Widely acknowledged as one of the world’s most recognisable brands, Rolex has become synonymous with what the company itself acknowledges as “impossible standards”. To wear a Rolex is more than a style choice. It denotes a certain attitude, spirit and way of life. Perhaps that’s why it is so prolifically imitated around the world. The real deal, of course, comes only from Switzerland where Rolex defiantly continues its quest to reach beyond perfection every day.
Many might argue that Rolex has already conquered that particular goal, with its indestructible reputation for pushing boundaries. So, in tribute to the Swiss master, here’s our own take on what makes Rolex so unique and enduring.
Although the company has been housed in Geneva for many years, its roots actually lie in London, where founder Hans Wildorf began to produce the company’s first timepieces in 1905. He was the original Rolex visionary, seeing the potential for wristwatches to become the next century’s definitive timekeeping tool.
This sparked Rolex’s role as the pioneer of chronometric precision, with the company winning its first certifications from Bienne’s Official Watch Rating Centre in 1910 and Kew Observatory in 1915. Moving to Geneva in 1920 gave Rolex the chance to change the face of watchmaking forever. The waterproof wristwatch, the first Datejust and the now ubiquitous Perpetual Motion were all Rolex innovations that have shaped the timekeeping performance we demand today. Over the years, extraordinary advances in deep water resistance and extreme condition performance led Rolex to become the number one “professional” watch brand, favoured by athletes, explorers, mariners, aviators and divers all around the world. That association with the human spirit for adventure remains Rolex’s most intuitive brand characteristic.
Rolex’s reputation is built on its meticulous dedication to its craft. Across four sites in Geneva and Bienne every element of every watch is conceived, created and rigorously tested by Rolex – all within strict parameters that dictate the highest quality and performance. The company even has a dedicated foundry, where it creates its own gold alloys including the unique Everose pink gold.
Everything – and we do mean everything – is made to the most rigorous testing standards, and Rolex has the credentials to prove it. More than 400 registered patents lie behind its components, which unerringly meet 100% of the COSC’s accuracy criteria.
It’s what Rolex calls “The Rolex Way”, and it’s a pedigree that sees the maker closely affiliated with many of the world’s most popular sporting events. But brand affiliation doesn’t stop there. Through its Enterprise and Mentors and Protégés programmes Rolex also stamps its philosophy on commerce and the arts, upholding its commitment to celebrating human endeavour wherever it occurs.
More than 100 years of Rolex has brought some truly memorable and coveted timepieces to the market, often tempting the uber-wealthy and uber-famous to commit to the name. Earlier this year, we reported on the sale of the Rolex Reference 6263 “Oyster Albino” Cosmograph Daytona – a rare offering to market by rock legend Eric Clapton, which sparked a bidding frenzy peaking at $1.4 million. That beats Rolex’s previous record-breaker – the Split-Seconds Chronograph Ref. 4113, one of only 12 ever made, which achieved $1.17 million in 2011.
Other contenders for Rolex’s finest include the Oyster Perpetual Datejust in 18ct gold - famously given to President Eisenhower in 1951 to recognise America’s role in overthrowing the Nazis - and the diamond crusted Rolex GMT 116769TBR. The maker also has impressive Hollywood credentials, with the likes of Steve McQueen and Paul Newman inspiring special limited editions, including the Ferrari Red Daytona 6565 and the 1967 Submariner worn by McQueen in the 1971 film Le Mans.
Although it’s a luxury brand, Rolex’s reputation for championing the human spirit also permeates the darker side of life. It became a symbol of wartime spirit during WWII when, on discovering that the Nazis routinely removed Rolex’s from captured RAF servicemen, it began to replace their models free of charge. In 1966, when notorious embezzler Albert Johnson Walker murdered his business partner and dumped him in the English Channel, the Rolex on the victim’s wrist was the single identifying mark that led to Walker’s conviction.
And that’s not the only justice Rolex has metered out over the years. It was the precision timings of an Oyster 3525 that allowed Corporal Clive Nutting to time the Nazi guards during the Great Escape. These snapshots of history demonstrate the power of a luxury watch to become more than just a mere timekeeping tool. Perhaps that’s why the counterfeit market is reviled by so many – to the extent that in 2010 customs officials took the extraordinary step of publicly destroying 7,000 seized Rolex fakes using a steamroller, as a warning to the counterfeit industry. Rolex, it seems, is a brand that remains close to our hearts as well as our wrists.
Still dominating the luxury market today, Rolex remains in a unique position to keep enthusiasts on their toes. This year, all talk is around the new generation Calibre 3255, boasting an impressive 14 new patents and more than twice the precision of an official chronometer. Also revealed at the Basel World Watch Show in 2015 were a new pink gold Yachtmaster with rubber strap, a new 40mm platinum Day Date, and a diamond adorned Cellini Time which is bound to set pulses racing.
For many Rolex devotees, though, their first loyalty is still to the vintage and pre-owned market. If you’re one of them David Duggan can help you find your perfect watch. As members of the British Horological Institute and an approved Rolex services centre, we’ve got experts with 150 years’ combined experience standing by to source your perfect Rolex. Just get in touch online or stop by our Mayfair showrooms and we’ll be happy to help.