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Everyone knows Rolex. The brand is synonymous with high-end watches, luxury, fashion — and for any aspiring watch collector, a Rolex is often where they start. But no matter how familiar you may be with shopping for this particular brand of timepiece, how familiar are you with the actual brand itself? Here’s a quick hit of Rolex history.

The Quick History

Unlike many famous watch brands that were founded in Switzerland, Rolex was actually founded in England, by Alfred David and Hans Wilsdorf. The two relatives formed Wilsdorf & David, which was the early predecessor to Rolex, in 1905. At first, the company’s main business was simply importing Swiss movements and then installing them in cases sourced elsewhere, and selling those products to individual jewelers who would then just slap their own names on the dial. 

However, Wilsdorf dreamed of his own wristwatch brand and, in 1908, the two registered the brand name Rolex and opened an office in Switzerland. How was this iconic name chosen? It was simple, really. The two wanted a name short enough to fit on the watches and easy enough to pronounce in any language; plus, they thought the name sounded a little like the noise a watch makes when you’re winding it up. The Rolex name was officially adopted by the entirety of the brand in 1915 and all operations were shortly moved to Geneva, Switzerland.

Quickly thereafter, Rolex began to introduce some of its trademark pieces. In an effort to keep dust and moisture away from the movement, the company purchased a third-party-made waterproof and dustproof wristwatch design christened the “Oyster.” Oyster watches could be adjusted without damaging the movement and Rolex marketed the watch heavily throughout the 1920s, with a focus on the watch’s water resistance, submerging it in aquariums for publicity stunts, and partnering with a British swimmer who wore an Oyster watch while swimming the English Channel.

Other notable contributions to the watch world around this time included, in 1945, the first chronometer wristwatch with an automatically changing date on the dial; in 1943, a watch case on the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner that was waterproof up to 330 feet; in 1954, the Rolex GMT Master, a wristwatch that could show two time zones at once; and, in 1956, the Rolex Day Date, with its automatically changing day and date on the dial.

Due partially to its fame, partially to its designs, Rolex has now become known for producing some of the most expensive watches in the world. Some of the most famous to date include the Rolex Daytona wristwatch that was sold for $17.75 million in 2017; the watch was originally owned by Paul Newman and set a record in 2018 for the most expensive wristwatch and the second most expensive watch to be sold at auction. In 2018, a Rolex Daytona Unicorn was sold for more than $5 million in Geneva, which made it the second most expensive Rolex timepiece sold at auction.

Interested In Rolex?

If you’re in the market for a Rolex watch – make sure to stop by our estate boutique La Maison Yamron. It is conveniently located at Waterside Shops around the corner from our flagship Yamron. Our experienced staff can help you find the perfect timepiece for your collection. You can also write us at [email protected] with any questions – and one of our watch associates will be in touch.

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