The Rolex Legacy: Revolutionizing and Modernizing Watches

 

Like lovers and old houses, a watch like Rolex has a past itself– a past that is, more often than not, left unbeknownst to its wearer.  A Rolex isn’t an expensive piece for nothing. Its exquisiteness is something watch enthusiasts and people are fond of.

So fond that many people revere it from afar, dreaming of taking possession of even just a piece in their lifetime probably because owning one would instantly gratify one’s craving for status.

But beyond elevating oneself in the social ladder, wouldn’t it be more gratifying if one can know a Rolex like one would an old friend, aware of its struggles and victories and even where it came from?

Rolex is a world renowned brand of Swiss wristwatches and accessories that has become a status symbol for the rich and famous as well as for ordinary career-oriented professionals. But however successful and powerful this global brand is, Rolex remains to be one of the brands with history that is quite not known to the public.

One reason is that Rolex is very secretive of its inner workings as compared to other famous brands in the world. The birth of the company is intertwined with the life of its founder Hans Eberhard Wilhelm Wilsdorf who was born in Germany in the year 1881.

 

At the age of 24, Hans Wilsdorf together with his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis founded a company in London specializing in the distribution of timepieces and named it Wilsdorf and Davis. Wristwatches became popular in the year 1912 and because of this Wilsdorf and Davis decided to rename the company.

They decided to change it to Rolex Watch Company or simply “Rolex” because it was easy to pronounce, can be used and recognized in other languages, and looked good when placed and inscribed on watch movements and dials.

The precise meaning of the word “Rolex” is yet unknown but many historians and documenters claimed that “Rolex” came from the French phrase horlogerie exquise which means “exquisite watch industry”.

Though the trade name was successfully established, using the manufacturer’s name on the watch dial is a practice not yet legally accepted that time. Historically, it was the importer’s name not the manufacturer’s name that was displayed on the watch dial.

 

It would take time, money, and a major technical innovation to break this watch tradition. But Mr. Wisldorf was determined with his marketing rally that he spent £12,000 a year, already considered a large sum of money at that time, to publicise the Rolex name and increase public awareness of the brand.

This action helped to increase the watches supplied with the Rolex trade name to 5 in every 6 watches. Later on, with the help of the invention of the ‘Oyster’ case, Rolex finally wielded the power to dictate to their importers that every watch they supplied carry their name.

The Oyster case was name as such because it was dubbed to be impenetrable as an oyster. Mr. Wilsdorf and his assistants laboured for it for many years with the goal of creating:

“… a watch case so tight that our movements will be permanently guaranteed against damage caused by dust, perspiration, water, heat and cold. Only then will the perfect accuracy of the Rolex be secured.”[1]

 

Another major achievement was in 1914 when it was awarded the first watch chronometer rating in the world. Rolex was, in fact, the first to prove that it was possible for a wristwatch to achieve the same kind of kind of precision as a marine chronometer—a concept that was hardly acceptable in that time.

This marked the advent of the modern precision wristwatch. This remarkable performance contributed significantly to the rise of popularity of wristwatches and, conversely, of Rolex as a brand. On the strength of this achievement, Rolex eventually became the world’s largest manufacturer of chronometer-certified wristwatches.

 

The signature on Rolex dials is a reminder that since the early 20th century, Rolex has played a central role in the development of a modern precision watch—a bold move that most watch manufacturers failed to do and made Rolex stand out as the maker of the best revolutionary timepieces of the century.

 

 

 

 

[1] The Rolex Watch Company-A Brief History. Redwatches.com. http://www.redwatches.com/beginnings.php?PHPSESSID=1af26e29e5172a5528249222e5305311. Accessed 30 July 2016.