Hans Wilsdorf
The Saga of Rolex

Beyond the myth, an institution
In fifty short years, the brand created by Hans Wilsdorf (pictured opposite) became the outright leader for top of the range watch-making.
Today, throughout the world, the Rolex and luxury watches are as synonymous as Frigidaire and the refrigerator in the 1950s.

Interest in who owns such and such model, where it’s on the market, and how to find the most sought after military models or limited editions for professionals has steadily grown since the mid-80s.

With so many references to the prized Rolex, recent aficionados will find little difficulty investing in the myth.

The myth

The Watch Quote™ - February 20th, 2004

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona
In 1985, G. Agnelli was shown wearing a Rolex Daytona Cosmograph on the front cover of an Italian magazine. That one simple photo sparked an unstoppable reaction in all four corners of the world.

For the general public, the modern myth of the ROLEX is built on the near-impossibility of attaining a steel DAYTONA from any brand dealer. (Even if your order is accepted, the waiting list can be seven years or longer).

Re-sale prices reached the dizzy heights of 12,000 euros for some recent models listed in the Rolex catalogue at 6,000 euros, and up to 30,000 euros for steel models with specific dials from the 1960s or 1970s, such as the Paul Newman versions.

For years, while money was easier to come by, buyers were constantly outbidding each other. The Stock Exchange was booming. Among the new elite, steel models eclipsed the solid gold that was Rolex in the glory days of the 1970s.

The predilection for steel saved the brand from a backlash to its image which, after years of exploding sales, particularly on the golf circuit,
was perceived to be ostentatious.

In Europe, at this time, Rolex underwent a pronounced decline while, for enthusiastic buyers in Asia and Africa, the market for gold jewel watches was being developed.

After a problematic beginning, the Daytona adventure not only renewed the interest in a new model, it also enabled the brand to regain its popularity among clientele.

History

Hans Wilsdorf was born in Kulmbach, Bavaria, on March 22, 1881.

1900, he settled at La Chaux-de-Fonds where he did clerical work for a watch exporter.

In 1903, he left to work in London. Soon after, in 1905, he founded a wholesale watch business, WILSDORF AND DAVIS, signing a contract in Bienne with AEGLER, to guarantee them distribution of watches under their name in England.

The name ROLEX (an abbreviation of the French phrase “horlogerie exquise”) dates from 1908. AEGLER watches were checked by the watch test service in Bienne, and their movements were double-checked at the Kew Observatory in England.

The Aegler company was renamed the ROLEX WATCH CO. AEGLER S.A. in 1914.

Wilsdorf transferred world exports to Bienne to thwart the British Government, who had imposed an import tax of 33.3% to finance the Great War.

He founded MONTRE ROLEX S.A. in Geneva in 1920.

The movements were made in Bienne. ROLEX assembly, testing and sales were in Geneva.
To improve the water resistance of wristwatches, Wilsdorf registered a patent for a case with
screw-down winding crown in 1926.

On 17 October 1927, the typist Mercedes Gleitze swam the English Channel in 15hrs. 15mins. wearing a ROLEX OYSTER.

In 1931, thanks to the talents of the technician Emil Borer, Wilsdorf presented an automatic permanent rotor winder, the ROLEX PERPETUAL. He retained the exclusive rights, and prohibited the automatic movement’s use by any competitor for the next fifteen years.

In 1945, ROLEX unveiled the DATEJUST, the first automatic water-resistant chronometer wristwatch with date viewer.

In 1953, the SUBMARINER, the first diver’s watch, water-resistant to 100 meters, was launched. This model put Rolex into orbit.

The same year, Mount Everest was conquered. All of the team led by Sir John Hunt were equipped with OYSTER PERPETUAL chronometers.

In 1954, ROLEX launched the GMT-MASTER.

In 1956, DAY-DATE, first wrist chronometer showing the day of the week in 25 languages, was launched.

On 6 July 1960, Hans Wilsdorf died in Geneva. He left his successors a thriving business, multi-billion profits, and the biggest consumer of gold in Switzerland.

Professor Jacques Picard attached a ROLEX OYSTER, with specially reinforced case to his bathyscaphe. The TRIESTE attained 10,916 meters in the Pacific Ocean with no damage.

In 1971, the immersion record for the SEA-DWELLER 2000 was attained at 2000 feet (610 meters.)

In 1980, a new record of immersion for the SEA-DWELLER 4000 at 4000 feet (1220 meters.)

In 2000, introduction of new DAYTONA chronograph/chronometer now manufactured entirely within the factory, and not using modified Zenith/el Primero movements.

Introduction of new platinum and gold version of the DAY-DATE.

2001, new LADY-DATEJUST in platinum and gold.

2003, for its 50th anniversary, ROLEX issued a commemorative version of the SUBMARINER, with green lunette, reference 16610LV.

ROLEX produces around 600,000 officially certified chronometers every year.

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