1935, he was wearing a Rolex. Campbell also set five records at Daytona Beach which later became the Daytona International Speedway where the Rolex 24 at Daytona is now held. This 24-hour racing competition has been sponsored by Rolex since 1992 and all winners receive a Rolex Daytona. Since 2013, Rolex has also partnered with Formula One.

Yachting History

In addition to its relationship with motorsports, Rolex also has a strong role in offshore boat racing. Since 1992, Rolex has been the sponsor of some of the most renowned yacht races in the world. The same year, the brand released the Yacht-Master, a timepiece symbolically tying Rolex to the world of sailing. They later released the Yacht-Master II in 2007, the world’s first watch featuring a programmable countdown with mechanical memory, allowing skippers to cross the start line with precision timing. Since 2019, Rolex has been the official timekeeper of SailGP and is a founding partner of the circuit.

PGA Championship

For over 60 years, Rolex has supported the golf industry. Rolex is the Official Partner of the PGA of America and the Official Timekeeper of the PGA Tour. The brand is also partnered with the DP World Tour, Asian Tour, Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, and Ladies European Tour. It also partners three prime team competitions; The Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup, and the Presidents Cup. The Rolex Day-Date is the timepiece worn daily by legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus and the yellow-gold version he previously wore was auctioned for a staggering $1.2 million.

The Dalai Lama

Another political figure who is known for wearing Rolex is His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama and Rolex may seem like an unlikely pairing but the Dalai Lama is a big fan of a Rolex watch. While the spiritual leader emphasizes simplicity and humility, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is a Rolex collector. There is much speculation of whether the Dalai Lama received his Rolexes as gifts or purchased them himself but there is evidence that he at least owns two yellow-gold Day-Date watches. He has one with a blue baton dial and another with a lapis lazuli dial but goes out of his way to dull them down. Instead of wearing them with the iconic President bracelet instead, he wears them with inexpensive watch straps so that they’re not too ostentatious. It is said that he simply loves the mechanics of the timepieces. The Dalai Lama is also said to be an experienced watchmaker and was introduced to the hobby of watchmaking by President Roosevelt when he was a child.

James Bond

In the early days of James Bond, Rolex was the watch of choice. Sean Connery wore a Rolex Submariner in all his movies which became Bond’s signature watch before the switch to the Omega Seamaster. Bond had a love affair with Rolex until The Man with the Golden Gun in 1974, wearing multiple models in addition to the Submariner.

Sustainability

Rolex is continuously striving to improve its social impact and environmental footprint. The brand has implemented strategies in its manufacturing facilities to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. The brand also strongly supports the resale of second-hand watches with the aim of preserving timepieces that already exist. They launched the Rolex Certified Pre-Owned program to promote the circulation of pre-owned watches. They also support environmental programs through their Perpetual Planet Initiative.

Facts About Rolex Watches FAQ

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AUTHOR

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I started WatchmakingTools to share my passion and knowledge with those already bitten by the watchmaking bug. I’ve often spent hours searching online for answers on a specific issue, and even though there is a wealth of information out there, it hasn’t always been very useful, hence why I wanted to share my own findings.

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