Rolex SA is a Swiss manufacturer of wristwatches and accessories. Rolex watches are popularly considered status symbols. Rolex is the largest single luxury watch brand by far, producing about 2,000 watches per day, with estimated revenues of around US$ 3 billion (2003). BusinessWeek magazine ranks Rolex #71 on its 2007 annual list of the 100 most important global brands, top among all watchmakers.


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 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, and its origin is obscure. Wilsdorf was said to want his watch brand's name to be easily pronounceable in any language. One story, never confirmed by Wilsdorf, is that the name came from the French phrase horlogerie exquise, meaning "exquisite clockwork". Another story claims that "rolex" was meant to evoke the sound of a watch being wound. The book The Best of Time Rolex Wrist Watches by J.Hess and J. Dowling says that the name was just made up.

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 company moved out of the United Kingdom because taxes and export duties on the case metals (silver and gold) were driving costs up.

Upon the death of his wife in 1944, Wilsdorf established the Hans Wildorf 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.

Other innovations

Among the company's innovations are the first waterproof watch case; the first wristwatch with a date on the dial; the first watch to show two time zones at once; and the first watchmakers to earn chronometer certification for a wristwatch. To date, Rolex still holds the record for the most certified chronometer movements in the category of wristwatches. 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. The first self-winding Rolex watch 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 eliminated the problem of over-winding a watch and harming its mechanism. Rolex was also the first watch company to create the first water resistant watch to 330 feet. 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 has also made a reputation in watches suitable for the extremes of deep-sea diving, aviation and mountain climbing. Early sports models included the Rolex submariner and the Oyster Perpetual Sea Dweller 2000 (in 1971). This watch had a helium release valve, co-invented with Swiss watchmaker Doxa, to release helium gas build-up during decompression. Another sports model is the Rolex GMT Master II, originally developed at the request of Pan Am Airways to assist pilots in transcontinental flights. The Explorer and Explorer II were developed specifically for explorers who would navigate rough terrain—such as the world famous Everest Expeditions.

Watch models

Rolex SA has three watch lines: Oyster Perpetual, Professional and Cellini. The Cellini line is Rolex's line of "dressy" watches. Modern Rolex Oyster watch models include:

The primary bracelets for the Oyster line are named "Jubilee", "Oyster", and "President".

Rolex sells less expensive watches under the "Tudor" brand name, which was introduced by Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf in 1946. While still sold in Europe and the Far East, American sales of the Tudor line were discontinued in 2004.

Rolex is the largest manufacturer of Swiss made certified chronometers. In 2005 more than half the annual production of COSC certified watches were Rolexes.

Rolex watches vary in price according to the model and the materials used. The Oyster steel models vary from USD $4,500 to $9,200, while the Submariner gold models vary from $20,000 to $28,000.

In the UK, the steel 'sports' range starts from a retail (MSRP) of ~£2000 upwards.

Rolex counterfeits

Like many high-priced, brand-name accessories, Rolex watches are frequently counterfeited. They are among the most commonly counterfeited brands, often illegally sold on the street and on the internet. These fakes are mainly produced in China due to the ease in copying the general design (EU figures show that 54% of fakes seized in 2004 originated in China), and retail anywhere from $5 upwards to $1000—for high end replicas fabricated in solid gold. By some accounts, over 75% of all replica watches produced annually are copies of Rolex Oyster Perpetual designs. These fake watches have been nicknamed "Folex" or "Fauxlex", or "Trolex" in Spain (faux means fake in French, trola means fake in Spanish). Fake Rolexes are often promoted via E-mail spam, and have been reported to be one of the top ten things offered in spam solicitations.

Rolex in popular culture

Paul Newman wore a Rolex Cosmograph "Daytona" when his wife (Joanne Woodward) gave it to him with an inscription on the back: "Drive Slowly, Joanne". Certain "exot dial" models have become known as "Paul Newmans" and are quite collectible.

Ian Fleming's James Bond character wore a stainless steel luminous-dial Rolex Oyster Perpetual in the series of spy novels. That watch came to an unfortunate end in the novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service when he used it as an improvised knuckle-duster. In many of the early EON-produced Bond films, Bond wore a Rolex Submariner. Rolex models were used from the first Bond film Dr. No until 1974's The Man with the Golden Gun. Thereafter Seiko digital watches were worn by Bond until the Rolex Submariner reappeared in 1989's Licence to Kill. Since 1995's GoldenEye, Omega Seamaster watches have been product-placed in the Bond films.

CNN chief Jim Walton is known to compare CNN to a Rolex watch. In an interview to Broadcasting & Cable magazine he is quoted as saying: "Rolex means something to people; It's a quality product, it's expensive."

In the hit TV series 24 the character Jack Bauer wears a Rolex Submariner in the fourth season of the show when facing off with the 'terrorist' Habib Marwan. In reality, the actor Kiefer Sutherland wore a replica (fake) until it was destroyed when smashed against a pillar when fending off Marwan.

Significant events in Rolex history

  • Rolex is the official time keeper of Wimbledon and The Australian Open tennis grand slams.
  • Jacques Piccard and his Rolex Oyster: 1960, Mariana Trench, depth of 11,000 m
  • Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay carried a Rolex Oyster: 1953, altitude 8,848 m, Mount Everest.
  • Mercedes Gleitze was the first British woman to swim the English Channel on 7 October 1927. Some doubts were cast on her achievement when a hoaxer claimed to have made a faster swim only four days later. To silence her critics, Mercedes Gleitze attempted a repeat swim on 21 October in the full glare of publicity. Hans Wilsdorf knew a good marketing opportunity when he saw one, and offered her one of the earliest Rolex Oysters if she would wear it during the attempt. After more than 10 hours, in water that was much colder than during her first swim, she was pulled from the sea semi-conscious seven miles short of her goal. Although she did not complete the second crossing, a journalist for The Times wrote "Having regard to the general conditions, the endurance of Miss Gleitze surprised the doctors, journalists, and experts who were present, for it seemed unlikely that she would be able to withstand the cold for so long. It was a good performance." This silenced the doubters, and Mercedes Gleitze was hailed as a heroine. As she sat in the boat, the same journalist made a discovery and reported it as follows: "Hanging round her neck by a riband on this swim, Miss Gleitze carried a small gold watch, which was found this evening to have kept good time throughout." When examined closely, the watch was found to be in perfect condition, dry inside and ticking away as if nothing had happened. One month later, on 24th November 1927, Wilsdorf launched the Rolex Oyster watch in the United Kingdom as the focal point of a full front page Rolex advert in the Daily Mail, and the Rolex Oyster began its rise to fame.

Rolex in murder case

In a famous murder case the Rolex that a victim wore on his wrist eventually led to the arrest of his murderer. When a body was found in the English Channel in 1996 by a fisherman who caught the body, and the 4.5 kg anchor attached to it through the victim's belt, in his net about 10 km from the English coast, a Rolex wristwatch was the only identifiable object on the body. Since the Rolex movement had a serial number and was engraved with special markings every time it was serviced, British police traced the service records from Rolex, and Ronald Joseph Platt was identified as the owner of the watch and the victim of the murder. In addition British police were able to determine the date of death by examining the date on the watch calendar and since the Rolex movement had a reserve of two to three days of operation when inactive and it was fully waterproof, they were able to determine the time of death within a small margin of error.

Rolex and the Great Escape

On 10 March 1943 corporal Clive James Nutting, one of the organizers of the Great Escape, ordered a stainless steel Rolex Oyster 3525 Chronograph valued at a current equivalent of £1200 by mail directly from Hans Wilsdorf in Geneva, intending to pay for it with money he saved working as a shoemaker at the camp. The watch, (Rolex watch no. 185983), was delivered to Stalag Luft III on 4 August along with a note from Wilsdorf apologising for any delay in processing the order and explaining that an English gentleman such as corporal Nutting "should not even think" about paying for the watch before the end of the war. Rolex had initially extended this wartime offer to all British officers prisoners of war and Hans Wilsdorf, who believed that a British officer's word was his contract, was in charge of the program. As an example, an estimated 3,000 Rolex watches were ordered by British officers in the Oflag (prison camp for officers) VII B pow camp in Bavaria. This offer had the effect of raising the morale among the allied prisoners of war because it indicated that Wilsdorf did not believe that the Nazis would win the war. Wilsdorf is reported to have been impressed with Nutting, because although not an officer, he had ordered the expensive Rolex 3525 Oyster chronograph while most other prisoners ordered the much cheaper Speed King model which was popular due to its small size. The watch is believed to have been ordered specifically to be used in the Great Escape, where as a chronograph it could have been used to time patrols of prison guards or time the 76 escapers through tunnel "Harry" on 24 March, 1944. Eventually, after the war, Nutting was sent an invoice of only £15 for the watch, due to currency export controls in England at the time. The watch and associated correspondence between Wilsdorf and Nutting were sold at auction for £66,000 in May 2007 while at an earlier auction on September 2006 the same watch fetched 54,000 AUSD. Nutting served as a consultant for both the 1950 film The Wooden Horse and the 1963 film The Great Escape. Both films were based on actual escapes which took place at Stalag Luft III.


By 2007 Rolex had their United States headquarters in New York and select direct points of sale in New York, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Boston, San Francisco, Dallas, Las Vegas, and Miami.

In Australia Rolex's head office is located in Melbourne on Collins Street on the Melbourne Skyline. A service centre is also there. Similar regional offices of Rolex exist throughout the world.

The top executives of Rolex are:

Name Title
Patrick Heiniger CEO
Michael Phillips Head of Service
Masie Ball Head of distribution
Thomas Collins Head of Employees
Leslie Goodard Marketing Executive
Masie Ball Finance Executive
Thomas Karadimos Demand Manager
Mary Sumpton Head of Business Management
George Henry-Smith Strategic Sourcing Manager

The Rolex sign around the world

See also


External links

  • Rolex, Official Rolex site
  • Rolex Forums, a non-commercial website for the discussion of all aspects of Rolex, with reviews, photo galleries and other information, e.g. an online Rolex reference library.
  • oysterinfo, a non-commercial website about Rolex history, models and other information e.g. serial numbers=year of manufacture, workshops.
  • Rolex Watch Index, a handy reference index of current Rolex watches, listing by calibre, case material, water resistance, diameter, thickness(height) and model number.
  • Rolex Reference Page, a website on Rolex, with articles, reviews, images, wallpapers and other information.
  • An informative guide on spotting a Counterfeit Rolex Watch
  • Rolex Information & Tidbits Comparisons between Rolex watches, Rolex price list and watch maintenance information.

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