Daniele Canale


Rolex is one of the largest companies operating in the production of fine wrist watches, based in Geneva.

The first watches, due to the delicacy of the case, glass and mechanism were born as pocket watches even for the need to protect them from shocks, water and dust!

To overcome the problem, the various manufacturers try to create, with little success, pocket watches with double and even triple case.

The innovator that solves the problems of the watertight box and of the automatic winding mechanism is Hans Wilsdorf, the creator of the brand "ROLEX".

Hans Wilsdorf was born in Bavaria in the town of Kulmbach and at the age of 12 he remains orphan of both parents.

At the age of 19, in the Swiss town of "La Chaux-de-Fonds," Wilsdorf opens an office of correspondence with England on behalf of an exporter manufacturing of watches, and in 1903 he moves to London working for an importer of watches, but after a short period, not sharing his objectives, Wilsdorf interrupts the working relationship.

In 1905 in London he sets the basis for his future watchmaking empire and, with the aim of providing his customers with products with a maximum value for money, he decides to start his own business in association with Davis and to found the "Wilsdorf & Davis".

Wilsdorf, in order to achieve his goal, needs a reliable manufacturing and find in "Bienne": the "Aegler Co.”, that since 1900 produces watches with a simple lever precision mechanism of 11 lines.

To demonstrate that the clocks are prestigious objects, "Aegler" requests the certification of its mechanism first by the "Laboratori cronografaci di Bienne Chronograph Laboratories" and later in England by  the ''Kew Observatory".

After 44 days of testing about marine chronographic tolerances, the mechanism receives the certification of Class "A".

H. Wilsdorf obtains from "Aegler" the guarantee that all the mechanisms respect the required standards for chronographs, and  signs with the "Aegler" a contract worth of hundreds of thousands of Swiss francs, in order to sell watches in England and in 1908 he creates his personal "Brand" with the name of "Rolex", derived from "horlogerie exquise" (prestigious watches).

In the same year the "Jean Ziegler & sons" joins with "Rolex" forming the group "Rolex Watch Co., Aegler SA, Manufacture d'Horlogerie" while the company in London was called "Wilsdorf & Davies, Rolex Watch Company".

When the British government suddenly decides to raise taxes by 30 percent to finance the First World War, Wilsdorf moves his business to "Bienne".

The London office continues to market locally over two hundred different models of "Rolex" watches produced for men and women.

The January 17, 1920 Wilsdorf founds in Geneva, as sole owner and general manager, the "Montre Rolex SA".

By this time all the Rolex movements will be made in "Bienne" while their assembly, control and sale will be managed in Geneva.

Considering that the customers of wristwatches complain about the lack of protection from water and dust, the ”Rolex” is the first factory that deals with the problem in the right way and in 1926 it patents a waterproof case calling it "Oyster".

In order to put it in prominence the goal achieved the manufacture thinks a sort of "ante litteram" sponsorship, associating the launch of the  new Rolex Oyster to an international event as the first swim crossing of the Channel Tunnel.

The English swimmer Mercedes Gleitze, in 1927 performs the crossing, leading to the wrist for 15 hours and 15 minutes the new "Rolex Oyster" that works smoothly even after the arrival.                

After this success, Wilsdorf wrote in his autobiography: "The logical consequence of the Rolex Oyster was the need to create a self-winding movement that would ensure the continuous operation of the clock".

In the wake of the success of the "Oyster case", the engineers were convinced that a wristwatch, in order to be complete, must also have the requisite of automatic winding (the weak point for the impermeability of the Oyster case was represented by its winding crown).

A self-winding system was already invented in 1780 by the "Manifattura d’Horologerie Breguet" with an oscillating weight and two moving drums.

The idea was revived in 1931 and modernized by Rolex technicians and watchmakers who built the first model "Oyster-Perpetual", a self-winding and waterproof watch that in spite of the technical content highly innovative, took about 20 years before being received by the market.

In 1931 Wilsdorf/ROLEX starts producing an automatic movement thanks to a talented engineer, Emil Borer, that develops it using a movement composed of a metallic mass rotating freely around a hinge point.

The "Rolex Perpetual" was ahead of its time and its patent of a term of 15 years allows it to beat for a long time the whole competition.

In 1945, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his birth, Rolex introduced the "Date just" model, the first waterproof wrist chronograph, automatic and with a visible date on the dial.

These main objectives achieved well ahead of the competition, have led the Rolex to an international success that continues today.

The wristwatch was gaining market compared to the pocket watch but all the factories produced classic watches in order to answer the prevalent male request and jewel watches for female demands, but only starting  from ‘50s that ROLEX, strong of its models "Oyster - Perpetual", presented on the market the sport watches that began to be seen on the wrists of men and that later became a point of reference for other manufactures.

The advantage of the Rolex was so great that its success was unstoppable and other manufacturers had to work hard and invest quickly to create models similar to those that Rolex had built for over twenty years.

On July 6, 1960 Hans Wilsdorf dies leaving a florid business that his successors have transformed into an extremely rich enterprise that is the largest Swiss consumer of gold for industrial activities.

Watch List

Rolex Day-Date

The first wristwatch showing date and day of the week.

Rolex Daytona

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is a watch with a mechanical self-winding movement. It has wrist chronograph functions and is officially certified by the COSC.

Rolex GT master

The GMT-Master Rolex is born from the collaboration with the Pan-Am Airlines, famous airline that in the fifties had scheduled intercontinental operations with direct flights.


The Submariner is produced by Rolex since 1954