Rolex was established over a century ago in 1905, but how Hans Wilsdorf began this globally-acclaimed brand wouldn’t be too foreign to the small business enthusiasts of the millennial generation. Starting when he was just 24, it started off with a humble dream, one that’s risky and exciting in equal parts to make a young and ambitious Wildorf to follow through with his visions for watchmaking.
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Where Rolex came from
Unlike most other fashion brands that adopt the founder or designer’s name, Hans Wilsdorf wanted a name that’s short and easy to remember and say in every country, regardless of language differences. It started off as a word game of inventing new words out of random alphabet letters. Anyone who’ve tried doing this would know the near-impossibility of finding the right name from nothing. But luck was on Wildorf’s side. What he’d described as a genie whispering in his ear, the word Rolex just popped up in his head one day.
The name is a big thing for a brand. Wildorf wanted it quick and easy, but also suitable for the elegant dials of the watches he planned to make. Rolex checked all of those boxes and from then on, a brand was made.
The dream for a precise wristwatch
Though wristwatches have been invented long before Rolex began, wristwatches at that time still weren’t precise. What Hans Wildorf dreamed of was a wristwatch that can deliver elegance in appearances and reliability in telling time accurately.
Eventually, Rolex perfected chronometric precision that’s officially validated by the award from Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne, the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision for a Rolex wristwatch. It was quickly followed by Kew Observatory of Britain’s awarding of another Rolex watch with class “A” precision certificate, a first for a wristwatch that’s not for marine chronometers.
Years later, perpetual rotor self-winding mechanism is patented.
Rolex’s first major breakthrough in the watchmaking industry is the creation of the first waterproof and dustproof wristwatch called the Oyster. It’s made with a hermetically sealed case.
The Oyster was tested on a swimmer, Mercedes Gleitze, who crossed the English Channel for 10 hours. It kept going with the same precision as it did at the start. In celebration, Rolex released the first of what they would call a Testimonee concept, wherein Gleitze is quoted on her testimony of the Oyster’s effectivity.
This would only be the first of many actual real-life tests of the Oyster’s abilities in all kinds of situations and environments. Later, it would be used for sports and racing settings.
“Watches of Achievers”
Other watches were made with the same level of elegance and expertise, like the Datejust wristwatch showing the date through a window on the dial. It’s made with a special Jubilee bracelet that made it notable as a Rolex piece.
Further recognition for the Oyster would come through British race-car driver and legend Malcolm Campbell, who was a huge fan of the watch. It was a huge part of another historic success as he wore the watch when he set world records for insane speeds throughout his prime time. In a letter to Rolex, he gushes about how long he’s been a fan of the wristwatch, giving more proof of its effectiveness as he writes, “it is keeping perfect time under somewhat strenuous conditions.”
These achievements created a momentum that would bring Rolex to new heights of watchmaking that exceed the sartorial intentions of the small accessory. When the ‘50s rolled around, Rolex made a number of watches that found more purpose than just telling the time. They were called the “watches of achievers” because it was made specifically for professionals who did risky activities like deep-sea diving and mountain climbing among others.
The Oyster Perpetual Explorer, one of the watches under the new category, was inspired by the first successful Everest expedition. It was worn by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the two climbers who were the first to ever reach the peak of Mount Everest.
Other “watches of achievers” included the Submariner for divers, the GMT-Master for pilots, and the Oyster Perpetual Milgauss for scientific experts. The GMT-Master came just as the aviation industry developed to intercontinental travel where pilots had to pass through different timezones at a time. The Milgauss, on the other hand, boasted of its ability to resist magnetic fields through the shield that protected the watch’s movements.
As several variations of the Oyster was made (almost every Rolex watch was made to be waterproof), it became more apparent that Rolex moved towards creating timepieces that aided deep-sea exploration.
Oyster watches survived the deepest dive of the Bathyscaphe Trieste in the Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of Earth’s oceans. Years later, it survived a second time when James Cameron took another swing at a solo dive down the same trench.
The best cap-off for the years-long craftsmanship of the best waterproof watches is the good relationship established with Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises or COMEX, and having COMEX divers as patron wearers of the Rolex’s Sea-Dweller watches.
Prestige as a premier watch brand
Since its inception, Rolex has dominated every aspect of risky activities. From land to underwater to air travel, the brand has proved to be the wristwatch of choice for every professional. It’s even extended to off-shore races, as it became known to be used often for yachting with new wristwatches created specifically for the sport.
Prices of Rolex watches may hold you back a couple thousands but it’s all justified by the quality of the product and the extreme means done throughout the years to prove how useful it can be. Thanks to the fact that this Swiss brand can’t go down to the price of other Asian watch brands, they’ve just opted for improving the craftsmanship to create a higher level of their own. It’s also because of the brand’s continuous evolution that matched the signs of the times and the trends of the market that made it one of the most prestigious brands we know today.
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