Hans Wilsdorf made our list of the 1,000 most influential people in the industry. The German born Hans founded Rolex in 1908 in London with a partner, Alfred Davis. At that time, they made watches entirely out of watch parts from other manufacturers.
After WW1, to avoid heavy taxation from a recovering post war Britain, they moved the business to Geneva, Switzerland in 1920 where they could make all of the parts in-house.
Once located in Switzerland, the partners added talented Swiss craftsmen, with generations of experience, to work together as a team to push the envelope of achievements and monumental strides in watchmaking.
In 1926 Wildorf registered the Tudor name and in 1946 created the company Montres TUDOR SA to provide a more affordable watch with the same reputation for quality as Rolex. Tudor has remained a sister company to Rolex ever since. Tudor was part of Rolex’s strategy creating an entry level into their world. All components were made by Rolex and Tudor was producing watches for professional divers and the military. Between the 1960s and 1980s several navies issued Tudor Submariners to their divers, including the US Navy SEALs, and the French Marine Nationale (French Navy).
Rolex was consistently, the first and best at guiding the wristwatch evolution.
First waterproof wristwatch – The 1926 Rolex Oyster was the first-ever completely hermetic and waterproof wristwatch, protecting it not only from water projections but also from dust and humidity (and thus from rust). What sounds like now a standard feature was at that time a profound revolution.
First wristwatch with perpetual rotor (Oyster Perpetual, 1931). Then again, no drama and huge complications. Yet, Rolex were the first to introduce the automatic winding with a perpetual rotor on a wristwatch (meaning rotating freely and not having a bumper style).
First watch with an automatically changing date on the dial (1945, DateJust) Again, a feature that sounds standard, however, Rolex were the first to introduce a date displayed in a window (and not displayed by a hand in a sub-dial) and to automatically jump at precisely midnight.
First watch waterproof to 100m (Submariner, 1953)
First watch with two time-zone at once (GMT-Master, 1954)
First watch with an automatically changing day and date on the dial, and with the day entirely written in letters and in 26 languages (Day-Date, 1956)
First watch to use 904L Stainless steel (and for all watches since 1985)
Own foundry for gold, plus own, exclusive alloy for pink gold (Everose gold) – Rolex is one of the largest users of Gold in Switzerland, and to make things a bit different, they do own their own foundry, where they are able to create their own alloys.
Own ceramic bezels (Cerachrom) Rolex was one of the first brands to introduce ceramic bezels. The first model to feature it was the 2008 GMT-Master II. After featuring watches with monochromatic bezels (black mostly, with platinum or gold PVD inscriptions), Rolex achieved with the GMT-Master II BLNR to combine a different color (blue in this case) to black in a single block of ceramic (these two colors are obtain via a localized chemical treatment, not by merging two different parts). Later again, Rolex achieved to have two colors, blue and red, on a single block of ceramic, with the GMT-Master II BLRO “Pepsi”, a watch launched in 2014.
Today, Rolex is the #1 watch brand in the world…and with the most mysterious operations to boot. The intricate machine that cuts their sapphire crystals reportedly cost over $ 100 Million. They make everything in house, even the metal casings and bracelets.
Hans Wilsdorf was an orphan so when he died in 1960, the company continued as a secluded non-profit entity, the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. Since then, the Foundation has shielded itself from the world, never publicly disclosing it’s sales, operations and production procedures and is exempt from paying taxes. It remains a giant powerhouse brand with global marketing campaigns and with generous philanthropic efforts.
An impressive list of Rolex watch wearers includes Steve McQueen. Martin Luther King, Elvis Presley, John F Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Paul Newman, Warren Buffett, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Brad Pitt, Madonna, Jennifer Aniston, Adam Levine, Ellen DeGeneres, Paris Hilton, Pope John-Paul II, the Dalai Lama, Fidel Castro, Boris Yeltsin, James Bond and even Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
In October 2017, Paul Newman’s iconic Rolex Daytona sold for a grand total of $17.8 million at auction. The price was the highest paid for any wristwatch sold at auction, and cements the ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona’s place as one of the most desirable watches of all time.