1. Rolex started off in London, not Geneva
Rolex was originally founded in 1905 as Wilsdorf & Davis Ltd. in London by Hans Wilsdorf (an ex-employee of Cuno Korten – a swiss watch exporting company) and his brother-in-law Alfred Davis. Interestingly the business was set up in the world-renowned Hatton Gardens at No 83. While working for Cuno Korten, Hans was responsible for winding hundreds of pocket watches and making sure watches were keeping accurate time. Hans was an innovator as he saw the future of watches being wristwatches. It was only in 1908 that Wilsdorf registered and opened an office in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland; The move to Switzerland was for tax reasons. The company officially changed its name to Rolex in 1915.
2. Rolex doesn’t mean anything
Hans wanted to choose a name easy to pronounce and short, and most importantly one that would look good in the dial. He decided it should be 5 letters long so began creating thousands of combinations from all the letters in the alphabet. Legend has it he didn’t like any of them and only discovered the name Rolex while riding on the upper deck of a horse-drawn omnibus along Cheapside in the City of London, when a genie whispered “Rolex” ... in his ear.
3. Rolex was the first-ever wristwatch to receive a “Class A” Chronometer Certificate
On July 15th 1914 the Kew Observatory in Great Britain granted a “Class A” chronometer certificate to a Rolex wristwatch for the very first time. This was never achieved before by any wristwatch and this type of performance was thought to be only achieved by large, ultra-complex mechanical watches. Rolex once again set the bar for accuracy in 2016: while most high-end luxury watches are in the ±6 second area of daily error, Rolex decided to subject its entire production line to a ±2 second chronometer standard. Rolex watches are known to be some of the most accurate time pieces in the watch industry.
The 1914 certificate from Kew Observatory awarded to Rolex.
4. Rolex produced the world’s first waterproof wristwatch in 1926
The Rolex Oyster was the first-ever waterproof watch ever to be made. When Mercedes Gleitze the first British women to swim the English Channel was making her second attempt to swim across, she received a Rolex Oyster from Hans Wilsdorf himself to take across on her swim. After about 10 hours of swimming in icy cold water, she was pulled out half-conscious and the inside of the Rolex was completely dry. Hats off to Hans for his shrewd publicity move.
A Newspaper article celebrating Mercedes Gleitze's triumph with the first ever waterproof watch by Rolex.
5. The Rolex Datejust was the first watch to feature a changing date on the dial:
First introduced in 1945 as a means to commemorate the company’s 40th anniversary, the Datejust was the very first self-winding wristwatch to feature a date window. The Datejust was debuted as the reference 4467, and upon its release was only available in solid 18K yellow gold. It was only in the 1950s that Rolex began producing the stainless steel and Rolser (two-tone) variants with the Datejust name printed on the dial.
An early reference 4467 circa 1947 from Philipps Auction.