Originally established as “Wilsdorf and Davis”, the company that would eventually become “Rolex” was founded in London, England in 1905. Originally renowned for their technical innovations in the watchmaking world, such as earning the first ever chronometer certification for a wristwatch, pioneering work in waterproof wristwatches, or their extreme durability, having been used by pilots, divers, and explorers alike. The brand has evolved, however, into a symbol of pure luxury, as the brand has surpassed $5 Billion USD per year and now sponsors major sporting tournaments and dons its namesake from luxury boutiques and showrooms across the globe.
The Crown logo is truly fitting for a company of Rolex’s stature, as they remain the king of luxury watches over 140 years since their inception.Rolex gained their notoriety through their superior craftsmanship and utility. In 1926, Rolex developed the first waterproof wristwatch, giving it the name "Oyster"– an iconic model to this day. With the public highly skeptical of this technical feat, Rolex commissioned an “Oyster” necklace for British swimmer Mercedes Gleitze, who swam across the English Channel wearing the Oyster– proving that the watch could stand by its claims. British explorer Robert Hunt summited Mount Everest with his crew in 1953, and promptly displayed his Rolex “Everest” Model when he returned– a custom model commissioned specifically for this expedition. As watches were originally produced for pilots, divers, and other professions that needed a reliable time-keeper that could withstand the toughest of conditions, Rolex positioned itself as the must-know name in wristwatch craftsmanship and utility.
While Rolex’s Mid-20th Century marketing blazed a new trail in the world of luxury, none of Rolex’s marketing was as significant to their positioning as their World War II “POW Scheme”, in which original Rolex founder Hans Wildorf offered to replace Rolex’s– by now a popular choice among the Allies’ Air Force Pilots– that were seized by Axis powers in POW camps. If a Prisoner-of-War could explain the circumstances of which their Rolex was lost or seized, Rolex would personally send them a new model, not requiring payment until the end of the war. This was instrumental in opening the USA market to Rolex, though the intention was pure and noble. Rolex’s initial marketing campaigns (and their enormous successes) were based on what the company really wanted to do– rather than what they wanted to display– and thus it is no surprise that their marketing has stood the test of time and helped them grow into a time-honored brand.
While known for their technical expertise and their grassroots marketing, Rolex has developed their name in modern times via their timeless designs. The Submariner, Daytona, Oyster, GMT and Yachtmaster, among other models, have been collectors favorites for over half a century now! They say you don't mess with perfection, and thus Rolex specializes in slightly tweaking or improving their world-renowned wristwatch models, rather than invest heavily in developing new products. The “Rolex GMT”, for example, was one of the first widely-circulated GMT model wristwatches in history, meaning the watch tracks time in multiple time zones. This is relegated to a design spec in today's internet age, though at the time there was no better way to track time in multiple time-zones, making the GMT a must-have for pilots. The Oyster was the first waterproof wristwatch, making it essential for scuba-divers, navy sailors, swimmers and more. While other models are known for their functionality, the Daytona, designed to meet the needs of racing drivers by measuring time elapsed and calculating average speed, is perhaps best known for being Paul Newman’s favorite watch. Gifted to him by his wife in 1968, Newman loved the custom Daytona model for his car races and, subsequently, his films about the car racing world. The same exact Paul Newman-owned model was sold by Phillips Auction in New York for a stunning US$17.75 million– not bad for a watch that was selling for around $200 US Dollars at the time of the purchase!
Among the most popular brands in the world, Rolex has continued to redefine itself while staying true to their brand’s roots. While overused, the term “timeless” truly does apply to Rolex, which is among the most ubiquitous brands in the world today.