FEATURE

10 Things to Know About Rolex


Rolex is the world’s most widely recognized luxury watch brand. That global recognition is the product of decades of success in a range of fields, from early timekeeping records to a string of important firsts, not to mention film appearances and associations with James Bond, Paul Newman, and other notables. Here are 10 key things you should know about Rolex.

1. Early Days

Rolex Hans Wilsdorf
Above, a young Hans Wilsdorf. Below, an early company sign.

In 1905, Hans Wilsdorf and his business partner and brother-in-law, Alfred Davis, founded Wilsdorf & Davis Ltd. in London. In 1908, Wilsdorf registered the trademark “Rolex” and opened an office in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The company officially changed its name to Rolex in 1915. There are various stories about the origin of the Rolex name, none apparently confirmed by Wilsdorf himself. One is that Wilsdorf followed the lead of George Eastman, who invented the “Kodak” name for his own company. Eastman’s success started a trend of short, invented brand names. Another story is that Rolex is a sort of portmanteau of the French phrase horlogerie exquise. Regardless of the inspiration, the name certainly caught on.

2. Patents and Firsts

First Rolex Submariner
The first Rolex Submariner went into production in 1953.

Rolex claims, or has been credited with, a wide range of watchmaking patents and firsts. Here is a sampling:

In 1910, a Rolex was the first wristwatch in the world to receive the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision, granted by the Official Watch Rating Center in Bienne. In 1926, Rolex patented the first waterproof watch – its famous Oyster.

The Datejust was born in 1945, bringing us the first self-winding wristwatch to indicate the date in a window on the dial. Rolex became the first watch to break the sound barrier on the wrist of pilot Chuck Yeager in 1947.

Launched in 1953, the Submariner was the first divers’ watch waterproof to a depth of 100 meters. That same year, Rolex reached the summit of Mt. Everest with the expedition that included Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

In 1960, Rolex was the first company to send a watch to the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. In 1967, Rolex patented the helium escape valve. Rolex became the first brand to use 904L stainless steel in 1985.

Rolex is also know for creating an array of trademarked names for its innovations. These include Twinlock and Triplock waterproof screw-down crown systems. Parachrom is a material developed, patented and manufactured by Rolex for use in hairsprings, Everose is an 18k rose gold developed, patented and produced by Rolex in its own foundry. The Paraflex shock absorber system helps protect the movement from shocks.

3. Kew A Certificates

Rolex Kew A Certificate 6210
A rare Rolex 6210 “Kew A Certificate” watch sold by Antiquorum Auctioneers. Image courtesy Antiquorum.

In days gone by, when ships relied on marine chronometers to navigate, timekeeping accuracy was a paramount concern not only to sailors, but to entire nations. Manufacturers sent their finest handmade and hand-adjusted marine chronometers to be tested at astronomical observatories, such as those at Neuchâtel, Geneva, Besançon and Kew. Each observatory applied its own standards, and Kew reportedly applied the strictest of all. The tests were far more demanding than those employed by COSC today. For decades, only hand-adjusted marine chronometers with detent, or chronometer, escapements passed the tests. At Kew, chronometers that performed especially well received an A-class certificate.

In 1914, a Rolex wristwatch received the first-ever Kew A certificate for a timepiece of that type. During the 1940s, Rolex submitted a series of 145 small wristwatch movements to Kew for testing. To the amazement of practically everyone (except perhaps Hans Wilsdorf and his staff), 136 of the movements received Kew A certificates. The movements Rolex submitted were among the least expensive it produced – 10 ½ “’ Hunters, though each was fitted with standard production balance wheels and escapements intended for another movement, making the “Kew A” movements a sort of hybrid. These movements were specially hand finished, and each was adjusted by Rolex’s master timer, Jean Matile. Most of the movements were used in steel, 32 mm Oyster Speedking watches, while 24 of the movements were placed in 34 mm gold cases and sold as model 6210. Needless to say, today these watches are among the most sought-after by collectors.

4. James Bond

Rolex James Bond Submariner 6538
A Rolex ref. 6538 “James Bond” Submariner, sold by Antiquorum, who kindly provided this image.

Rolex has close connections with several real-life celebrities, but the most famous connection may be with the fictional character James Bond. Rolex collectors differ on some of the details surrounding which Rolex models appeared in which films, but it is settled that in his original 14 Bond books, Ian Fleming mentioned only one brand as belonging to 007 – Rolex. So, when Bond made the jump to the big screen, he naturally wore Rolex. Sources vary slightly on which models appeared in which movies, but it seems safe to say that Rolex appeared in these Bond films: Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Live and Let Die, The Man With the Golden Gun, and License to Kill. You’ll find a complete list of James Bond’s watches here.

The relationship produced a watch known to collectors as simply the “James Bond Sub.” Most agree that this designation belongs to the ref. 6538, which was produced from 1954 to 1959. Some refer to all early Submariners without crown guards as James Bond Subs. However you choose to define it, a legend was born.

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59 Responses to “10 Things to Know About Rolex”

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  1. LEE Rappeport

    I’m tired of hearing about ROLRX…..There are too many watches out there of excellent quality, so lets hear about them, eh?

    Reply
  2. Johannes Awondatu

    I loved anykind of Rolex, because Rolex has “soul and heart,”

    Reply
  3. Ian Woollard

    There’s definitely something special about Rolex,it’s so well known that it’s the brand most people think of when they consider quality luxury watches. I’ve never owned one but the brand is never far from my thoughts or others with an interest in watches. One day I’d like to own one to experience the connection with this historic and iconic brand.

    Reply
  4. Robert Opsvik

    My first was a 1977 SS datejust. I now prefer a watch with a diameter between 44mm & 48mm.
    It baffles me as to just why Rolex does not offer their models in larger sizes along with their standard ~38mm line. A day/date/month and PVD models would sell well…I’m never paying for a stopwatch complication again ever…no one uses that, it just looks cool.

    Reply
  5. Thank you for the contribution. From my own point of view you omitted arguably the most significant fact about Rolex, namely that it is not a for-profit company. See here: https://www.quora.com/Is-Rolex-a-non-profit-company-And-if-so-why

    I want to respond to a few comments that have been made and want to add a few observations as well.

    1. ALL watches are tools: they tell the time. Nonetheless, some are more tool than others.
    2. I am sure many owners of Rolex made their purchase for others to see. We have them with us and we feel sorry for them. Fact is that Rolex is a very affordable watch, judging the cost of luxury watches across the spectrum. There are MANY brands, now including Omega, that cost as much as Rolex, but then there are a huge number that are a great deal more expensive than Rolex. So, if you are wealthy, purchasing a Rolex for a son or daughter as a gift in recognition for some or other achievement is a non-event.
    3. If one considers that Rolex does a lot of research (their patents prove it) and makes its own movements (all chronometer grade), its prices may not be all that expensive. Because its main goal is not profit, it is possible that, compared to the market, it sells for far below its actual value.
    4. Certain Rolex models, e.g. the Submariner, is surely the most copied watch in history. I can think of a long list of brands that makes or made a watch that looks just like the Submariner. It is a hugely popular design, or, it taps into clientele that cannot afford the best-known Rolex. Personally, it took me 10 years of collecting before I bought my first Rolex, a transitional Submariner. The reason is that Rolex is simply unattractive. Only its tool watches have a measure of attraction for me. BUT, it ages fantastically well. Dials, hands and bezels pic up the most wonderful patina and in the process, time acts to augment Rolex’s idea to create master pieces. For me personally there is not a single current Rolex that I will purchase based on its looks. Rolex simply does not make a watch as attractive as the Daytonas of the sixties and seventies that used the Valjoux 72 movement.
    5. Rolex is mass produced without a doubt. BUT, who knows what their production plant looks like, how many employees it has and how their production line is organised. It is a mass produced watch that performs unlike a mass produced watch.
    6. I surf the web everyday to see what is new on discussion and sales forums. Listings are dominated by pre-owned Rolex. What I cannot figure out is where all these watches come from. Are they from dissatisfied owners or from owners who are ready for their next luxury watch? The mystery for me continues. Prices are going up in a market that seems to be flooded with the product. What about supply and demand determining price?

    Whatever whoever says about Rolex, it is a unique enterprise that makes high quality watches that are hugely in demand on a tremendous scale, and that represent an investment to a varying degree.

    Reply
  6. The issue with Rolex is the world best known watch brand name, make close to 1 million a year and a status symbol. You either hats or love Rolex. I will never buy a Rolex but AP, Patek or Lange.

    Reply
  7. MFleyfel

    “In 1926, Rolex patented the first waterproof watch – its famous Oyster.” I didn’t read all the comments if someone pointed that out so: You should be claiming water resistance since no watch is 100% waterproof that is why there is a depth indication on the dial.
    However I love your articles :)

    Reply
    • The United States FTC allows Rolex to use the term waterproof. Rolex uses it on their website when listing a watch’s rated waterproof depth.

      Reply
  8. Peter Noren

    Yes yes we all Know about the King beeing Patek, the Queen Vacheron and the PM Mr Lange. Rolex the knight wins all battles for himself and them.

    Reply
  9. MIKEY

    To all the people who have a Rolex on their wrist, you’re basically letting the rest of us know that you’re a tool and have no interest in watches. You just bought one because you could pronounce it to the sales assistant without looking and sounding like a tool…oops, too late! But that wasn’t enough, you went ahead a bought it anyway. I bet you probably drive a mercedes or BMW, because you have no interest in driving either. But your friends are impressed.

    Reply
    • Mr. Mikey, why so mad about Rolex?… What are your brands of choice and why do you love them so?

      Reply
    • Request: Mr. Mikey, Please post the link (to this forum) to your globaly recognized brand… I ass/u/me that “your brand’s” net worth is more than $8.8B…

      Reply
    • James Switz

      Rolex is the best tool watch maker in the world. Too bad your on welfare.

      Reply
    • Hey Mikey,

      You are a man of little vision, and short on imagination if you think that all a Rolex watch is for is something to impress people with. Get educated.

      Reply
    • Mikey thank you for your insightful information.
      Please note I am an avid watch collector and I have one sea dweller in my collection and my wife has 2 in hers.
      I didn’t buy this to act like a tool young man. I bought this as it’s now out of production and has already made me 3000e extra euros young man.
      Someday If you say up you also can aspire to be a tool. In the meantime young man less of the jealousy as it’s only a watch.

      Reply
    • Darron Muir

      I have 9 of them and they have all increased in value. I’m sorry you can’t afford one and you spill your jealousey onto these sites. The only tool I see is you for venting such crap.
      Let people spend their hard earn money on what ever they desire. Enjoy your swatch watch tool!!

      Reply
    • Darron Muir

      Dear Mickey (mouse),
      The only tool I see here is your jealous self because you obviously can’t afford one. What I don’t understand is that you have just embarrassed yourself by even commenting on this way about people who can spend their hard earned money which ever way they wish.
      I hope you enjoy your swatch watch tool!!!

      Reply
    • Mikey, your comment is about as moronic as any post I have ever seen. You have zero concept of value. What I value, and what you value, may be different. For example, just because you highly value a pile of stinky stuff on the dirt patch behind your tent does not make you a bad guy- feel free. Personally, I value a wide variety of well made and timeless things that include, yes, Rolex. Your comment exposes your major issue- jealousy. I cannot afford a Lamborghini (any model), but I sure do respect the car, and the mechanical artists that produce them. Likewise, I appreciate the designers, and craftsmen and women, that produce heirloom quality watches. Please don’t make sweeping and broad judgements about people you have never met. You, as an individual, would be surprised who owns, or has owned, the watches you despise.

      Reply
  10. Juan Chavez

    Great article.
    Rolex to me is a lifetime asset, I own a 1974 date that has not fade in time.

    Reply
  11. TomDC

    Nice brand but I can’t help wonder how much one really pays for the ‘prestige and hype’ that comes along with it as well as in other luxury items against their true value (manufacturing cost, etc). Probably around 20%…….rest is one pays for the ‘p&h’. Self-image is really essential to those who need it.

    Reply
  12. Gonçalo Camara

    The Rolex Submariner wasn’t the first dive watch. The Zodiac Sea Wolf and the Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms were the first ones in 1953. the submariner was released one year later.

    Reply
  13. It’s always Rolex, Rolex, Rolex! Get your four-figure toolwatches right here! Who cares about their history?! It’s not one of particular innovation, just good manufacturing and marketing. The bottom line is they are mass producing an item for around 1500 bucks, and pushing it to their customer for five times that! At that sort of level, who cares about their history?! They’ve obviously been oblivious to it themselves!

    Reply
  14. Dave OR

    Sirs, I had read all what did you say about both brands. Rolex and Seiko. Most of you having several watches perhaps of a better brands, like Patek, or Lange and I believe to fight it should be Rolex, or Seiko just strange. Will it be the only watch for all your life? I believe not. Why to fight? Buy Rolex and after buy Seiko. Tastes differ. Why not to wear Asian one as well? Interesting. Even you have all top brands like Patek, Lange, Vacheron, AP, Journe, or even Mille, or any stratospheric and extravagant ones. Are you eating the same meal day by day? No? Why to fight? Today continental and tomorrow Sushi. :) Piece?

    Reply
  15. Frankly, despite generations of love and respect for the brand by a worldwide audience, the Rolex watch does not do it for me. I’ve looked at every conceivable model and incarnation but they don’t move me. The latest version of the Yacht Master comes close but not to the point of wanting to own one. Each to his own…no disrespect intended.

    Reply
  16. George Joannou

    I would like to get involved with the discussion involving the Rolex brand. I am speaking through experience as I have owned a Rolex Sea Dweller and I must say it was a great tool watch and had lots of prestige and status associated with it. Also kept pretty good time -1.25 seconds a day. However having said that I also had and currently own Omega watches, yes that’s right folks the poorer cousin of Rolex and also the brand that James Bond currently wears. Let’s put aside all this Hollywood hype and look at the watches for what they are. Rolex make good high quality watches and you pay a premium for that and of course the prestige of owning one of the most sought after brands in watches. Omega on the other hand also make good quality watches that keep exceptionally good time they are cheaper than a Rolex and don’t have that same prestige factor as a Rolex until now. Look at what Omega have achieved in terms of innovations like the Master Coaxial Movement the only brand that offers a fully anti magnetic time piece and I’m not talking about encasing the movement in a paramagnetic core like the Rolex Milgauss but actually replacing the hairspring and other parts with anti magnetic materials. I have owned the Seamaster 300 Master Co Axial watch now for 4 months and how does -0.57 seconds a day impress you for accuracy. Not only that but I wear my watch around computers and near strong magnetic fields and it never affects the accuracy of the timekeeping. Let’s talk quality as well, the watch feels and looks top notch from the bezel to the bracelet and the quality feel of wearing it. Not a cheap watch especially the limited Spectre edition which I own and not as expensive as a Rolex Submariner but certainly in the same league in terms of quality and miles ahead in accuracy. Would I buy another Rolex , you bet I would because both brands make fantastic watches.

    Reply
  17. tom allison (@tallison46)

    That was a great article…. anyone that owns one or would like to should read it!

    Reply
  18. slcharles

    Interestingly, you failed to mention that Rolex’s, at least my last 3 – Daytona, Explorer II and Day-Date – DO NOT KEEP GOOD TIME!

    Reply
  19. When I think James Bond I think Omega Seamaster. When I think Steve McQueen I recall the original Heuer Monaco. I’ll give you the Newman Daytona.

    Reply
    • Omega has only recently been on Bond’s wrist. Sean Connery to Pierce Brosnan, all of them wore a black Submariner.

      Reply
        • SPARKES

          McQueen wore the Heuer Monaco in Le Mans for the motor racing association and the sponsorship, and this has quite rightly made their mark in history. However, in his private life he wore a Submariner 5512 and Explorer II 1655. So, his personal choice was Rolex, no sponsorship or paid for endorsement.

          Reply
      • I owned ROLEX SUBMARINER it becomes more pomb and affluent looks.I got also carrera of TAG HEIUR when i knew Jamesbond used to only three brands with indulged Tah heiur .both are well but prefering to Rolex

        Reply
  20. T.L.Shaw,
    “either you’re expressing a great sense of humor, or you somehow feel culturally attached to Rolex and compelled to defend it, or you simply have never even held a Grand Seiko, much less owned one. Anyone who has ever gone the extra mile in life, and made the decision to wear a Grand Seiko has a continuing experience and feeling of knowing, without a doubt, that they are the temporary guardian of something truly special.
    From the bracelet clasp to the feeling of the case and the winding crown, and the perfect sound of the incomparable click of a perfect bezel….Few are even close, none are better….and NO Rolex under $30k is even relevant in such a comparison. However, the Rolex is, and has been for many decades, the perfect watch gift given to someone for achievement in graduating from High School/ College. It makes a fine replacement for the ubiquitous first plastic wrist watches from Timex or Swatch Watch.”

    Anyone with watch cred knows that Patek Philippe, Lange + Sohne and others are miles ahead of Rolex in every way, shape and form; and yes I own those better brands and I would still prefer a Grand Seiko to a similar priced Rolex.
    Rolex is a nice safe luxury item like a BMW – it is not a Ferrari or 911 or Lamborghini, no matter how much spin you want to market around it; but congratulations on Rolex being better at marketing that the other watch brands. It makes for entertaining blogs anyway.

    Reply
  21. James Baum

    You need to add Top Gun to the movies with Rolex in them. As to those that besmirch the Rolex prestige and price, it is still one of the most aspirational personal possessions that you could ever want. While I get that rarity drives true value like Ferrari, Jaeger Le Coultre, etc. the Rolex still remains a target of personal accomplishment. And, the durability and robust nature of the oyster cases makes them irrisistable.

    Reply
  22. danielmagnante

    Not that it matters but seiko is older than Rolex. Has made Countless innovations as well. Until recently seiko has kept all there finest pieces in the Japan domestic market some cost in the tens of thousands but the seiko brand isn’t a name I’d spend 70 grand on great watches though

    Reply
    • beden1

      Yes, a Seiko watch can retail in the thousands, as in thousands of Yen. I really can’t understand how anyone could equate a Seiko watch in any way, shape or form as a Rolex watch.

      Reply
      • David S

        Take a look at any Grand Seiko or Credor. I think you’re be hard-pressed to identify any way in which it would be inferior to a Rolex. Except for marketing, of course. Rolexes are undoubtedly the best-marketed watches in the world.

        Reply
        • T.L.Shaw

          David, either you’re expressing a great sense of humor, or you somehow feel culturally attached to Seiko and compelled to defend it, or you simply have never even held a genuine Rolex, much less owned one. Anyone who has ever gone the extra mile in life, and made the decision to wear a Rolex has a continuing experience and feeling of knowing, without a doubt, that they are the temporary guardian of something truly special.
          From the bracelet clasp to the feeling of the case and the winding crown, and the perfect sound of the incomparable click of a perfect bezel….Few are even close, none are better….and NO Seiko is even relevant in such a comparison. However, the Seiko is, and has been for many decades, the perfect watch gift given to someone for achievement in graduating from Junior High School. It makes a fine replacement for the ubiquitous first plastic wrist watches from Timex or Swatch Watch.

          Reply
  23. Jean-yves couput

    Hi, thanks for the article.
    I’d like to make a comment regarding the $1m “bar”.
    I think that we can say that just one, the last one was above $1m, since the currency conversion has been impacted by the overnight 20+% increase of the CHF vs the other currencies. At the time of the auctions, the sum was below $1m for three out of 4 of them. Am I right?
    Keep continuing doing the great job!

    Reply
  24. Over rated and way overpriced

    How can a company that makes more than 1 MILLION watches a year yet claim to have “prestooge”

    Love how a Grand Seiko totally outperforms it! :-)

    Good luck to the fools that bite

    Reply
    • Yawn. Another Rolex hater who thinks people actually care about what he thinks. Buy a Rolex; may I suggest a GMT Master2 BLNR. Then get over it :-)

      Reply
  25. I wish I could quote a source, I cannot remember, but I believe I read that the most used watch in the James Bond series of movies was Seiko. Can’t really say for sure where I read that. Oh well. The article was extremely interesting to say the least. peace

    Reply
  26. Khaled Qutteineh

    Wonderful watch. I would love to own one. Can not afford it, but one day I will own one.

    Reply
  27. Pat rondilla

    Correct informations and history are important.. Thank you for the articles and our reader friends on their contributions to educate people like me who are novice who just starting in the world of watch collection. Im blessed to have all collections of professional rolex watches over the years.. May you continue to publish articles like this.. Thank you..

    Reply
  28. Adam R Harris

    “In 1931, Rolex invented and patented the first self-winding mechanism with a “Perpetual rotor”.

    This statement is completely incorrect and a myth which your magazine both perpetuates and indeed already accepted in a reply letter to me that 1933/34 was the true date

    Rolex did not apply for their “self-winding” patent until 14th January 1932, it was granted in March 1933.
    The first Rolex self-winding (rotor) wristwatches so called “Didactics” were shipped either Q4 CY 1933 or Q1 CY 1944.
    The patent No.,(actually filed by Aegler) is CH160492

    If Rolex as you claim manufactured a self-winding watch in 1931:
    1) Where is the patent related to a ‘self- winding-rotor’ watch?
    2) Not one advert for Perpetual exists prior to 1934, while I have many with “Oyster” during 1931,32 and 33 – but NO mention of “perpetual, or automatic, or self-winding”. Why?

    Does your magazine not find that strange, that Rolex would keep its manufacturing secret for four years?

    Truly a World Wide magazine of your standing should research its facts prior to constantly repeating this incorrect information.
    If you disbelieve me – ask Mr James Dowling, co-author of Rolex-The Best of Times.
    Adam R. Harris

    Reply
    • Mike Disher

      Hi Adam. I appreciate your knowledgeable comment. I have removed the claim you site from the post.

      Reply
  29. Debashish

    Great article, in fact, this sort of articles compels me to visit your website at least once a day.

    Yet quality of your pictures is not very good, please improve the quality of your photographs.

    Reply
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