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Rolex: The Ultimate Reference

The universally recognised Rolex watchmaking manufacture cultivates its image as a monolithic company that has always enjoyed success. Yet this success owes nothing to chance. It is the result of a global strategy and can be explained by an analysis of the firm’s history, which began in 1905 and entered its legend building phase from 1908, when the Rolex brand name was registered by its founder, Hans Wilsdorf.

We actually know little about this man of Bavarian extraction, but he was undeniably a visionary. His ambition was to establish the brand and its watchmaking creations in the marketplace by differentiating them from competitor brands and products. Rapidly, he decided to focus almost exclusively on wristwatches. To encourage the public to opt for this kind of timepiece-still uncommon in the first decades of the twentieth century-he not only worked on enhancing the production quality of his watches to demonstrate their superiority, but also made marketing an absolute priority, publicising the advantages of his products.

Rolex was not the only watchmaking firm trying to solve a number of major problems such as water resistance. However, Hans Wilsdorf was alone in realising just how important it was for technical watchmaking solutions to remain simple, enabling them to be patented and sustainably applied. He had the opportunity to put his approach into practice when he became convinced that screwing the winder crown into the tube would provide the perfect solution to the water resistance problem. In 1936, he registered this first major invention, which would bring the crown brand to the notice of the general public. The Rolex legend could now begin.

However, Hans Wilsdorf did not rely on the brilliance of his invention aloe. Fully understanding the importance of communication, he made sure that when the young Mercedes Gleitze successfully swam the English Channel in 1931. Despite these advances, the most important quality for a watch was its perfect precision-almost all chronometer watchmaking production was officially certified by an independent body. Then, watch dials needed to display the information the public wanted. So in 1945, Rolex launched the Datejust. Ultimately, with the invention of water resistance, automatic winding, and the aperture calendar that could be read through a magnifying lens in the crystal, the brand had gone a long way toward realising its vision of a timepiece that we would today call a “general purpose watch.”

For many aficionados, apart from the Day-Date, the models that best embody this approach are watches clearly designed for sport. The legendary Submariner launched in 1953 and worn by Sean Connery in the first James Bond movie, Dr. No. shares its fame with more specialised models such as the GMT Master II and the legendary Cosmograph Daytona chronograph, a favourite of Paul Newman. More recently, the brand has extended its range with the Oyster Perpetual Yacht Master II and the Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller Deepsea professional diving watch.

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