||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (May 2012)|
|Predecessor(s)||Wilsdorf and Davis|
|Founded||London, England (1905)|
|Key people||Gian Riccardo Marini, (CEO)|
|Production output||1,200,000 watches (2012)|
|Revenue||CHF 4.6 billion (2010)|
|Subsidiaries||Montres Tudor SA|
Rolex SA and its subsidiary Montres Tudor SA design, manufacture, distribute and service high-quality wristwatches sold under the Rolex and Tudor brands. Founded by Hans Wildorf and Alfred Davis in London, England in 1905 as Wilsdorf and Davis, Rolex moved its base of operations to Geneva, Switzerland in 1919.
Bloomberg Businessweek magazine ranked Rolex No.71 on its 2007 list of the 100 most valuable global brands. Rolex is the largest single luxury watch brand, producing about 2,000 watches per day, with estimated 2003 revenues of approximately US$3 billion.
Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis, founded Wilsdorf and Davis, the company that would eventually become Rolex SA, in London, England in 1905. Wilsdorf and Davis' main business at the time was importing Hermann Aegler's Swiss movements to England and placing them in quality watch cases made by Dennison and others. These early wristwatches were sold to jewellers, who then put their own names on the dial. The earliest watches from Wilsdorf and Davis were usually hallmarked "W&D" inside the caseback.
In 1908, Wilsdorf registered the trademark "Rolex" and opened an office in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The company name "Rolex" was registered on 15 November 1915. The book The Best of Time: Rolex Wristwatches: An Unauthorized History by Jeffrey P. Hess and James Dowling says that the name was just made up. One story, never confirmed by Wilsdorf, is that the name came from the French phrase horlogerie exquise, meaning "exquisite clockwork" or as a contraction of "horological excellence". Wilsdorf was said to want his watch brand's name to be easily pronounceable in any language. He also thought that the name "Rolex" was onomatopoeic, sounding like a watch being wound. It is easily pronounceable in many languages and, as all letters have the same size, allows to be written symmetrically. It was also short enough to fit on the face of a watch.
In 1919, Wilsdorf left England due to wartime taxes levied on luxury imports as well as export duties on the silver and gold used for the watch cases driving costs too high and moved the company to Geneva, Switzerland, where it was established as the Rolex Watch Company. Its name was later changed to Montres Rolex, SA and finally Rolex, SA. Upon the death of his wife in 1944, Wilsdorf established the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation in which he left all of his Rolex shares, making sure that some of the company's income would go to charity. The company is still owned by a private trust and shares are not traded on any stock exchange.
In December 2008, the abrupt departure of Chief Executive Patrick Heiniger, for “personal reasons”, was followed by a denial by the company that it had lost 1 billion Swiss francs (approx £574 million, $900 million) invested with Bernard Madoff, the American asset manager who pleaded guilty to an approximately £30 billion worldwide Ponzi scheme fraud. Heiniger died March 5, 2013, after a long illness, according to an official statement issued by Rolex SA.
Among the company's innovations are:
- The first waterproof wristwatch "Oyster", 1926
- The first wristwatch with an automatically changing date on the dial (Rolex Datejust ref.4467, 1945)
- The first wristwatch case waterproof to 100 m (330 ft) (Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner ref.6204, 1953)
- The first wristwatch to show two time zones at once (Rolex GMT Master ref.6542, 1954)
- The first wristwatch with an automatically changing day and date on the dial (Rolex Day-Date, 1956)[better source needed]
- The first watchmaker to earn chronometer certification for a wristwatch
Automatic movements 
The first self-winding Rolex wristwatch was offered to the public in 1931 (so-called the "bubbleback" due to the large caseback), preceded to the market by Harwood which patented the design in 1923 and produced the first self-winding watch in 1928, powered by an internal mechanism that used the movement of the wearer's arm. This not only made watch-winding unnecessary, but kept the power from the mainspring more consistent resulting in more reliable time keeping.
Quartz movements 
Rolex participated in the development of the original quartz watch movements. Although Rolex has made very few quartz models for its Oyster line, the company's engineers were instrumental in design and implementation of the technology during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1968, Rolex collaborated with a consortium of 16 Swiss watch manufacturers to develop the Beta 21 quartz movement used in their Rolex Quartz Date 5100. Within about five years of research, design, and development, Rolex created the "clean-slate" 5035/5055 movement that would eventually power the Rolex Oysterquartz.
Water-resistant cases 
Rolex was also the first watch company to create a water resistant wristwatch that could withstand pressure to a depth of 100 m (330 ft). Wilsdorf even had a specially made Rolex watch (the watch was called the "DeepSea") attached to the side of the Trieste bathyscaphe, which went to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The watch survived and tested as having kept perfect time during its descent and ascent. This was confirmed by a telegram sent to Rolex the following day saying "Am happy to confirm that even at 11,000 metres your watch is as precise as on the surface. Best regards, Jacques Piccard".
Rolex produced specific models suitable for the extremes of deep-sea diving, mountain climbing and aviation. Early sports models included the Rolex Submariner and the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Sea Dweller. The latter watch has a helium release valve, co-invented with Swiss watchmaker Doxa, to release helium gas build-up during decompression. The Explorer and Explorer II were developed specifically for explorers who would navigate rough terrain, such as the world famous Mount Everest expeditions. Another iconic model is the Rolex GMT Master, which was originally developed in 1954 at the request of Pan Am Airways to provide its crews with a dual time watch that could be used to display GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), which is the international time standard for aviation and was needed for Astronavigation during longer flights.
Certified chronometers 
Rolex is the largest manufacturer of Swiss made certified chronometers. In 2005, more than half the annual production of COSC certified watches were Rolexes. To date, Rolex still holds the record for the most certified chronometer movements in the category of wristwatches.
Ceramic bezels 
The company is now starting to introduce ceramic bezels across the range of professional sports watches. They are available on the Submariner, Sea Dweller-Deepsea, GMT Master II and Daytona models. The ceramic bezel is not influenced by UV-light and is very scratch resistant.
Rolex SA offers products under the Rolex and Tudor brands.
Montres Tudor SA has designed, manufactured and marketed Tudor brand watches since March 6, 1946. Rolex founder Hans Wildorf conceived of the Tudor Watch Company to create a product for authorized Rolex dealers to sell that offered the reliability and dependability of a Rolex, but at a lower price.
Tudor brand watches are manufactured by Montres Tudor SA using movements supplied by ETA SA.
Tudor brand watches are marketed and sold in most countries around the world including Australia, Canada, India, Mexico, South Africa, most countries in Europe, South Asia, the Middle East and countries South America, particularly Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela.
Rolex watch models 
Rolex has three watch lines: Oyster Perpetual, Professional and Cellini (the Cellini line is Rolex's line of 'dressy' watches) and the primary bracelets for the Oyster line are named Jubilee, Oyster and President.
Modern models 
The name of the watch lines in catalogs is often "Rolex Oyster Perpetual ______" or "Rolex ______"; Rolex Oyster and Oyster Perpetual are generic names and not specific product lines, except for the 36mm Oyster Perpetual model, which goes by no other name and is a model unto itself. The Air-King is the least-expensive member of the Oyster Perpetual family and is meant for understated elegance and simplicity. The Date is related to the Air-King but adds a date display. Certain models from the Date and Datejust are almost identical, however the Datejust 36 mm case and a 20 mm bracelet compared to the Date's 34 mm case and 19 mm bracelet . Internally, the Datejust's mechanism is more sophisticated as it can change date independently of the minute/hour hands by pulling the crown 1/2 way out, while the date on the Date has to be changed by advancing the minute and hour hands all the way around 24 hours. Lastly, the Datejust has optional luxury features such as gold and diamonds which are not available on the Date.
- Air-King-Date available for 1988
- Oyster Perpetual
- Datejust II
- Datejust Turn-O-Graph
- Lady Datejust Pearlmaster
- Day-Date II
- Day-Date Oyster Perpetual
- Explorer II
- GMT Master II
- Sea Dweller
- Sea Dweller DeepSea
- Yacht-Master II
Cellini models 
- Quartz Ladies
- Quartz Mens
- Cestello Ladies
- Cestello Mens
- Danaos Mens
Rolex watches vary in price according to the model and the materials used. In the UK, the retail price for the highly sought-after stainless steel 'Pilots' range (such as the GMT Master II) starts from GBP £5,250. Diamond inlay watches go for considerably more. The book "Vintage Wristwatches" by Antiques Roadshow's Reyne Haines listed a price estimate of Rolex watches that ranged between $650 and $75,000, while listing Tudors between $250 and $9,000. The most expensive Rolex ever produced by the Rolex factory was the GMT Ice reference 116769TBR with a retail price of $485,350.00. A Forbes Magazine article on the Swiss watch industry compared the retail value of Rolexes to that of competing brands Corum, Universal Genève and IWC.
Significant events 
Rolex is the official time keeper of Wimbledon and the Australian Open tennis grand slams, as well as two of the four majors in golf: the Open Championship and the U.S. Open. They are also the title sponsor to the 24 Hours of Daytona, from which the Daytona model takes its name.
Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh had a specially designed experimental Rolex Oyster Perpetual Deep-Sea Special strapped to the outside of their bathyscaphe during the 1960 Challenger Deep / Mariana Trench dive to a world-record depth of 10,916 metres (35,814 ft). When James Cameron conducted a similar dive in 2012, a specially designed and manufactured Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller Deep Sea Challenge watch was being "worn" by his submarine's robotic arm.
Tenzing Norgay and other members of the Hillary expedition wore Rolex Oysters in 1953 at altitude 8,848 m on Mount Everest while there are attestations and speculation that Sir Edmund Hillary either carried a Smiths Deluxe or a Rolex to the summit, or both.
Mercedes Gleitze was the first British woman to swim the English Channel on 7 October 1927. But, as John E. Brozek (author of The Rolex Report: An Unauthorized Reference Book for the Rolex Enthusiast) points out in his article "The Vindication Swim, Mercedes Gleitze and Rolex take the plunge", some doubts were cast on her achievement when a hoaxer claimed to have made a faster swim only four days later. To silence her critics, Mercedes Gleitze attempted a repeat swim on 21 October in the full glare of publicity, thus touted the "Vindication Swim". Hans Wilsdorf knew a good marketing opportunity when he saw one and offered her one of the earliest Rolex Oysters if she would wear it during the attempt. After more than 10 hours, in water that was much colder than during her first swim, she was pulled from the sea semi-conscious seven miles short of her goal. It was during this swim where she wore the Rolex watch, contrary to popular opinion. Although she did not complete the second crossing, a journalist for The Times wrote "Having regard to the general conditions, the endurance of Miss Gleitze surprised the doctors, journalists and experts who were present, for it seemed unlikely that she would be able to withstand the cold for so long. It was a good performance". This silenced the doubters and Mercedes Gleitze was hailed as a heroine. As she sat in the boat, the same journalist made a discovery and reported it as follows: "Hanging round her neck by a ribbon on this swim, Miss Gleitze carried a small gold watch, which was found this evening to have kept good time throughout". When examined closely, the watch was found to be in perfect condition, dry inside and ticking away as if nothing had happened. One month later, on 24 November 1927, Wilsdorf launched the Rolex Oyster watch in the United Kingdom as the focal point of a full front page Rolex advert in the Daily Mail and the Rolex Oyster began its rise to fame. The Vienna Herald described the 1969 Apollo moon landing as: 'an event almost as significant as the time a woman swam most of the English Channel with a waterproof watch on."'
Watches for POWs and help in the Great Escape 
By the start of World War II, Rolex watches had already acquired enough prestige that Royal Air Force pilots bought them to replace their inferior standard-issue watches. However, when captured and sent to POW camps, their watches were confiscated. When Hans Wilsdorf heard of this, he offered to replace all watches that had been confiscated and not require payment until the end of the war, if the officers would write to Rolex and explain the circumstances of their loss and where they were being held. Wilsdorf, in belief that their word was their bond, was in personal charge of the scheme. As a result of this, an estimated 3,000 Rolex watches were ordered by British officers in the Oflag (prison camp for officers) VII B POW camp in Bavaria alone. This had the effect of raising the morale among the allied POWs because it indicated that Wilsdorf did not believe that the Nazis would win the war. American servicemen heard about this when stationed in Europe during WWII and this helped open up the American market to Rolex after the war.
On 10 March 1943, while still a prisoner of war, Corporal Clive James Nutting, one of the organizers of the Great Escape, ordered a stainless steel Rolex Oyster 3525 Chronograph (valued at a current equivalent of £1,200) by mail directly from Hans Wilsdorf in Geneva, intending to pay for it with money he saved working as a shoemaker at the camp. The watch (Rolex watch no. 185983) was delivered to Stalag Luft III on 10 July that year along with a note from Wilsdorf apologising for any delay in processing the order and explaining that an English gentleman such as Corporal Nutting "should not even think" about paying for the watch before the end of the war. Wilsdorf is reported to have been impressed with Nutting because, although not an officer, he had ordered the expensive Rolex 3525 Oyster chronograph while most other prisoners ordered the much cheaper Rolex Speed King model which was popular due to its small size. The watch is believed to have been ordered specifically to be used in the Great Escape when, as a chronograph, it could have been used to time patrols of prison guards or time the 76 ill-fated escapees through tunnel 'Harry' on 24 March 1944. Eventually, after the war, Nutting was sent an invoice of only £15 for the watch, due to currency export controls in England at the time. The watch and associated correspondence between Wilsdorf and Nutting were sold at auction for £66,000 in May 2007, while at an earlier auction on September 2006 the same watch fetched A$54,000. Nutting served as a consultant for both the 1950 film The Wooden Horse and the 1963 film The Great Escape. Both films were based on actual escapes which took place at Stalag Luft III.
Murder investigation 
In a famous murder case, the Rolex on Ronald Platt's wrist eventually led to the arrest of his murderer, Albert Johnson Walker—a financial planner who had fled from Canada when he was charged with 18 counts of fraud, theft, and money laundering. When the body was found in the English Channel in 1996 by a fisherman named John Coprik, a Rolex wristwatch was the only identifiable object on the body. Since the Rolex movement had a serial number and was engraved with special markings every time it was serviced, British police traced the service records from Rolex and identified the owner of the watch as Ronald Platt. In addition, British police were able to determine the date of death by examining the date on the watch calendar. Since the Rolex movement was fully waterproof and had a reserve of two to three days of operation when inactive, they were able to determine the time of death within a small margin of error.
Rolex watches are frequently counterfeited, often illegally sold on the street and online.
Hans Wilsdorf Foundation 
Rolex SA is owned by the privately held Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, which is registered as a charity and does not pay corporate tax. "Virginie Chevailler, a spokesman for Rolex in Geneva, declines to say what evidence is available to confirm that the Wilsdorf Foundation makes charitable donations."
Rolex headquarters in Geneva
Rolex manufactory in Biel/Bienne
The Rolex sign in Vienna (2007)
The Rolex sign in Dubai (2007)
See also 
- Rolex Awards for Enterprise
- Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative
- Rolex Tower
- List of watch manufacturers
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