Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of the Rolex watch brand, was born in Germany in 1881. He was left without parents at an early age and tried to earn his own living from a young age. After leaving school, the young Hans moved to Switzerland to work for a watch manufacturer.
At the beginning of the twentieth century Wilsdorf decided to move to England. In London, he and his half-brother Alfred Davis organized a watch wholesale firm called Wilsdorf & Davis.
At the time, watches were produced primarily in pocket-size versions. Wearing a wristwatch was exclusively a female prerogative. As its small size could not accommodate a precise and reliable mechanism, it served more as a decoration. Willsdorf decides to break the stereotypes and in 1905 begins the production of precision men’s wristwatches. The bracelet was made of gold and silver and the product was in demand among the wealthy citizens.
The following year, the company creates an “economy version” – a watch on a metal bracelet, which significantly expands the audience.
After capturing a sufficiently large share of the watch market, Wilsdorf is faced with the question of replacing the long and difficult to pronounce company name with a more resounding and memorable one. So in 1908 a new company name is born – Rolex.
The founders and successors of the brand keep secret the history of the letters’ combination, which brought the company world fame. Mystery fans see the name as an extract from the French word combination Horologerie exquise, which means the art of watchmaking. But it could just be a successful combination of letters, which is harmonious in all European languages.
The chronometer, the war and the move to Switzerland
Willsdorf had terrific business acumen and acumen. One of the few businessmen of the time, he began to devote large sums of money to advertising and brand development. So in 1910 Willsdorf succeeded in having Rolex wristwatches certified as particularly accurate chronometers, something that had previously seemed unattainable.
The political situation in the world at the beginning of the century also contributed to the increase in demand for wristwatches. The First World War, which was shaking Europe at that time, changed the perception of watches as a luxury item. Circumstances demanded reliable, accurate and comfortable devices to report the time, and the watch on the bracelet finally becomes an integral part of the male image.
The war also had a negative impact on the company. Because of the greatly increased import tax in Great Britain in 1914, it is decided to move production to Switzerland, where it continues to improve the products.
The extreme perfection of the Rolex Oyster
In 1926 Rolex launches its first wristwatch with a waterproof case. To draw attention to the new Rolex Oyster, Wilsdorf makes it a participant in the struggle to conquer the English Channel. The tester of the uncompromising watch is the 27-year-old English swimmer Mercedes Gleitze. In October 1927 Gläitze made her eighth attempt to swim the English Channel, which was a success not only for the swimmer but also for the watch brand.
According to Mercedes herself, Rolex was the only watch she would subsequently wear without fear on her swims, as it was the only thing she could be sure of at all times. Thus began a new milestone for the company – as a producer of truly high quality and precision watches capable of operating in the most extreme conditions throughout the world.
In 1945 Rolex creates the first watch with automatic date control and chronometers set for different time zones. It is featured in the glossy magazines and is worn by famous travelers.
Today Rolex is among the most expensive and recognizable brands, following the principle of providing ultra-high quality for the right price. It is one of the few luxury brands where demand exceeds supply several times over. The company produces about 800,000 pieces every year and their value can go up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Unfortunately, Rolex is also the most counterfeited brand. However, it is worth noting that even the cost of fakes can be several thousand dollars – the cost depends on the level of execution of the copy.
Rolex watches are, above all, an indicator of status. This brand is associated with such concepts as wealth, success, recognition, luxury. For more than a century the products of the watch house are necessarily present in the collections of the most influential politicians, including Leonid Brezhnev, Sir Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Fedel Castro, Richard Nixon.