Before the turn of the 20th century, portable time pieces were in the form of pocket watches as there was no available movement for smaller pieces of watches. In 1905, an enterprising young man and his brother-in-law established Wilsdorf and Davis in London. Their main trade was to import Swiss movements to England, put them in quality watch cases made by another manufacturer then sell the “bracelet watches” to jewelers who then put in their own names on the watches’ dials. These wristwatches were the prototype of the modern wristwatch.
The wristwatch was not an overnight sensation. Men deemed them to be too feminine and they probably would have preferred to be caught dead then wear some feminine contraption. However, Wilsdorf foresaw that the wristwatch was the “future” so he sought out movements with lever escapements. The very small movement proved to be so effective in terms of precision and availability that in no time at all, everyone was wearing a wristwatch.
In the 1908, Wilsdorf registered then name ROLEX. Its origin is none and it has been said that Wilsdorf chose the name as it was pronounced as ROLEX in any language. In 1914, the company was given its first of many Kew A Chronometer Certificate, a distinction normally given to marine chronometers. The test was a rigorous 45 days of testing in all sorts of temperature and conditions. From then on, all ROLEX watches have to undergo and pass the same rigid testing before they leave the factory.
In 1912, Wilsdorf transferred his offices and factory in Bienne, Switzerland due to the heavy levy on imported goods by the British government.
In 1926, the first waterproof watch came out of ROLEX’s assembly line. The line came to be called Rolex Osyter because it was said that while Wilsdorf was eating oysters one night, he found it extremely difficult to open the shell. He said he hopes that his new model would prove to be so too. And it did. The ROLEX Oyster is so watertight, jewelers display them in aquariums. However, the first endorser of the Oyster watch was the British Mercedes Gleitze when she swam the Channel wearing her ROLEX Oyster watch.
ROLEX introduced the Perpetual watch in 1936. It is a self-winding watch that is powered by the movement of the wearer’s arm. This was the forerunner of the modern automatic watches. In 1945, the Datejust was introduced by ROLEX and this was the first chronometer which features an automatic date change. In 1956, the Day-Date was added in ROLEX’s line of products. Its new feature was the addition of the day of the week which could be spelled in 26 different languages.
ROLEX’s Oyster Perpetual Chronometer was with the team of Sir John Hunt’s team when they climbed Mount Everest in 1953. ROLEX’s quest for perfection and innovations in watch technology led to the design of the Submariner, the first dive watch. Then came the GMT-Master, a watch that displays the time in two different time zones. The Sea-Dweller is a diver’s watch waterproofed to a depth of 610 meters with an escape valve for gas. Current model is waterproofed at 1220 meters.