The History of the Great Swiss Watch Brand Rolex

Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex

The history of Rolex is inextricably linked to the company and its founder, Hans Wilsdorf.
Like a modern-day Apple, Rolex has inherited the passion of one man who made the company into a giant.
It's also similar to Apple in that even after the death of Hans Wilsdorf, the company continues to be a great force not only in its industry but in the world.

The story of Rolex begins with the birth of Hans Wilsdorf.
He was born on March 22, 1881, in Kulmbach, Bavaria, Germany, the son of an ironmonger.
When I was 12 years old, unfortunately my parents died one after the other.
Wilsdorf's mother was a descendant of the prestigious Bavarian Meisel brewery family and it was thought that he might take over the family business.

But the reality was different.
Wilsdorf and his siblings left their aunt and uncle and decided to sell their parents' hardware store and put the proceeds into the Wilsdorf Trust until they were old enough to inherit it.
The "Wilsdorf Trust" was started as a result of the tragedy of the death of his parents and would later become the basis for the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation.

From pearls to precision instruments

Wilsdorf attended boarding school in Germany until he was 18 years old.
There he excelled in mathematics and languages.
After graduating, I got a job at a pearl sales company where I gained knowledge about trade and the jewelry industry.
During this time Wilsdorf learned business tactics and became immersed in technology.
He then quit his job at the age of 20 and joined a watch export company in Switzerland.
His encounters with customers there led him to become fascinated with pocket watches and clockmaking, and Wilsdorf's passion turned to the precision machinery behind these watches.


In 1903, at the age of 22, Wilsdorf moved to London, but unfortunately lost an inheritance on the way there.
33,000 marks were stolen.
Despite these difficulties, he continued to work in the British watch industry while making plans to start his own watch company.
It was around this time that he received British citizenship.
And finally, at age 24,
He met Alfred James Davis and was able to establish a watch company in partnership with him.
Davis had the capital and Wilsdorf had the watchmaking knowledge he had gained from working for a watch company in Switzerland.
They trusted each other in business, but their bond went beyond mere business, as Davis was the husband of Wilsdorf's real sister.

Wilsdorf & Davis

Wilsdorf borrowed money from his brother-in-law to invest in Davis, so that they each owned 50% of the company.
As equal partners, they share their knowledge of Wilsdorf watches,
They both needed and respected Davis's knowledge of international trade.

A real man doesn't wear a watch

It's completely different from today, but at that time, wristwatches were called wristlets.
The size is small, the font is small, the time is not accurate,
And it was common for women to wear it.
At some point, "men who wear watches will eventually wear skirts."
It has come to be said that...
Furthermore, even the watch industry at the time believed that wristwatches could not withstand the intense human movement.
However, Wilsdorf was always ambitious and continued to improve his watches.
Meanwhile, he noticed something.
During the Boer War, soldiers did not wear jackets because of the heat.
And how incredibly inconvenient it was to look for a pocket watch in your pocket during a battle.
As a result, I keenly noticed that the soldier was wearing a small pocket watch on a leather strap around his wrist.
This gave rise to the idea of ​​specialising in the wristwatch market, which did not yet exist at the time.


In 1908, Wilsdorf signed a contract with the watch manufacturing company Eben in Bienne, Switzerland, to secure a source of superior movements.
This was the largest watch movement contract at the time.
Also, there was a trend in industry at the time to use trademarks and logos.
At that time, the name "Willisdorf & Davis" was not as recognizable as "Kodak" or "Coke," and it had no particular meaning in itself.
So, we chose a name that can be pronounced by people of any country and cannot be written incorrectly.
I decided on "ROLEX."
The name Rolex has nothing to do with watches just like the name Apple has nothing to do with computers.
And from then on, the wristwatch was no longer a passing fad but a household name.

First A-class certificate obtained

In 1910, Rolex produced its first movement at the Bienne Watchmaking School (later the Bienne Watchmaking Bureau).
It achieved the highest level of Class A in the official accuracy test, overturning the common belief that wristwatches are not accurate.
The first hurdle of getting the time right was overcome.
Furthermore, in 1914, the precision of its movement was recognized by the Royal Observatory, Kew (England).
However, it achieved the feat of being certified as Class A in terms of accuracy, a first for a wristwatch.
The two remaining hurdles were waterproofing and automatic winding.

Setting standards

The tests are extremely rigorous, taking 45 days to test against temperature and position differences, and prior to Rolex, only marine chronometers had been awarded this certification.
Wilsdorf recognized the value of this certification so highly that he decided that all Rolex products must pass this type of test and no products would be sold without the official certification.
Even Egler movements would not be accepted if they did not pass Rolex's seven-day battery test.
It also set a new standard of timekeeping accuracy for the entire watch industry.

Rolex was doing well as it steadily received movements from the famous brand Egler.
However, when World War I began, the demand for watches increased, but at the same time, restrictions were imposed on trade with Britain as an anti-German measure.
As duties on watches and jewelry entering Britain became high, Wilsdorf and Davis used the partnership they had built with Hermann Egler to move much of their goods to Bienne.


In 1919, Rolex bought part of Egler and changed the company name to Egler SA Rolex Watch Company.
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Shortly thereafter, Wilsdorf bought out Davis' shares and moved his offices to Geneva.
The entire factory in Bienne is dedicated to producing movements.
The movements were manufactured in Biel but the watches were assembled in Geneva.

Waterproof watch Oyster

On May 2, 1925, Rolex registered the famous crown mark as a trademark.
Also in the same year, Rolex began addressing the weak spot of all watch cases: the ingress of water and dust.
Wilsdorf heard about the patent for the screw-down crown invented by Georges Perret and Paul Perregaux, and after negotiating, purchased it.The following year, on July 29th, 1926, he trademarked the "Oyster", the world's first waterproof case.
The name "Oyster"
The idea came to Wilsdorf while he was trying to open oysters at a dinner party.
The special tools needed to open a Rolex today are very similar to the tools used to open oysters in restaurants.

Rolex Replicas

Despite being protected by a patent, Wilsdorf had to defend it from copycats.
In 1934, Wilsdorf filed a lawsuit against the Schmitz Brothers in Germany.
In 1937, after two and a half years of litigation, a Swiss court awarded the Schmitz Brothers damages to Rolex.
Although Wilsdorf did not invent the waterproof watch, he was the first to put the idea into a practical product.

Mercedes Gleitze

Wilsdorf creates a very clever advertising ploy to promote sales of his waterproof Oyster watches.
On October 21, 1927, an Oyster was placed on the wrist of a London shorthand reporter named Mercedes Gleitze, who was planning to swim across the English Channel.
She successfully swam across the English Channel in 15 hours and 15 minutes.
The Oyster watch continued to function accurately even in these conditions.
Rolex later announced this success to the public with a full-page newspaper advertisement.
The Oyster Watch, which proved its high waterproof performance, quickly attracted attention and made the Rolex name known throughout the world.
Wilsdorf believed that this sense of quality and reliability would not be conveyed in consumers' minds through advertising alone, and that he had to prove it somehow.
The Mercedes Gleitze crossing was the first time that the company had used athletes and adventurers to prove the durability and reliability of its products.


Wilsdorf was worried.
No matter how completely waterproof the case is, it's still the human being that's the problem.
The wearer of the watch forgets to wind it,
Another problem was forgetting to tighten the crown after winding the watch, allowing water and dust to get in.
Wilsdorf's next challenge was to develop an automatic mainspring winding watch.

Perpetual Movement

Wilsdorf begins modifying existing movements to accommodate automatic winding.
In 1931, they completed an innovative automatic winding mechanism that used Egler's existing movement to rotate a semicircular rotor to wind the mainspring.
After the patent expired in 1948, the mechanism is still used in automatic watches around the world to this day.

Rolex Precision

In addition to being waterproof, Rolex also has an automatic winding function.
Unrivaled in accuracy throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s
By 1934, all four major observatories (Neuchâtel in Switzerland, Geneva, Kew in England, and Besançon in France) had been built.
It is the first watch company to receive this certification.

Expanding the business

1931 was a year of misfortune and good fortune.
Rolex was doing very well, but the Great Depression caused the British pound to plummet.
As a result, Rolex prices rose and exports fell by 60%.
To survive, they had no choice but to sell outside the UK.
Wilsdorf expanded his business far into the East and was very successful.
Rolex manufactures Oysters
We've increased it from 2,500 to about 30,000 a year.

Wilsdorf Foundation

In 1944, Wilsdorf's wife, May, died, followed by his long-time business partner, Hermann Egler.
Wilsdorf was the sole owner of Rolex and had no successor.
In 1945, he founded the Wilsdorf Foundation.
After his death, he left strict instructions about what Rolex should be, including instructions that it should never be merged, sold or listed on the stock exchange.

"Just in time" auto-date feature

In 1945, Rolex released the Datejust to celebrate its 40th anniversary.
This was the world's first automatic wristwatch with a date changing window on the dial.
It was named "Datejust" because the date is easy to see and changes at exactly midnight.
The date window is located at the 3 o'clock position so that it can be seen through a shirt sleeve, as most people wear their watches on the left arm.


For Rolex, the 1950s was a decade of post-war growth.
On October 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay successfully reached the summit of Mount Everest during the "Explorer" experiment.
In the same year, the world's first diver's watch, the Submariner, was developed.
It has been proven that it can withstand the water pressure at the bottom of the sea.

The evolution continues

Also in 1953, Rolex unveiled the Turn-O-Graph, the predecessor of the Submariner, at a watch exhibition in Basel, Switzerland.
Then in 1954, the "100m water resistant Submariner" was released.
Released the "Milgauss" and "GMT Master"
And finally, the Oyster Perpetual Day-Date, the only watch that can display both the date and the day of the week simultaneously.
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Len Paul Genere

Let's not forget that Rolex's past directors also play an important role in creating the best watches.
Len Paul Genere was one of the most important business executives of the 1950s and 1960s.
Genere is a pioneer in creating watches designed for specialized sports and professions.
The concept of creating watches for divers, explorers and businessmen was born from Genere.
The American airline Pan American World Airways approached Rolex about producing a watch that could display universal time 24 hours a day.
As a result, Genere became involved in developing watches with the ability to display different time zones using a 24-hour hand, scale and rotating bezel.

Rolex's first Cosmograph

1960 was a great year for Rolex.
It's been a good year and a bad year at the same time.
Rolex continued its technological innovation by introducing the first Cosmograph with a speed display on a metal bezel.
In 1960, a prototype Deep Sea Special was attached to the hull of the Trieste submersible and it achieved the remarkable feat of reaching the bottom of the Mariana Trench, 10,911 meters deep, deeper than the height of Mount Everest.
Shortly after the Deep Sea Special set a record
On July 6, 1960, Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf passed away.

After the death of Hans Wilsdorf,
Andre Heiniger was in charge of Rolex from 1963 to 1992.

Later, Andre's son, Patrick Heiniger,
He served as CEO from 1992 to 2008.

In the 1960s, further innovations led to the release of the Datejust, Air King, and Sea-Dweller.
A lineup of other sports-specific items was also announced.

Rolex is a foundation based on a fund called the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, and is therefore under no obligation to make its internal affairs public, so it makes very few of its internal documents public.
It is said that the company has achieved success far surpassing its competitors, without the need for financial experts, and through its own efforts.
And we managed to get the most beautiful building in London, second only to Buckingham Palace, without any assistance or intervention from the banks.

Rolex is not a "revolution" but an "evolution"

From the 1970s to the present day, Rolex has been founded on Patrick Heiniger's maxim that "Rolex is about evolution, not revolution."
I continue to abide by that word.
Rolex creates new watches and new technologies by overcoming global competition, including other brand watches and illegal imitations.
Today, Rolex produces approximately 2,000 watches a day and consistently ranks among the top 100 global companies.