Rolex is a Swiss luxury watchmaker based in Geneva, and the brand’s timepieces are renowned worldwide for their combination of elegance and reliability. The watchmaker’s reputation is so
strong that Rolex is now a byword for quality. Rolex have a rich and interesting history, and throughout their existence they have achieved many firsts in the world of watchmaking, and Rolex
timepieces have been an important instrument on many historic human journeys.
1905: London Watch Distributors Founded by Hans Wilsdorf
Although they are currently based in Geneva, the home of luxury watchmaking, Rolex can trace its origins back to early 20th century London. In 1905, a 24 year old German man by the name of Hans Wilsdorf founded a company that specialised in the distribution of watches. Wilsdorf always envisioned that he would one day begin manufacturing his own watches, with a dream to produce accurate yet elegant wristwatches.
1908: The name “Rolex” is Introduced
Wilsdorf was eager to christen his watchmaking company with a name that was both easy to remember and say in any language, as well as looking good on watch dials and movements. When
asked about how the Rolex name was created, Wilsdorf said: ““I tried combining the letters of the alphabet in every possible way. This gave me some hundred names, but none of them felt quite
right. One morning, while riding on the upper deck of a horse-drawn omnibus along Cheapside in the City of London, a genie whispered ‘Rolex’ in my ear.”
1919: Rolex Move to Geneva, Switzerland
Rolex moved to Geneva, a city that is internationally renowned for watchmaking, in 1919. They remain there, albeit in different premises, to this day.
1926: Rolex Produce the First Waterproof Watch
With the Oyster, Rolex produced the world’s first waterproof and dustproof watch, marking a major step forward in the watchmaking industry. The Oyster was presented in a hermetically sealed case, ensuring that the movement was suitably protected.
1927: Mercedes Gleitze Crosses the Channel with the Oyster
Rolex were keen to prove the waterproofness of their recently released Oyster, and in 1927 a young English swimmer called Mercedes Gleitze wore one on her wrist as she completed her 10 hour swim. The watch was then tested and found to still be in perfect working order. Rolex then took out a front page advert proclaiming the success of the Oyster in the Daily Mail, thus creating the Testimonee concept.
1931: The First Perpetual Movement
It is an ingenious system that is now found in every modern automatic watch, Rolex invented and patented the world’s first self-winding mechanism with a perpetual rotor in 1931.
1933: Rolex Flies over Everest
In 1933, 28-year-old Flight Lieutenant David Fowler McIntyre and 30-year-old Douglas Douglas-Hamilton flew over Mount Everest, and consequentially they were the first humans to see the mountain’s peak. They were both equipped with Rolex Oysters, and they were highly satisfied with the performance of the watch.
1945: The First Datejust
Rolex introduced the now iconic Datejust in 1945. This was a significant landmark for Rolex and for the wristwatch industry as a whole because it was the first self-winding chronometer to feature a date window on the dial.
1953: Rolex Reach the Summit of Everest
Equipped with Oyster Perpetuals, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mount Everest in 1953 as part of Sir John Hunt’s expedition.
1953: Rolex Introduce the Explorer and the Submariner
To celebrate the ascent of Everest, Rolex released the Explorer model later on in the year. It was immediately considered to be a classic and iconic watch. Rolex also released the Submariner in 1953. This was the first diver’s watch to be waterproofed up to a depth of 100 metres, and it also featured a rotating bezel that enabled divers to accurately measure their immersion time.
1955: The GMT Master
With the development of intercontinental travel, Rolex realised that airline pilots would require a watch that met their specific needs. The GMT Master quickly became the official watch of several airlines, including Pan Am. The most distinctive feature of the GMT Master is the two tone bezel, which is used to distinguish between daytime and night-time hours.
1956: Rolex Release the first Day-Date
Available only in 18ct gold or platinum, the Rolex Day-Date made its debut in 1956. It was the first watch to display both the day of the week in full and the date, and it is now known as the “President Watch” because of the numerous influential people who have worn the Day-Date throughout the years.
1956: Rolex Milgauss
Also introduced in 1956, the Milgauss was designed with the needs of the scientific community in mind. The watch was subject to rigorous testing from CERN engineers, and it was found to be
capable of withstanding magnetic fields of up to 1,000 gauss.
1960: The Deep Sea Special
In 1960, the Rolex Deep Sea Special accompanied Lieutenant Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard aboard the Bathyscaphe Trieste as they descended to the deepest known depression in the Earth’s ocean, the Mariana Trench. Even after reaching a depth of 10,916 metres the watch emerged in perfect working order.
1963: The Cosmograph Daytona
1963 saw the release of the Rolex Daytona, which is today regarded as one of the most recognisable Rolex models. It takes its name from Daytona’s International Speedway in Miami, and even today it is considered to be an essential tool for endurance racing drivers. The Daytona is durable,waterproof and it features a tachymetric scale on the bezel, which is used for calculating average speed.
1967: The Sea-Dweller
To meet the needs of deep-sea divers, Rolex designed and manufactured the Sea-Dweller, a watch that was equipped with a helium escape valve. This meant that the watch would not be damaged
during decompression phases in hyperbaric chambers. The Sea-Dweller lived up to its name, as it was waterproof up to a depth of 610 metres.
1971: Rolex Explorer II
Dedicated to “polar explorers, speleologists and to all those pushing the boundaries of exploration”, the Rolex Explorer II featured a distinctive 24 hour hand that proved to be an essential aid to explorers around the poles and beneath ground, where it can be difficult to differentiate between day and night.
1978: Sea-Dweller 4000
12 years after its initial release, Rolex updated the Sea-Dweller model with the release of the “4000”. So called because it is waterproof up to a depth of 1,220 metres, which is equivalent to
1985: Rolex Begin to use 904L Steel
Rolex once again proved themselves as pioneers in the watchmaking industry by utilising 904L for the cases of their steel watches. 904L possesses superior anti-corrosion properties that are
comparable to those of precious metals, and it also offers an exceptional sheen. 904L steel is often used in the aerospace and chemical industries.
1992: The Yacht-Master
As a sponsor of some of the world’s most renowned offshore races, Rolex strengthened their ties with the world of sailing with the release of the Yacht-Master. Released in 1992, it was the first watch in the Professional Oyster Collection to be available in three sizes: 29, 35 and 40mm.
2000: The Rolex 4130 Movement
Designed and manufactured by Rolex for the Cosmograph Daytona in 2000, the 4130 chronograph calibre movement incorporates just 290 components. This is far fewer than you would expect to see in a standard chronograph, and it has been admired for its functional simplicity since its inception.
2005: Rolex Introduce the Cerachrom Bezel
Continuing their passion for developing their own components, Rolex designed and manufactured their Cerachrom bezel completely in-house. The patented design is fashioned from an extremely
hard ceramic material that is nigh-on impossible to scratch, and it is unaffected by Ultraviolet rays. If a Rolex is equipped with a Cerachrom bezel, you can be assured that the watch will be functional even after exposure to the most extreme conditions.
2005: Blue Parachrom Hairspring
After half a decade of extensive research, Rolex designed and manufactured the blue Parachrom hairspring. Presented in the unique blue that signals prestige and accuracy, the hairspring is crafted from a paramagnetic alloy, meaning that it is unaffected by magnetic fields and is 10 times more resistant to shocks.
2007: Rolex Yacht-Master II
Rolex achieved yet another “first” in the wristwatch industry with the Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master II regatta chronograph, which saw its release 15 years after the original Yacht-Master. The second iteration of the sailing timepiece showcased a unique watch complication that allowed a programmable countdown with a mechanical memory for the very first time on a wristwatch.
2008: Rolex Deepsea
Rolex designed the Deepsea watch with extreme underwater exploration in mind. Thanks to the innovative Ringlock system, the Deepsea is able to withstand water pressure equivalent to the
weight of three tonnes on its crystal. Furthermore, it can plunge to depths 100x deeper than any human could physically survive, and it goes deeper than all but a few purpose-built research
2012: Rolex Deepsea Challenge
On 26th March 2012, a specially designed Rolex once again descended to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest depression in the Earth’s oceans. The Rolex Deepsea Challenge accompanied acclaimed film director James Cameron as he became the first person to complete a solo mission to Challenger Deep. The 51mm watch, which was waterproofed to a record breaking depth of 12,000 metres, was attached to the robotic manipulator arm of Cameron’s submersible and was still in perfect working order after the expedition had been completed.
2013: Formula 1 Racing and Rolex
Rolex became the Official Timekeeper and Official Timepiece for Formula 1 Racing in 2013 on a long term basis. This extended the watchmaker’s legacy of having close ties to and being involved in motorsports.