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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The top executives of Rolex are:
|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|