words Alexa Wang
People know – and love – Rolex as a luxury watch brand, but it didn’t start that way. The brand started out life as Wilsdorf & Davies, a small but high-quality watch supplier in the British capital of London.
With a lengthy history, dependable reputation and timeless style, it’s no wonder both new and pre-owned Rolex watches have remained a popular choice. Now one of the most recognisable names in designer watchmaking, the story behind the brand is an intriguing one.
Founded by Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law Alfred Davis in 1905, the business quickly became the leading supplier of watches in not just the city, but the world. The term ‘Rolex’ was coined in 1908 but, surprisingly, there was no reference to this for years and it certainly didn’t appear on any watches. That was until 1915; this was the year that Rolex Watch Co. Ltd was born, swiftly growing into the luxury brand we know today.
What’s in a name? Rolex has become an iconic brand, but the word doesn’t actually mean anything. According to Business Insider, the brand stated that Hans Wilsdorf came up with the word after searching for a short, snappy name that everyone could say. It was also imperative that the name would fit on the clock face of a watch and look good when styled in capital letters. He rearranged the letters of the alphabet hundreds of times before coming up with the final result, claiming that a ‘Genie’ whispered it in his ears while out in London.
While Rolex had roots in Britain, the company decided to relocate its head office in 1919. Having previously imported Swiss movements and dials to use in their watches, it made sense for the brand to reside in Geneva, Switzerland. It was here that the iconic crown logo made its appearance, which has stood the test of time and remains unchanged.
There are many theories relating to the logo, although none are confirmed. Some believe the five points represent the fingers on a hand and others think it relates to the five letters in the brand name. While the idea behind the famous five-point crown isn’t known, what we are aware of is that it signals the high-quality of the watches.
Not only did they produce beautiful, well-made designs, but Rolex was an innovative brand. In 1926, for example, they invented and produced the very first waterproof wristwatch called the Oyster, which is still a popular model. As well as this, they created the first watch to have an automatic date on the dial and furthermore invented the first timepiece to display two time zones.
Rolex has continued to be a success and there’s no sign of that slowing down. With a value of $9.1b, they were recently listed as 78th in Forbes’ Most Valuable Brands 2019. This – and the fact that they still produce more than 800,000 watches annually – proves that the world continues to recognise Rolex as the best of the best. From starring in the famous James Bond movies to making some long-standing innovations, it’s not hard to see why Rolex has held onto their reputation and customer base for so long.