Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Rolex watches – a 20th century phenomenon

It seems extraordinary to think that such an everyday item as a wristwatch only became commonplace in the 20th century, due partly to Rolex watches

The birth of the wristwatch

Up until World War I, wristwatches were considered an item of ladies jewellery, and men used the pocket watch.  One major revolution in the popularity of the men’s wristwatch was the vision of Hans Wilsdorf, a German living and working in London, In 1905 he took a risk on commissioning low-cost watch movements from a Swiss-based manufacturer, and placed them in quality cases.  He then sold the composite watches to jewellers who in turn sold them as their own products.  Wilsdorf’s marketing skills meant that his company soon flourished, and the Rolex watch was born. 

The Oyster

1926 saw the birth of the product which became synonymous with Rolex watches – the Oyster watch.  Rolex watches already had the reputation of being durable and keeping excellent time, but the Oyster had the added advantage of being watertight.  There are various legends around the name – one is that it came to Wilsdorf over dinner when he was having difficulty opening an oyster.  Another is that it is due to its shape.  A further theory is that it has to do with being a watertight pearl of a watch.  Whatever its origin, the Oyster is still one of the most popular Rolex watches today.

Wilsdorf the showman

On October 7th, 1927, Mercedes Gleitze swam the channel whilst wearing an Oyster Rolex watch. Wilsdorf’s claims that the Oyster was water-tight couldn’t have been proved in a more imaginative and high profile way.  Following the channel swim, Oyster Rolex watches were displayed in fish tanks in jewellery shops across the country, giving the brand an association with marine and sub-marine applications.

Time and Date

In 1956 the Oyster Perpetual Datejust was introduced onto the market, being the first Rolex watch to display the date as well as the time.  This was just one of the many innovations in watch technology that Rolex made over the years.  These include the first watch to spell out the day of the week on the watch face, the first automatic winding mechanism, a deep-sea diving Rolex watch and a watch that allows the wearer to tell the time in two different time zones.

A sporting chance

Rolex continued its association of sporting events when in 1959 it sponsored the Daytona International Speedway 24 hour endurance test.  Rolex watches have become associated with many international sporting and arts events, and the company has Enterprise Awards for individuals making a difference within the fields of ecology, the environment, science, technology and culture. Check out for superb Rolex and Ice watches and much more.


  1. Watches are the best, I always take it as a gift.

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