Rolex was originally known as Wilsdorf and Davis Ltd. named after its owners, Hans Wilhelm Wilsdorf and Alfred James Davis in 1905. In 1908, after the marriage of Davis to Wilsdorf’s younger sister, the company was registered as Rolex. It was thought that Rolex was an easy name to pronounce and spell in any language.
At the beginning, they focused on pocket watches (wrist watches were considered feminine) and travel clocks. Later, Wilsdorf began to manufacture wrist watches for men. During the Boer War in South Africa, soldiers were wearing pocket watches strapped to their wrists to free up their hands and because it was too hot to carry a pocket watch in a jacket.
During World War II, the British Government demanded a tax of “33% on all imported watches, clocks and parts”. During this difficult time, Rolex moved to London then to Bienne and finally to Geneva in 1919 to avoid the tax.
In 1926, the Rolex Logo appeared on all their watch dials. During that same year, Wilsdorf bought the patent for a moisture proof winding stem and button. Rolex then went to the market with the world’s first waterproof case known as the “Oyster”. To prove its reliability, Mercedes Gleitze wore the Oyster waterproof watch as she swam across the English Channel in 1927.
In 1945, the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation was started so that the company could run in his absence and could not be sold to “an unfriendly aggressor”.
On November 24, 1945, Rolex delivered the “Datejust” to the market place. It was the first watch that showed the date on the dial. The watch is still exceedingly successful today. During that same, year Rolex introduced the less expensive “Tudor”.
Since that year, Rolex has successfully tested the waterproof “Deep Sea Special” at a depth of 10,336 feet. This was the beginning of their endeavor to build the Rolex Oyster Perpetual “Submariner” which was waterproof to 600 feet. It became wildly successful just as it is today.
In 1954, the “GMT Master” was launched. This watch was meant to be used by pilots that crossed different time zones.
In 1956, the “Day Date” was released. This watch contained the date and time. It was a first for the marketplace.
Later, the “Cosmograph Daytona” was introduced and it received wide acclaim.
On July 6, 1960, Han Wilhelm Wilsdorf died at the age of 79.
Since that time, Rolex has continued to create innovative watches that have captured the attention of the public worldwide.