How Rolex Became the Biggest Brand in Watches
If there’s one watch brand that doesn’t need an introduction, it’s Rolex. Today, the word Rolex invokes a sense of luxury, heritage, and timelessness. These sophisticated wristwatches serve as status symbols, celebratory gifts, and treasured heirlooms that many families pass down for generations, but have you ever wondered how Rolex became the biggest brand in watches? Read on to discover the history behind this monumental brand.
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In 1905, a young entrepreneur named Hans Wilsdorf founded a business in London with his brother-in-law Alfred Davis. Together, the duo collaborated with jewelers to distribute timepieces. While wristwatches existed, they weren’t very common at this time because they lacked precision. However, at just 24 years old, Hans Wilsdorf began to dream up ways to craft wristwatches that were more reliable and elegant than popular brands.
After partnering with a Swiss watchmaking company in Bienne, Wilsdorf and Davis began producing innovative wristwatches that used very small movements to improve precision. Some of the earliest watches from this period still carry the “W&D” stamp. However, by 1908, Wilsdorf registered the name Rolex as a trademark. He chose this short and simple name because he wanted to make sure it was easy to say in any language. The name helped Wilsdorf create a memorable brand as he opened the first Rolex office in Switzerland the same year.
Earning Awards and Recognition
Wilsdorf’s dedication and high standards fueled a relentless quest to achieve absolute chronometric precision. During the first few years of business, Rolex continued to fine-tune the quality of each timepiece’s movements. By 1910, Wilsdorf’s efforts paid off. The Official Watching Rating Centre in Bienne bestowed the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision upon Rolex, making it the first wristwatch brand in the world to earn this award.
In 1914, Rolex received recognition again when the Kew Observatory in Great Britain presented the brand with a class A precision certificate. Prior to this, only marine chronometers were eligible to receive this certification. Receiving this honor from the Kew Observatory solidified Rolex’s commitment to precision and paved the way for it to become one of the highest-quality brands available today.
Marketing Quality and Durability
In 1919, Rolex relocated to Geneva, which was renowned worldwide for watchmaking. This move allowed Wilsdorf to collaborate with his suppliers in Bienne more closely. Over the next few years, he focused on refining Rolex wristwatches to create sophisticated timepieces that people could wear during their adventures, which led to the notable release of the Rolex Oyster case in 1926. The design was a true game-changer and marketed as the world’s first waterproof and dustproof watch.
After British swimmer Mercedes Gleitze swam the English Channel wearing the Rolex Oyster, which remained in perfect condition, Rolex landed a cover story in the Daily Mail newspaper. In the 1930s, Rolex partnered with several mountaineers to create a similar buzz around the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer. After wearing the wristwatch while adventuring through Mount Everest on their expedition, the mountaineers confirmed that Rolex’s design could withstand even the harshest weather conditions.
Creating a Luxury Brand
Throughout the decades, Wilsdorf continued to find new ways to market Rolex and make the brand the center of attention by partnering with celebrities and well-known public figures. He also associated Rolex with important events, from sports championships and art shows to deep-sea explorations and other historical acts. As Rolex continued to gain recognition around the world, Wilsdorf began to present the wristwatch as more than a simple timepiece.
Rolex was marketed as an heirloom, a treasured gift, and a success milestone. Instead of focusing exclusively on the features of each wristwatch design, Wilsdorf emphasized how a Rolex is the perfect symbol to celebrate success and excellence. With campaign taglines like “a crown for every achievement,” “every Rolex tells a story,” and “it doesn’t just tell time, it tells history,” the desire to own one of these luxurious wristwatches surged.
Establishing the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation
Hans Wilsdorf established the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation in 1944, after the death of his wife, Florence Frances May Wilsdorf. A few years later, Wilsdorf granted 100% ownership of his shares in Rolex to his namesake foundation. Speculators claim Wilsdorf had two reasons for making this decision.
To this day, the company remains privately owned by the trust and continues to provide funding to numerous nonprofit organizations throughout Geneva in the philanthropic, education, and humanitarian sectors. A few of these charities include the Decorative Arts School of Geneva, the Geneva Watchmaking School, the Swiss Watchmaking Research Laboratory, and the Social and Economic Sciences University of Geneva.
Embracing Continuous Innovation
Along with Rolex’s rich history comes a desire to continue to produce innovative, new designs. From creating the first wristwatch to display multiple time zones to crafting the first wristwatch that could change the date and day automatically, Rolex has always been on the cutting edge. In 1956, Rolex crafted the first wristwatch that displayed both the day and the date on the dial.
Throughout the 21st century, Rolex has pushed the boundaries with every new design and product launch. The 2013 Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II featured a bi-color combination on a single ceramic component that was the first of its kind and set a new precedent for how ceramics are used in watchmaking today.
Creating Timeless Pieces Today
It’s no surprise that Rolex continues to lead luxury watch manufacturing. Every day, this Swiss-based manufacturer produces over 2,000 watches, which adds up to more than seven billion dollars in sales each year. Today, owning a Rolex symbolizes pride that’s often associated with achieving an important milestone.
Whether you’re looking to buy or sell a luxury watch, our team at Americash Las Vegas Jewelry and Coin Buyer is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about Rolex watches and other popular brands. Our experts are happy to help you invest in a new watch or provide an offer if you’re looking to sell.