THE ROLEX STORY
There is a fascinating back-story as to how the Rolex company came into being and like many famous brands it was not necessarily created by design but almost by accident and a happily convenient set of circumstances.
The fact that it has turned into the world's most famous watch manufacturer and even today is one of the most recognised, coveted brands is something that Messrs Wilsdorf and Davis may never have planned for in the early 20th century when their relationship was born.
In 1905, Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis (connected by family) set up the company Wilsdorf & Davis with the intention of importing Swiss watch movements and then installing them in watches made by British watchmakers. The watches were then sold to high-end jewellers in London who then branded the dials with their own names. The only sign of any involvement by Wilsdorf and Davis were the initials 'W&D' etched into the back of the watchcases.
Spurred on by the success of their business they decided to create their own brand for watches and in 1908 Wilsdorf registered the name 'Rolex'. How he came about creating the name is subject to myth, legend and a sprinkle of truth but the reality is that the name is easily pronounced by virtually all nationalities and therefore the door was open for it to become a truly international brand.
So good were the watches made by the partners that in 1914 they were awarded a Class A precision certificate by the Kew Observatory which was a real accolade given that the the Observatory restricted certification only to watches that were accurate enough to be used by the Royal Navy.
Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of the first World War, Wilsdorf & Davis moved out of London and set up shop in Geneva where the company name was changed to the Rolex Watch Company.
Although born in Bavaria, Germany, Wilsdorf had spent most of his life in London and he had an emotional attachment to England. In his own way he supported the allied effort in both wars by supplying his (very accurate) watches to the British Armed Forces. In fact, it was a Rolex watch that played a decisive part in the Great Escape which became a movie starring Steve McQueen and did much for Rolex's fortunes in the US.
In the aftermath of both wars Rolex had truly established itself as a manufacturer of high-quality wristwatches and over the decades has gone on to establish itself as perhaps the world's best known watch manufacturer, even more desired than ever before.
To this day, Rolex is still a privately-owned company and Wilsdorf had bequeathed his own shares to a trust before he died in 1960 vowing that the company would never be floated on any stock exchange. This is why getting information from Rolex about its manufacturing statistics is a challenge because none of the finer details of its business are in the public domain.
Buying a Rolex is a memorable event and given the craftmanship, hand-built quality and practicality of these time-pieces they represent very good value for money which is reflected in the appreciation in values of the pre-owned models, many of which are destined to last the life-time of the owner.
(Extracts and references taken from the 'The Book of Rolex' by Jens Hoy and Christian Frost)