The watches are sturdy, reliable and can be repaired to run forever. They may not be among the most sophisticated, but they are rugged and strong and popular all over the world.
By Britta Rossander
With a Rolex on your wrist you can chop wood, go for a swim, play with your kids or attend a gala dinner. Your wrist will always be well dressed if you choose a Rolex, the brand that will never deliver anything that has not been tested over and over, the factory that chooses the certain over the uncertain and does not complicate their movements more than necessary. If Rolex develops a complication, it’s because they are convinced that their customers really need it. WTM has taken a closer look at how the company has evolved from the start.
On June 15, 1914, the Kew observatory in Great Britain awarded their first “Class A” certificate to a wristwatch. It was awarded to Rolex, at the time a small company, which surprised many. With this certificate, Rolex paved the way for the modern precision watches built to be worn on the wrist. Only marine chronometers had earlier been awarded similar certificates.
Rolex’s certificate increased the use of wristwatches, and the company soon became the major producer of chronometer-certified wristwatches. The tests for the certificate lasted for 45 days and were carried out in five different positions and three different temperatures – freezing cold, room temperature and in baking heat.
Hans Wilsdorf founded Rolex in 1905 and was convinced from the start that wrist-worn watches would be the future of the industry. Right from the start he aimed at eliminating all the weak points of his watches, and strived for perfect precision. Wilsdorf realized that precision would be necessary to make the popularity of the wristwatches last for a long time.
The first great success was in 1910 when the brand managed to get a chronometer certificate for a small movement from the official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne, Switzerland. This achievement meant that Wilsdorf had proven that precision in a small format was not only possible in theory but also in practice.
Even though the wristwatches had perfect precision and a chronometer certificate, they were a lot more vulnerable to impact, dust and moisture than the pocket watches. That’s why Wilsdorf’s next aim was to design a completely waterproof case, to protect the movement and preserve its precision. The goal was reached in 1926 and the case was named the Oyster. It was the world’s first waterproof wristwatch with a screwed-in crown, that because of its design was also dustproof. Later came a system with a rotor that turned the wearer’s movements into energy to make the watch self-winding.
In the early 1950’s Rolex produced almost 90 percent of all the certified chronometers in Switzerland, and came up with the term “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” that the company still proudly uses.
As one of the leading brands in the Swiss watch industry, based in Geneva, Rolex has an impressive reputation for quality all over the world. Over the years the brand has registered 400 patents and is still an independent manufacturer working as a foundation. Rolex’s success and status can be trailed back to founder Hans Wilsdorf’s entrepreneurial spirit, visionary ambition and never-ending quest for innovation and perfection.
Rolex designs, manufactures, assembles and tests their watches at their own facilities, they have 6,000 employees, sell their watches in a hundred countries and produce them at four different addresses in Switzerland:
1. At the head office in Geneva, all the administration is carried out as well as final assembly, quality control, sales and customer service.
2. In Chêne-Bourg, located in the canton of Geneva southeast of the city, is the facility for development, production of mother-of-pearl faces, as well as all the jewelry work.
3. Plan-les-Ouates, where wristbands and some other details are produced, is also in the canton of Geneva.
4. Bienne (Biel) in the watch district of Vallé de Joux is where the movements are produced and assembled.
The Rolex company is active in areas such as art, sports, entrepreneurial spirit and environment through a variety of sponsoring activities and philanthropic programs. Since 2011 the man in charge has been Gian Riccardo Marini, who has worked for Rolex for forty years. Right now a new era has begun with Jean Frederic Dufour as CEO. Dufour used to work for Zenith, where he in an elegant manner put the spotlight on the El Primero movement (that Rolex used earlier in the Daytona) and Zenith’s high level of craftsmanship. Jean Frederic is a genuine “watch person” with a background also from Chopard’s line of timepieces. He has great emotion and engagement in the manufacturing of movements, and we wait with anticipation to find out how he will put his mark on one of the most famous brands in the world.