While, not too many of us own one, it’s almost certain that most of us are familiar with this luxury watchmaker and their quality timepieces. Much like the watch itself, the history of Rolex is quite intricate.
In the year 1905, at the age of 24, Hans Wilsdorf founded a company specializing in the distribution of timepieces. At the time, wristwatches were not regarded as precise or very reliable, however Hans Wilsdorf sought to change that. The visionary strongly believed that wristwatches could transition from the mediocre clocks that they were – to become reliable timepieces that also made a fashion statement.
Hans worked hard on what he believed in. His life’s work concentrated on the quality of the movement, and his relentless quest for precision led to the company’s quick success. In 1910, the Rolex was the first ever wristwatch to receive the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision – more on that in a bit. Ten years later, Rolex moved to Geneva, and was registered under Montres Rolex S.A.
After the move to Geneva, the watch quickly made progress in its structural design. The Rolex brought with itself many firsts that are now considered standard in every modern day watch. First came the world’s first waterproof watch (1926), and shortly after (1931) came the first ever, perpetual movement watch. This was the first implementation of a self-winding mechanism with a perpetual rotor in history of timekeeping. This ingenious system raised the bar for the wristwatch, and the mechanism is to this day implemented at the heart of every automatic watch.
While these watches are as undoubtedly beautiful, as they are functional, it’s not unreasonable to ask ‘what makes them so special?’
Well, let’s take a closer look at one of the world’s most luxurious watches. For starters, think of a Rolex wristwatch as an investment. This piece of Swiss engineering will last you a whole lifetime, and it might even become a family heirloom. Also, since the watches are highly regarded, they will retain (and even often gain) value as the years go on.
To begin answering our question, one must consider the intricate design of a Rolex watch. First, these watches contain many unique features, and each wristwatch takes about a year to make (sometimes even longer). Interestingly enough, nearly every single part of the watch is created in-house at one of the four – state of the art – Rolex manufacturing locations scattered over the beautiful Switzerland. The in-house quality control is more than rigorous; the watches do not leave the factory unless they are absolutely perfect. So far so good, the company has been able to keep up their impeccable image for over a century.
While the watches look stunning on the outside, the internals are even more impressive. The carefully crafted Rolex movement is made up of hundreds of meticulously manufactured components. The level of perfection that Rolex aims to achieve ensures that every single watch withstands the test of time, and guarantees long-term performance.
Each Rolex watch also undergoes an extreme ‘exacting process’, which entails careful assembly, minute adjustments as well as the positioning of the oscillator to ensure the watch’s absolute accuracy. After this process each Rolex becomes a certified Swiss Chronometer – a title that not every watchmaker can claim to hold.
In order to achieve a chronometer certification, the movement must not only be made from the absolute highest quality components, but also needs to be in the special care of the finest watchmakers and timers during assembly. Fun fact: the fine regulation and chronometer characteristics of a watch can be destroyed in seconds by a rough or inexperienced hand.
That’s not all; each watch is then individually tested for over two weeks in 5 positions, and at three different temperatures. Measurements are made on a daily basis with the help of specialty cameras. After the stats are gathered, seven pieces of criteria are calculated – the watch must then meet the (rather high) minimum of all, in order to receive the certification. Just to give you some perspective on the luxury status of this certification, consider that only 3% of high quality Swiss watches receive this honor each year.
Outside of the rigorous manufacturing and quality control process, the watch has a number of other notable features. Take the Oyster case for example – this Rolex original combines form and function into one attractive package. Regardless of construction material – steel, gold, or platinum – the case guarantees the movement protection from the elements.
In fact, the Oyster case was the world’s first waterproof case for a wristwatch. Additionally, about a year after the introduction of the Oyster case (1927), Mercedes Gleitz became the first person to swim across the English Channel wearing a watch. Care to guess what timepiece he was wearing?
While, Gleitz crossing the Channel was a notable time for Rolex, there have been even more interesting events surrounding the world-renowned classic since. For starters, the first ever expedition to fly over Everest was equipped with Rolex Oysters. A Rolex classic was also on the wrist of Sir Malcolm Campbell, as he set a land speed record of over 300 miles per hour back in the 1930s.
Since the Rolex surfaced, there have been many famous events in which the watch was somehow involved – some of them were mentioned above. That being said, the most intriguing connection between the high quality timepiece and the outside world is the curious murder case that a Rolex helped solve.
The tale of Albert Walker is a dark and twisted one, but the man is now paying his dues thanks to the wristwatch that brought him to justice. To summarize, a scam artist by the name of Albert Walker Johnson had murdered his partner – Robert Platt – and dumped the body into the English Channel. After getting rid of the body, Walker decided to steal Platt’s identity and go into hiding.
Meanwhile, nature took its course beneath the rough waters, quietly turning the cold corpse into fish food – all while the Oyster casing stood its course on Platt’s wrist. After about two weeks, the lifeless body got caught in a fisherman’s net, and the only identifiable object on the deformed body was the timepiece. Since every Rolex watch comes with a unique serial number, the police was able to determine the owner’s identity, which led them directly to Walker. It’s kind of poetic, really – the sea gave up its dead, and the Rolex gave up Walker – who is now serving some serious time for his transgressions.
While the murder-mystery is tough to beat, it’s also worth noting that a Rolex watch was used during the great escape. That same exact watch was recently put up for auction at over $50,000. Even though not every Rolex timepiece has a story of similar caliber, each individual timepiece if a work of art on it’s own.
With the Rolex line up being so desired, comes the inevitable consequence of fakes surfacing all over the place. They say imitation is the ultimate form of flattery, and if that’s true, then Rolex is quite widely complemented. In this day and age you can find imitation Rolexes ranging from $20 fakes, to super well-engineered movements using actual Rolex parts. In either case, if you decide to pick up one of these replicas for yourself, the only person you’re fooling is yourself.