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How Old is Rolex Company? Age, History, and Legacy Explained

Chris, Chief Editor

Updated Feb 24, 2024

Human experts evaluate all our content

Did you know the iconic Rolex Oyster wasn’t always waterproof? In fact, it wasn’t even a wristwatch!

The iconic crown logo adorns wrists worldwide, symbolizing luxury, prestige, and a certain je ne sais quoi (aura of quality). But beneath that timeless symbol lies a history older than you might think, so how old is Rolex company?

Founded in 1905, Rolex is a century-old brand and a true testament to innovation, craftsmanship, and a touch of history on your wrist. No wonder it’s on every best watch under the $10k list.

From pioneering waterproof watches to gracing the wrists of explorers and presidents, Rolex is a brand that goes beyond mere timekeeping and is a symbol of achievement and timeless style.

Join us as we rewind time and explore the remarkable evolution of Rolex, a brand that’s been pushing boundaries, milestones, innovations, and an enduring legacy for over 119 years.

*All images in this article are credited to Rolex’s official homepage.

Rolex age

The Founding of Rolex

You may appreciate the craftsmanship of a Rolex watch, but have you ever wondered about the legendary beginnings of this luxury watchmaking giant? Let’s wind back the hands of time to where it all started.

When Was Rolex Founded, and Who Were the Founders?

Rolex was brought into existence in 1905. This iconic brand was the brainchild of two visionary entrepreneurs: Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law Alfred Davis. Together, they launched their company in London, initially under the name Wilsdorf and Davis.

Wilsdorf’s journey began with a dream: to create a watch that was elegant, reliable, and easy to wear on the wrist. His pursuit of excellence led to the birth of Rolex in the early 20th century. Under his leadership, your wristwatch transformed from a fragile fashion item into an emblem of durability and precision.

It was only a matter of time before the Rolex name would come to be associated with innovation and elegance in watchmaking.

Key dates and figures:

  • Hans Wilsdorf: Founder and dreamer behind the Rolex vision

  • Alfred Davis: Co-founder and integral to the company’s inception

  • 1905: At the mere age of 24, Wilsdorf, together with Davis, established the company in London.

  • 1919: Wilsdorf relocated to Geneva, founding Montres Rolex S.A a year later.

What Was the Vision Behind Rolex’s Inception?

Hans Wilsdorf

Wilsdorf’s vision was clear: he imagined watches that were not only precise but could be worn on the wrist, a novel idea at the time, given the popularity of the pocket watch.

What set these early watches apart was Wilsdorf’s insistence on precision. He sought to create a wristwatch that was not just a fashionable accessory but a reliable instrument of timekeeping.

Core aspects of Wilsdorf’s vision:

  • Emphasis on precision timekeeping

  • Aesthetic and functional wristwatches

  • Establishing Rolex as a symbol of luxury and craftsmanship

Their dream and determination laid the foundation for what would become Montres Rolex SA.

Rolex’s Early Innovations

The early innovations of Rolex set new standards in watchmaking. These breakthroughs not only defined the future of the Swiss watch company but also marked Rolex’s ascent as an icon in the luxury watch industry.

What Were Rolex’s First Major Innovations?

Rolex invented two major features that set the path for other brands and watches to follow.

The Waterproof Watch

The Rolex Deepsea Special

Rolex took the world by storm with the introduction of the Oyster in 1926. This was the first waterproof wristwatch in history, built with a hermetically sealed case that provided optimal protection against water and dust.

Rolex brought the dream of never having to worry about water damaging your watch to reality with the Oyster Case, revolutionizing luxury watches.

With an ingenious system of screwing down the bezel, case back, and winding crown against the middle case, Rolex set the standard for waterproof watches.

But have you heard about the Rolex Deepsea Special? Diving to an impressive depth of 10,916 meters in the Mariana Trench showcased Rolex’s mastery over waterproof technology.

Automatic Movement

The mechanism behind the Rolex Perpetual

Fast forward to 1931, and Rolex wasn’t slowing down. They unveiled the Oyster Perpetual, which was the world’s first self-winding wristwatch through a perpetual rotor. This innovation increased user accuracy and convenience, solidifying the trust in Rolex’s reliability.

You might own a chronograph watch or enjoy the mechanics of diving watches, but it’s undeniable that the luxury watch landscape would look very different without Rolex’s trailblazing advancements.

These innovations revolutionized how you interact with your watch and raised the bar for the whole industry.

Certified Chronometers

Rolex wasn’t just about reliability underwater. Since the 1950s, Rolex timepieces have been consistently awarded certifications as chronometers, setting the bar high for accuracy in luxury watches.

Their precision in timekeeping and ruggedness under extreme conditions have earned them world records and trust in their timepieces around the globe.

What Are Some of the Most Iconic Rolex Models?

Throughout the history of Rolex, these are the Rolex models that set the standard for luxury timepieces.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual

The first Rolex Oyster

Introduced in the late 1920s, the Oyster Perpetual was the world’s first waterproof wristwatch, credited with cementing Rolex’s reputation for durability and innovation.

Rolex Submariner (1953)

Rolex Submariner

The Submariner, introduced in 1953, was designed for diving and is recognized for its water-resistant features and rugged elegance.

Rolex GMT Master (1954)

Rolex GMT Master

Pilots and international travelers have long favored the GMT Master for its ability to display multiple time zones.

Rolex Day-Date (1956)

Rolex Day-Date

An embodiment of prestige, the Day-Date made history as the first wristwatch to spell out the day of the week in full.

Rolex Daytona (1963)

Rolex Daytona

Racing and watch enthusiasts alike cherish the Daytona for its precision and association with the high-speed world of motorsports.

Rolex and the World Wars

During the tumultuous years of the World Wars, Rolex was forging its identity amid global conflicts. Did you know that the brand’s reputation for durability partly stemmed from its wartime presence?

During World War I, the utility of wristwatches became evident and soldiers needed a reliable way to synchronize maneuvers.

Rolex rose to the occasion.

Wristwatches, which were once considered a feminine accessory, gained prominence as essential military gear, and Rolex’s precision played a crucial role.

In 1915, amidst World War I, the company’s name shifted to the Rolex Watch Co. Ltd., likely a strategic move to avoid anti-German sentiments in Britain due to founder Hans Wilsdorf’s German origins.

Rolex watches stood the test of time as the world plunged into the Second World War.

With the advent of aerial combat and cross-continental missions, navigators and pilots counted on Rolex’s precision. The robustness of their timepieces under extreme conditions became legendary.

  • 1915: The company is renamed to Rolex Watch Co. Ltd.

  • 1919: Rolex relocates headquarters to Geneva, Switzerland.

Remarkably, Rolex even offered replacement watches to British officers in German POW camps who had their watches confiscated, invoicing them only after the war.

This act of service bolstered Rolex’s reputation for honoring its values and commitment to its wearers, irrespective of circumstances.

Through the chaos and heroism of the World Wars, Rolex emerged as a symbol of resilience, reliability, and an unwavering bond of trust with its clients.

When Did Rolex Become a Global Luxury Brand?

Rolex watch

You’ve seen the crown logo, synonymous with luxury and precision. But when did Rolex really hit its stride on the global stage and become known as an investment item?

Post-World War II

Having moved to Geneva in the aftermath of World War I due to unfavorable economic conditions in the UK, Rolex wasn’t just surviving—it was thriving.

Their commitment to quality and luxury found a warm reception among a global clientele looking for sophistication and durability in a timepiece.

1950s and Beyond

Rolex’s reputation for luxury and excellence blossomed alongside their introduction of iconic watch models like the Submariner, Daytona, and GMT-Master.

The brand was no longer just a manufacturer; it was a status symbol, and its logo became a universally recognized seal of prestige.

During this golden era, Rolex quietly crossed an invisible threshold, transforming from a high-end watchmaker into an emblem of personal success and timeless style for a global audience.

Rolex in Popular Culture and Beyond

Have you ever noticed a Rolex on the wrist of a suave secret agent in a blockbuster movie? Or listened to a hit song where a lyricist name-drops their luxurious timepiece? The indelible mark of Rolex is everywhere in pop culture.

  • Movies: From James Bond to The Wolf of Wall Street, Rolex watches have been timekeeping icons on the silver screen. The brand’s association with achievement and sophistication makes it a go-to accessory for powerful characters that demand attention.

  • Music: Rolex isn’t just visually iconic; it’s also a symbol of success in music lyrics. Rappers and artists often use the name ‘Rolex’ to signify wealth and status—a testament to the brand’s clout.

  • Influential Figures: You’re likely to spot a Rolex on the wrists of presidents, visionaries, world leaders, popular influencers and entrepeneurs.

Controversy and Criticisms of Rolex

The name of Rolex evokes images of rugged explorers scaling mountains, James Bond oozing sophistication, and perhaps, even a hint of unattainable luxury.

While the brand boasts a rich history of innovation and craftsmanship, its journey hasn’t been without its bumps. Let’s delve deeper into the controversies surrounding Rolex’s gleaming facade and its enduring appeal.

A World of Aspiration, But Is It Real?

Rolex’s marketing paints a captivating picture. Rugged explorers conquer Everest, celebrities flaunt their status symbols, and sleek watches grace the wrists of Hollywood royalty.

But is this aspirational imagery truly inclusive, or does it reinforce the perception of Rolex as an unattainable symbol of wealth?

One major criticism revolves around allegations of artificial scarcity. Whispers suggest Rolex deliberately limits production, driving up prices and fueling a secondary market where vintage models fetch astronomical sums.

While this strategy undoubtedly fuels profits, it can leave genuine enthusiasts feeling frustrated and alienated.

The Vintage Conundrum

Vintage Rolex models are often seen as essential fashion accessories but have also drawn flak.

Some argue their ostentatious display transcends tasteful luxury, becoming symbols of conspicuous consumption. This perception clashes with the brand’s historical emphasis on functionality, raising questions about its evolving identity.

Rolex navigates a delicate balance between luxury and functionality. Maintaining its high-end image fuels success but risks alienating potential customers and fueling criticisms of elitism.

The brand’s future may hinge on finding a way to uphold its legacy while embracing a more inclusive and accessible approach.

Your Wrist, Your Choice: Does Rolex Resonate With You?

Ultimately, owning a Rolex is a personal decision.

Does its history, its blend of luxury and functionality, and its place in the watchmaking world resonate with you? Do its controversies and criticisms raise concerns?

Examining these questions to determine whether a Rolex truly embodies your values and aspirations and if you should get one for yourself!

Chris Starkhagen MSc.

Entrepreneur and Founder of chrisstarkhagen.com

Chris writes for men about what to know and how to be a high-value man and networking with high-net-worth individuals. Chris guides readers on men’s business, men’s home office, men’s performance, men’s accessories, and the best products for men to craft a timeless style. Whether you’re already a high net-worth man seeking your next luxury watch or a young G who wants a lifestyle upgrade, Chris connects men with the resources needed to elevate life as a man.