Hans Wilsdorf & Alfred Davis
Rolex SA is a Swiss manufacturer of high-quality, luxury wristwatches.
Rolex watches are popularly regarded as status symbols and BusinessWeek magazine ranks Rolex #71 on its 2007 annual list of the 100 most valuable global brands. Rolex is also the largest single luxury watch brand, producing about 2,000 watches per day.
In 1905 Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law Alfred Davis founded "Wilsdorf and Davis" in London. Their main business at the time was importing Hermann Aegler's Swiss movements to England and placing them in quality watch cases made by Dennison and others. These early wristwatches were sold to jewellers, who then put their own names on the dial. The earliest watches from Wilsdorf and Davis were usually hallmarked "W&D" inside the caseback.
In 1908 Wilsdorf registered the trademark "Rolex" and opened an office in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The company name "Rolex" was registered on 15 November 1915. The word was made up, but its origin is obscure. Wilsdorf was said to want his watch brand's name to be easily pronounceable in any language. He also thought that the name "Rolex" was onomatopoeic, sounding like a watch being wound. It was also short enough to fit on the face of a watch. One story, never confirmed by Wilsdorf, is that the name came from the French phrase horlogerie exquise, meaning "exquisite clockwork".
In 1914 Kew Observatory awarded a Rolex watch a Class A precision certificate, a distinction which was normally awarded exclusively to marine chronometers.
In 1919 Wilsdorf moved the company to Geneva, Switzerland where it was established as the Rolex Watch Company. Its name was later changed to Montres Rolex, SA and finally Rolex, SA.
The first self-winding Rolex wristwatch was offered to the public in 1931, preceded to the market by Harwood which patented the design in 1923 and produced the first self-winding watch in 1928, powered by an internal mechanism that used the movement of the wearer's arm. This not only made watch-winding unnecessary, but kept the power from the mainspring more consistent resulting in more reliable time keeping.
Rolex participated in the development of the original quartz watch movements. Although Rolex has made very few quartz models for its Oyster line, the company's engineers were instrumental in design and implementation of the technology during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1968, Rolex collaborated with a consortium of 16 Swiss watch manufacturers to develop the Beta 21 quartz movement used in their Rolex Quartz Date 5100. Within about five years of research, design, and development, Rolex created the "clean-slate" 5035/5055 movement that would eventually power the Rolex Oysterquartz.
Rolex was also the first watch company to create a wristwatch water resistant to 100 m (330 ft). Wilsdorf even had a specially made Rolex watch attached to the side of the Trieste bathyscaphe, which went to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The watch survived and tested as having kept perfect time during its descent and ascent. This was confirmed by a telegram sent to Rolex the following day saying "Am happy to confirm that even at 11,000 metres your watch is as precise as on the surface. Best regards, Jacques Piccard".
Rolex produced specific models suitable for the extremes of deep-sea diving, mountain climbing and aviation. Early sports models included the Rolex Submariner and the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Sea Dweller. The latter watch has a helium release valve, co-invented with Swiss watchmaker Doxa, to release helium gas build-up during decompression. The Explorer and Explorer II were developed specifically for explorers who would navigate rough terrain, such as the world famous Mount Everest expeditions. The most iconic model is the Rolex GMT Master, which was originally developed in 1954 at the request of Pan Am Airways to assist its pilots with the problem of crossing multiple time zones when on transcontinental flights (GMT standing for Greenwich Mean Time).
Rolex is the largest manufacturer of Swiss made certified chronometers. In 2005 more than half the annual production of COSC certified watches were Rolexes. To date, Rolex still holds the record for the most certified chronometer movements in the category of wristwatches.
The company is now starting to introduce ceramic bezels across the range of professional sports watches. They are available on the Submariner and GMT Master II models. The ceramic bezel is not influenced by UV-light and is very scratch resistant.
Upon the death of his wife in 1944, Wilsdorf established the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation in which he left all of his Rolex shares, making sure that some of the company's income would go to charity. The company is still owned by a private trust and shares are not traded on any stock exchange.
In December 2008 the abrupt departure of Chief Executive Patrick Heiniger, for ï¿½personal reasonsï¿½, was followed by a denial by the company that it had lost SwFr1 billion (approx ï¿½574 million, $900 million) invested with Bernard Madoff, the American asset manager who pleaded guilty to an approximately ï¿½30 billion worldwide Ponzi scheme fraud.