Rolex SA is a Swiss luxury watchmaker. The company and its subsidiary Montres Tudor SA design, manufacture, distribute and service wristwatches sold under the Rolex and Tudor brands. Founded by Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis in London, England in 1905 as Wilsdorf and Davis, Rolex moved its base of operations to Geneva, Switzerland in 1919.
Forbes ranked Rolex 64th on its 2016 list of the world's most powerful global brands.Rolex is the largest single luxury watch brand, producing about 2,000 watches per day.watch report
Alfred Davis and his brother-in-law Hans Wilsdorf founded Wilsdorf and Davis, the company that would eventually become Rolex SA, in London, England in 1905. Wilsdorf and Davis' main commercial activity at the time involved importing Hermann Aegler's Swissmovements to England and placing them in high-quality watch cases made by Dennison and others. These early wristwatches were sold to jewellers, who then put their own names on the dial. The earliest watches from Wilsdorf and Davis were usually hallmarked "W&D" inside the caseback.
In 1908 Wilsdorf registered the trademark "Rolex" and opened an office in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.The company name "Rolex" was registered on 15 November 1915. The book The Best of Time: Rolex Wristwatches: An Unauthorized History by Jeffrey P. Hess and James Dowling says that the name was just made up. One story, never confirmed by Wilsdorf, recounts that the name came from the French phrase horlogerie exquise, meaning "exquisite clockwork"or as a contraction of "horological excellence". Wilsdorf was said to want his watch brand's name to be easily pronounceable in any language. He also thought that the name "Rolex" was onomatopoeic, sounding like a watch being wound. It is easily pronounceable in many languages and, as all its upper-case letters have the same size, can be written symmetrically. It was also short enough to fit on the face of a watches
In 1914 Kew Observatory awarded a Rolex watch a Class A precision certificate, a distinction normally granted exclusively to marine chronometers.
In 1919 Wilsdorf left England due to wartime taxes levied on luxury imports as well as to export duties on the silver and gold used for the watch cases driving costs too high and moved the company to Geneva, Switzerland, where it was established as the Rolex Watch Company. Its name was later changed to Montres Rolex, SA and finally Rolex, SA.Upon the death of his wife in 1944, Wilsdorf established the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, a private trust, in which he left all of his Rolex shares, making sure that some of the company's income would go to charity. Wilsdorf died in 1960; since then, the trust has owned and run the company.
In December 2008, following the abrupt departure of Chief Executive Patrick Heiniger for "personal reasons", the company denied that it had lost 1 billion Swiss francs (approx £574 million, $900 million) invested with Bernard Madoff, the American asset manager who pleaded guilty to an approximately £30 billion worldwide Ponzi scheme fraud. Rolex SA announced Heiniger's death on 5 March 2013.
Among the company's innovations are:
- The first waterproof wristwatch "Oyster", 1926
- The first wristwatch with an automatically changing date on the dial (Rolex Datejust ref.4467, 1945)
- The first wristwatch case waterproof to 100 m (330 ft) (Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner ref.6204, 1953)
- The first wristwatch to show two time zones at once (Rolex GMT Master ref.6542, 1954)
- The first wristwatch with an automatically changing day and date on the dial (Rolex Day-Date, 1956)
- The first watchmaker to earn chronometer certification for a wristwatch (1910)
The first self-winding Rolex wristwatch was offered to the public in 1931 (so-called the "bubbleback" due to the large caseback), preceded to the market by Harwood which patented the design in 1923 and produced the first self-winding watch in 1928, powered by an internal mechanism that used the movement of the wearer's arm. This not only made watch-winding unnecessary, but kept the power from the mainspring more consistent resulting in more reliable time keeping.
Rolex participated in the development of the original quartz watch movements. Although Rolex has made very few quartz models for its Oyster line, the company's engineers were instrumental in design and implementation of the technology during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1968, Rolex collaborated with a consortium of 16 Swiss watch manufacturers to develop the Beta 21 quartz movement used in their Rolex Quartz Date 5100. alongside other manufactures including the Omega Electroquartz watches. Within about five years of research, design, and development, Rolex created the "clean-slate" 5035/5055 movement that would eventually power the Rolex Oysterquartz.
Rolex was also the first watch company to create a water resistant wristwatch that could withstand pressure to a depth of 100 m (330 ft). Wilsdorf even had a specially made Rolex watch (the watch was called the "DeepSea") attached to the side of Trieste, which went to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The watch survived and tested as having kept perfect time during its descent and ascent. This was confirmed by a telegram sent to Rolex the following day saying "Am happy to confirm that even at 11,000 metres your watch is as precise as on the surface. Best regards, Jacques Piccard".