By Thomas Shambler
Once a lowly manufacture in the foothills of Bienne, Switzerland, and now the undisputed King of watches. Rolex rise to fame came slowly but surely
At the age of 24, Hans Wilsdorf founded a company in London specialising in distributing timepieces. He began to dream of a watch that would be worn on the wrist (at the time, watches were incredibly large and not very precise).
Wilsdorf wanted a brand name that was short and easy to say in any language. One morning, while riding on the upper deck of a horse-drawn omnibus in London, the name just came to him. He said, "A Genie whispered 'Rolex' in my ear".
Having concentrated on precision, Rolex had already received Swiss Certificates of Chronometric Excellence and an A-rating by the Kew Observatory in Great Britain. It moved to Geneva in 1919, a city renowned internationally for watchmaking.
Rolex produced the first waterproof and dustproof watch, which marked a significant step forward for the industry. Given the name 'Oyster' the watch featured a hermetically sealed case which provided protection for the movement within.
Rolex began to test its watches out in the elements. The first expedition to fly over and summit Everest was equipped with Rolex Oysters, as did Sir Malcolm Campbell – one of the fastest drivers in the world at the time.
The Datejust was created, becoming the first self-winding wrist chronometer to indicate the date via a small window on the dial. A watch came with a bracelet designed especially for it
As intercontinental travel continued to develop in the 1950s, for the first time pilots would fly across several successive time zones. To know the time in various parts of the world, Rolex produced the GMT-Master, which became the official watch of Pan Am.
To test an experimental watch, Rolex strapped a bathyscaphe watch to the side of the submarine Trieste, before it descended into the Mariana Trench (the deepest known depression on the Earth's surface). Emerging from 10,916-metres below, the watch still worked.
By this time Rolex had already produced the Cosmograph Daytona, the Sea-Dweller, and the Explorer II. It became the first watchmaker to use aerospace-grade steel in all its watches.
Filmmaker James Cameron descends into the Mariana Trench, making the first solo dive to the deepest point on earth, and the only dive into the trench since Trieste. There was only one passenger on both voyages, a Rolex watch.