Synonymous with quality, luxury and high fashion, for more than a century Rolex watches have been one of the most desirable brands to own, not only because of their elegant appearance but also because they are reliable, high-precision timepieces.
Rolex was founded in 1905 by 24-year-old Hans Wilsdorf. Born in Kulmbach, Germany, in 1881, he learned his craft as a young man while working for a Swiss watch manufacturer in La Chaux-de-Fonds. He moved to London with the dream of setting up his own business to manufacture high-quality watches – at the time, wrist-watches were rare and not very accurate timekeepers.
His efforts paid off, as in 1910, Wilsdorf’s Rolex watch received the Official Watch Rating Centre’s Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision – the first ever wristwatch to receive such an accolade.
The brand’s precision mechanism was recognised again four years later, when Kew Observatory gave a Rolex watch a Class A precision certificate – an honour reserved for marine chronometers until this time.
Rolex and sports
After moving to Geneva in 1919, Rolex created the first waterproof and dustproof watch, the Oyster, in 1926. It was worn in 1927 by English swimmer Mercedes Gleitze during her cross-channel swim – which lasted more than 10 hours. The watch still worked perfectly when she reached the other side.
The world’s first self-winding mechanism with a Perpetual rotor was invented in 1931 – a system still in existence today.
By 1935, the worlds of aviation, expeditions, sports and motor racing were associated with Rolex watches. Sir Malcolm Campbell was wearing a Rolex watch on 4th September 1935, when he set a new land speed record of more than 300mph at the wheel of Bluebird. He later wrote to Rolex and congratulated them on his watch’s “perfect” timekeeping.
In the 1950s, Rolex watches became renowned for their reliability for professional activities such as aviation, deep-sea diving, scientific exploration and mountain climbing. Sir John Hunt’s Everest expedition in 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit, was equipped with Oyster Perpetuals.
Throughout the 20th and 21st century, Rolex has remained a highly sought-after brand.
The high quality of Rolex timekeeping was recognised by the Wimbledon tennis tournament in 1978, when the brand became the championship’s official timekeeper, with its famous crown logo adorning the scoreboards.
Many of today’s top tennis players wear the Rolex Oyster, including Swiss-born Roger Federer, who recalls the summer of 2009, when he broke rival Pete Sampras’ Grand Slam record at Wimbledon. Federer says his Rolex brings back fond memories of his record-breaking summer.
Milos Raonic, Wimbledon finalist in 2016 and the current world number three ranked player, also wears the Rolex Oyster. Other players, past and present, who wear Rolex include Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Andy Roddick, Bjorn Borg and Tim Henman, who says he associates the Rolex name and crown logo with watching Wimbledon as a child with his mother. He owned his own Rolex 32 years later and says it still means a lot to him today.
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