The Rolex universe is endlessly fascinating. Simultaneously part of popular culture while setting the standard for prestige watch-making across the globe, Rolex has many hidden depths. Let’s take a look at ten things you didn’t know about the Swiss watch brand.
1. Rolex’s London Connection
As luxury watch specialists based in London, we’re not surprised about Rolex’s London connection. Operating in London in 1905 as a watch assembler, the company used to import quality Swiss watch parts and assemble them into English watch cases. Costly taxes forced them to close their UK office for good in 1919 and settle in Switzerland.
2. Rolex – Is that a Wilsdorf You’re Wearing?
Hans Wilsdorf Alfred Davis opened Wilsdorf & Davis Ltd in London in 1905. In 1908, Hans Wilsdorf then opened a Swiss office with the registered trademark ‘Rolex’ and adopted the Rolex brand name in 1915.
3. Rolex R&D – Serious Science
The Rolex Research & Development department is spread out across its different facilities, from chemistry labs for lubricant development to gas spectrometers and electron microscopes that are used to analyse the quality of metal they are using.
4. One Rolex – One Year (Almost)
A Rolex is a thing of great beauty with many moving parts, of which most are made in-house. Built by hand at their Swiss workshop/factory, these expert watchmakers then test every watch by hand. When the full list of processes is set out end to end, it takes Rolex almost a full year to make every watch.
5. Rolex Diving Watch – A Few Firsts
Rolex has been behind some watchmaking firsts – grabbing the patents at the same time. 1926 saw the first-ever waterproof Oyster watch, the world’s first self-winding watch with a date display on the dial – the Datejust in 1945 – the Submariner in 1953, the first diving watch water-resistant to 100m depth.
6. Rolex the British Air Force
The next two things you didn’t know are more closely connected than you might think at first sight. During WWII, many RAF officers wore Rolex as their watch of choice. When captured behind enemy lines, the German Army would seek out their wristwatch as there was a good chance it’d be a Rolex. The Rolex watch then became a status symbol within the British Air Force. But how could British RAF officers afford a Rolex?
7. Rolex – All About the 80s
The 1980s were all about things – shiny things that cost money. It was about what you could buy, brands and labels that made you look good spending money like there was no tomorrow. When Rolex became the watch of the moment, both the demand and price went sky high. This also explains why Rolex had been in reach of officers’ pockets back in the 1940s.
8. Kew And A (Class) to Rolex
Historically, watchmakers wanted their marine chronometers to be certified independently. The astronomical observatory at Kew offered the most rigorous testing, offering an A-class certificate only to the best in class. In 1914, Kew awarded its A-class to Rolex for the first time to watch no. 492282. In the 1940s, Rolex submitted around 145 small watch movements to Kew for testing, with 136 certified as Kew A-class. 122 were placed in 32mm steel watches and 24 in 34mm gold watch cases (creating some of the most highly coveted Rolex ever produced).
9. The Rolex Safe – Security Secrets
The Rolex safe is situated deep underground. Every piece in the safe has been scanned and catalogued, with a unique serial number attributed to each movement produced. These serial numbers are matched with a box that bears the same number, which are then photographed. Access to the safe is secured via an iris scanner.
10. Shine Bright Like a Diamond
Rolex’s gemologists buy and test the precious stones used in several models. Rolex will only use diamonds of IF clarity between D and G in colour grade.