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The History Of Rolex: Past, Present and Future

Few luxury watch brands are truly as iconic as Rolex. But just how did this brand come to dominate the luxury watch market? We take a close look at the history of Rolex, from past watch releases to what is yet to come.

The History Of Rolex

Keep reading as we explore the history of Rolex, their founding father and the brand’s greatest hits in past years.

The History Of Rolex

The history of Rolex begins in England in the early 1900’s. Founded in London in 1905 by Hans Wilsdorf , the brand was renamed Rolex in 1908. The 5 letter name was created to meet the following criteria:

  • Short
  • Pronounceable in any language
  • Onomatopoeic: The word “Rolex” sounds like the winding of a watch
  • Symmetric: Hans Wilsdorf wanted the name to be visually appealing and symmetrical


Rolex’s Founding Father: Hans Wilsdorf

Hans Wilsdorf was a German born entrepreneur who moved to England in 1903. He set up shop in Hatton Gardens in London, with the aim to popularize the wristwatch. His belief that the pocket watch would fall out of favor was proven true with the onset of WWI. The practical wristwatch was a must in combat and secured the future of the wristwatch.

Born in Kulmbach, Germany, Hans was orphaned at a young age. He began his career in the pearl business but later changed to specialize in watch making in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.


History of Innovation

By the time it relocated to Geneva in 1919, they had already begun to specialize in technically innovative wristwatches. In 1926, Rolex developed the Oyster, the world’s first waterproof wrist watch. In the following years, would go on to patent:

  • Its Perpetual movement (1931)
  • The first self-winding wrist chronometer (1945)
  • The first divers’ watch that was guaranteed to be waterproof to a depth of 100 meters (1953)
  • The Day-Date (1956), which was the first watch to spell out both day and date on the dial
  • James Cameron made a solo dive to the deepest part of the Ocean: the Mariana Trench. The Rolex Deepsea Challenge watch made the journey with him (2012)


Lauded by Explorers and Athletes

The Rolex wristwatch has been worn by the best-known explorers and athletes of our times. To promote the watch’s waterproof properties, Mercedes Gleitze wore a Rolex Oyster when she swam the English channel in 1927. Edmund Hillary wore an Oyster when he conquered Mount Everest in 1953 (which led to the development of Rolex’s Explorer collection). The history of Rolex is steeped in innovation and a desire to push boundaries.


Philanthropic Endeavors

Hans and his first wife Florence did not have any children. As a result, in 1945, Hans Wilsdorf set up the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. He transferred all of his ownership stake in Rolex to the foundation, which to this day owns Rolex.


Rolex Today

Today, the watch company sponsors contests in golf, motor sports, show jumping, tennis, and yachting, while its roster of brand ambassadors includes legendary names ranging from mountaineer Ed Veisturs to endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh, along with golfer Tiger Woods, race car driver Jackie Stewart, and tennis champion Roger Federer.

Looking to buy Rolex watches? Click the button below to shop pre-owned Rolex watches. at up to 50% off retail, expertly authenticated by a team of experts.

Popular Rolex Watch Models

Below we take a closer look at some of the most popular Rolex watches on the market today. Our experts have selected their top Rolex picks:

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona

This was the watch Rolex fans had been waiting for—a stainless steel Rolex Cosmograph Daytona with a black Cerachrom ceramic bezel. Prior to the launch of the Rolex ref. 116520, the highly popular ceramic bezel was found exclusively on more expensive Daytona models in platinum or Everose.

The Rolex ceramic bezel is prized not only for its sleek look, but also for its resistance to scratching and fading. It is both robust and beautiful. And the black bezel version looks particularly stunning against the new Daytona’s stainless steel 40mm Oyster case and matching stainless steel Oyster bracelet.

Both the black dial and white dial versions of the Daytona ref. 116520 are spectacular. As a result, it’s not uncommon for Rolex shops around the world to have multiple year waitlists for these new Rolex chronograph models.


Rolex Air-King

Rolex surprised everyone with the revival of the previously discontinued Air-King. Now it is back with a completely new, redesigned look. While the designs of the older versions of the Air-King were understated and classic, the new Air-King ref. 116900 is sporty and bold.

To better meet the current demand for larger watches, the stainless steel case now measures 40mm, significantly bigger than previous models. The black dial houses the characteristic oversized 3, 6, and 9 numerals in addition to minute markers for the rest of the indexes. At 12 o’clock sits a luminescent inverted triangle.

Furthermore, the green seconds hand matches the green “ROLEX” on the dial, which is further topped by the iconic gold crown. There’s a lot going on with the new Air-King and whether it’s fresh and dynamic or simply just too cluttered, is still up for debate.


Rolex Datejust 41

Iconic in design, the Datejust has been Rolex’s flagship model since its debut in 1945. It was the very first waterproof automatic chronometer that included a date window on the dial. Over the course of the next 70 years, Rolex had produced countless versions of the classic luxury dress watch.

In 2016, Rolex introduced the newest generation with the Datejust 41 to replace the Datejust II collection. As its name suggests, it sports a 41mm case and the first two models of the new line are a two-tone yellow gold and stainless steel version (ref. 126333) and a two-tone rose gold and stainless steel version (ref. 126331).

Variety truly is the name of the game with the Datejust. Each model is available in a range of dial colors, bezel designs, and bracelet choices. A notable new addition to the Datejust 41 is the Rolex Caliber 3235 powering the watch. This in-house automatic movement provides the wearer with an amazing 72 hours of power reserve. It is equipped with 14 Rolex patents for optimal reliability and precision.

How To Sell Rolex Watches?

Looking to sell Rolex watches? Rolex models—from the Rolex Explorer II to the Rolex Submariner to the Oyster Perpetual to the Cellini—command high resale value.

WP Diamonds is a leading international online buyer of pre-owned watches. We specialize in buying luxury watch brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Cartier, Omega, and other fine timepieces. Not only do we provide a quick, secure, and convenient way for you to sell your second-hand watch, but we also offer the best prices possible. Request your free online quote today or make an appointment with us and we’ll handle the rest.

Our process is unique and simple: we buy your luxury watches directly and in as little as 24 hours. We pride ourselves on our customer service, expertise and strong prices, all of which have earned us over a thousand customer reviews. Contact our experts today to receive your bespoke price quote.

There is never any pressure to sell and there are no costs associated with our service. We believe in providing honest price quote and a transparent service. As such there are no costs or commissions deducted from your final offer.

  • Sell in person: We have appointments available in New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong and in the UK
  • Sell online: We provide free and fully insured shipping
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535 5th Avenue, 11th Floor,
New York, New York
10017, USA

Berkeley Square House
Berkeley Square, Mayfair
London, W1J 6BD, UK

212 JQ Modern
120 Vyse Street, Hockley
Birmingham, B18 6NF, UK