Founded in 1908, the brand Rolex is now synonymous with prestige and power. But how did Hans Wilsdorf & Alfred Davis turn a small watchmaking workshop in England into the Swiss giant it is today?

Credit: Rolex Pressroom
Credit: Rolex Pressroom

Back in the early 20th century, wristwatches were nothing more than a woman’s jewelry accessory that also happened to tell time. They were designed with intricate patterns and adorned with precious stones to accentuate femininity. All that changed when Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis presented the Rolex Oyster to the world in 1926, convincing stores to display the watch inside an aquarium. It was the industry’s first watertight sealed case watch. The Oyster case, as the design became known, flourished into an enduring icon that is featured in many Rolex models still produced today.

THE GRANDFATHER OF MEN’S LUXURY WATCHES

Presented to the general public in 1954, the Rolex Submariner became a worldwide success. Owning a Rolex was a symbol of success while retaining its functional role of telling time. Built around the Oyster case, the Submariner had the ability to resist to 300 meters of depth, making it ideal for deep-sea diving and military use.

Rolex Submariner. Credit: Rolex Pressroom
Rolex Submariner. Credit: Rolex Pressroom

A cult favorite among watch enthusiasts, the Oyster case is also used on the Milgauss line. As a professional tool watch designed to withstand strong electromagnetic fields, it was originally developed for use by CERN scientists in the 1960s. The model was revived in 2007 and updated with a lightning bolt second hand to differentiate it from the others in the Rolex lineup.

In more recent times, the Rolex Sky-Dweller was introduced in 2012 as a perfect companion for the traveling man. Also encased in an Oyster, it boasts an impressive set of features not conventionally found in the relatively conservative brand. But… more on that later.

THE PRESTIGE OF RARITY

The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona had a troubled past. Originally conceived as a candidate for NASA to equip their astronauts flying to the moon, it lost against the Omega Speedmaster. Moreover, it was widely panned by critics and even had to be given away for free with the purchase of another Rolex watch. Nonetheless, the Daytona remained a resilient model, thankfully made popular by actor and racecar enthusiast Paul Newman. In fact, the model owned by the actor himself fetched a record $17.75 million USD in 2017, nine years after his death in 2008. It is, to this day, the most expensive watch ever sold at an auction.

DESIRABLE COMPLICATIONS

In the watchmaking world, complications are distinctive features that make a watch unique due to its complexity. It often is a showcase of inventive and creative craftsmanship that isn’t commonly found in conventional designs.

For Rolex, the Sky-Dweller does exactly that. From its off-center secondary hour dial to the month indicator on the rim edge of the face, everything on this watch puts on display the technical prowess of the brand. A rotating bezel clicks between different modes to allow the crown to make necessary adjustments. Released in 2012, twenty years after Rolex last inaugurated the Yacht-Master, the watch is now a highly coveted model for the most discriminating collector.

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Categories: Fashion