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Rolex SA (//) is a luxury watch manufacturer based in Geneva, Switzerland. Originally founded as Wilsdorf and Davis by Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis in London, England in 1905, the company registered Rolex as the brand name of its watches in 1908, and became Rolex Watch Co. Ltd. in 1915. After World War I, the company moved its base of operations to Geneva due to the unfavorable economic situation in the post-war United Kingdom, and in 1920, Hans Wilsdorf registered Montres Rolex SA in Geneva as the new company name, which eventually became Rolex SA in later years. Since 1960, the company has been owned by the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, a private family trust.
Rolex SA and its subsidiary Montres TUDOR SA design, manufacture, distribute, and service wristwatches sold under the Rolex and Tudor brands. In 2018, Forbes ranked Rolex as the world's 71st most valuable brand. As of June 2019, of the top ten most expensive watches ever sold at auctions, three were Rolex watches. In particular, Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona currently holds the title of the second most expensive wristwatch and the third most expensive watch ever sold at an auction, earning USD$17.75 million in New York City on October 26, 2017. Rolex is the largest manufacturer of Swiss made certified chronometers. In 2005, more than half the annual production of watches certified by Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) were Rolexes. To date, Rolex still holds the record for the most certified chronometer movements in the category of wristwatches.
Alfred Davis and his brother-in-law Hans Wilsdorf founded Wilsdorf and Davis, the company that would eventually become Rolex S.A., in London, England in 1905. Wilsdorf and Davis' main commercial activity at the time involved importing Hermann Aegler's Swiss movements to England and placing them in watch cases made by Dennison and others. These early wristwatches were sold to many 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", which became the brand name of watches from Wilsdorf and Davis. He opened an office in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Wilsdorf wanted the brand name to be easily pronounceable in any language, and short enough to fit on the face of a watch. He also thought that the name "Rolex" was onomatopoeic, sounding like a watch being wound.
In 1914, Kew Observatory awarded a Rolex watch a Class A precision certificate, a distinction normally granted exclusively to marine chronometers. In November 1915, the company changed its name to Rolex Watch Co. Ltd. In 1919, Hans Wilsdorf moved the company from England to Geneva, Switzerland because of heavy post-war taxes levied on luxury imports and high export duties on the silver and gold used for the watch cases. In 1920 the company's name was officially changed to Montres Rolex S.A. and later to Rolex S.A.
With administrative worries attended to, Wilsdorf turned the company's attention to a technical challenge: the infiltration of dust and moisture under the dial and crown, which damaged the movement. To address this problem, in 1926 Rolex developed and produced a waterproof and dustproof wristwatch, giving it the name "Oyster". The watch featured a hermetically sealed case which provided optimal protection for the movement.
Consumers at the time remained skeptical of a fully waterproof watch. As a demonstration, Rolex submerged Oyster models in aquariums, which it displayed in the windows of its main points of sale. In 1927, British swimmer Mercedes Gleitze swam across the English Channel with an Oyster on her necklace, becoming the first Rolex ambassador. To celebrate the feat, Rolex published a full-page advertisement on the front page of the Daily Mail proclaiming the watch's success during the ten hour plus swim.
In 1931, Rolex patented a self-winding mechanism called a Perpetual rotor, a semi-circular plate that relies on gravity to move freely. Its system was the first wristwatch to use a 360° winding rotor and would become the basis of all future automatic watches throughout the industry. In turn, the Oyster watch became known as the Oyster Perpetual.
Upon the death of his wife in 1944, Wilsdorf established the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, a private trust, in which he left all of his Rolex shares, ensuring that some of the company's income would go to charity. Wilsdorf died in 1960, and since then the trust has owned and run Rolex S.A.
Rolex SA is owned by the private Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, which is registered as a charity and does not pay corporate income taxes. In 2011, a spokesman for Rolex declined to provide evidence regarding the amount of charitable donations made by the Wilsdorf Foundation. In Geneva where the company is based, it is said to have gifted, among many things, two housing buildings to social institutions of Geneva.
According to the 2017 Brand Z report, the brand value is estimated $8.053 billion. Rolex watches continue to have a reputation as status symbols. It produces more than 800,000 timepieces each year. It is said that "The power of the Crown is never more felt than when trying to negotiate space in a retail environment for the product of another brand".
Rolex SA offers products under the Rolex and Tudor brands. Montres Tudor (SA) has designed, manufactured and marketed Tudor watches since 6 March 1946. Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf 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. The number of Rolex watches was limited by the rate that they could produce in-house Rolex movements, thus Tudor watches were originally equipped with off-the-shelf movements while using similar quality cases and bracelets.
Historically, Tudor watches have been manufactured by Montres Tudor SA using movements supplied by ETA SA. Since 2015 Tudor has begun to manufacture watches with in-house movements. The first model introduced with an in-house movement was the Tudor North Flag. Following this, updated versions of the Tudor Pelagos and Tudor Heritage Black Bay have also been fitted with an in-house caliber.
Tudor watches are marketed and sold in most countries around the world. Montres Tudor SA discontinued sales of Tudor-branded watches in the United States in 2004, but Tudor returned to the United States market in the summer of 2013 and to the UK in 2014.
Rolex SA produced and sold watches for few markets with the co-operation of other companies, such as Tiffany for the U.S.A, Birch and Gaydon for the England and all Great Britain, Solar Aqua for North America, Cuervo y Sobrinos for Cuba.
One of Rolex's company slogans is "A Crown for Every Achievement".
Rolex mostly produced mechanical watches, but it has also 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 alongside other manufactures including the Omega Electroquartz watches. Within about five years of research, design, and development, Rolex created the "clean-slate" 5035/5055 movement that would eventually power the Rolex 'Oysterquartz'.
Material-wise, Rolex first used its "Cerachrom" ceramic bezel on the GMT-Master II in 2005, and has since then implemented ceramic bezel inserts across the range of professional sports watches. They are available on the Submariner, Sea Dweller, Deepsea, GMT Master II and Daytona models. In contrast to the aluminum bezel which it replaced, the ceramic bezel color does not wear out from exposure to UV-light and is very scratch resistant.
Rolex also uses 904L grade stainless-steel. Most Swiss watches are made with 316L grade steel. Rolex uses the higher grade, as it is more resistant to corrosion and when polished, leaves a beautiful luster.
Each Rolex comes with its own unique serial number and can help indicate an approximate production period of the watch. Serial numbers were first introduced in 1926. Rolex serial numbers were issued sequentially, until 1954 when Rolex restarted from #999,999 to #0. Then in 1987 there was an addition of one letter to a 6-digit serial number. Then again in 2010 to the present date Rolex introduced random serial numbers.
Among the company's innovations are:
Rolex watches are frequently counterfeited, and these are often illegally sold on the street and online. Counterfeit Rolex watches vary in quality: some use the cheapest of movements, while others use automatic movements, and some use an ETA movement. O. J. Simpson wore a counterfeit Rolex during his 1994 murder trial.
In December 2018, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) released an official report giving environmental ratings for 15 major watch manufacturers and jewelers in Switzerland.
There are concerns over the lack of transparency in manufacturing activities and the sourcing of precious raw materials such as gold, which is a major cause of environmental issues such as pollution, soil degradation and deforestation.
In general, Rolex has three watch lines: Oyster Perpetual, Professional and Cellini (the Cellini line is Rolex's line of "dress" watches). The primary bracelets for the Oyster line are named Jubilee, Oyster, President, and Pearlmaster. The watch straps on the models are usually either stainless steel, yellow gold, white gold, or rose gold. In the United Kingdom, the retail price for the stainless steel 'Pilots' range (such as the GMT Master II) starts from GBP 5,600. Diamond inlay watches are more expensive. The book Vintage Wristwatches by Antiques Roadshow's Reyne Haines listed a price estimate of vintage Rolex watches that ranged between US$650 and US$75,000, while listing vintage Tudors between US$250 and US$9,000.
Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf created the Air-King line to honor RAF pilots of the Battle of Britain, releasing the first model in 1958. By 2007, the 1142XX iteration of the Air-King featured a COSC-certified movement in a 34mm case, considered by some a miniaturized variant of the 39mm Rolex Explorer as both watches featured very similar styling cues; the 34mm Air-King lineup was the least expensive series of Oyster Perpetual. In 2014 the Air-King was dropped, making the Oyster Perpetual 26/31/34/36/39 the entry-level Rolex line. In 2016 Rolex reintroduced the Air-King, available as a single model (number 116900), largely similar to its predecessors but with a larger 40mm case, and a magnetic shield found on the Rolex Milgauss; indeed the new 40mm Air-King is slightly cheaper than the 39mm Explorer (the Explorer lacks the magnetic shield but its movement has Paraflex shock absorbers that are not found in the Air-King's movement).
The name of the watch line in catalogs is often "Rolex Oyster ______" or "Rolex Oyster Perpetual ______"; Rolex Oyster and Oyster Perpetual are generic names and not specific product lines, except for the Oyster Perpetual 26/31/34/36/39/41 and Oyster Perpetual Date 34.The Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch is a direct descendant of the original watertight Rolex Oyster watch created in 1926.
Within the Oyster Perpetual lineup, there are three different movements; the 39 features the Caliber 3132 movement with the Parachrom hairspring and Paraflex shock absorbers (the Oyster Perpetual 39 is a less sporty variant of the Rolex Explorer 39mm as they share the same case, same bracelet and buckle, same bezel and same movement, with a different dial and different hands), while the 34 and 36 models have the Caliber 3130 featuring the Parachrom hairspring, and the smallest 28 and 31 models have Calibre 2231. The Oyster Perpetual Date 34 (or simply Date 34) adds a date display and date movement, plus the options of a white gold fluted bezel and diamonds on the dial.
Certain models from the Date and Datejust are almost identical, however the Datejust have 36 mm and 41 mm cases paired with a 20 mm bracelet, compared to the Date's 34 mm case and 19 mm bracelet. Modern versions of the Oyster Perpetual Date and Datejust models share Rolex's 3135 movement, with the most recent change to the 3135 movement being the introduction of Rolex's "parachrom bleu" hairspring, which provides increased accuracy. As the Date and Datejust share a movement, both have the ability to adjust the date forward one day at a time without adjusting the time; this feature is not confined to the Datejust. Compared to the Date, the Datejust has a much wider range of customization options, including other metals beyond stainless steel, various materials for the dial, and optional diamonds on the dial and bezel. The Datejust II, which was released in 2009, has a bigger case (41mm diameter) than the standard Datejust and it also features an updated movement, being only available in steel with white, yellow or rose gold on an Oyster bracelet. In 2016, Rolex released the Datejust 41, which has the same 41mm diameter case as the Datejust II, however the Datejust 41 has smaller indexes and a thinner bezel compared to the Datejust II.
Rolex produced specific models suitable for the extremes of deep-sea diving, caving, mountain climbing, polar exploration, and aviation. Early professional models included the Rolex Submariner (1953) and the Rolex Sea Dweller (1967). The latter watch has a helium release valve, co-invented with Swiss watchmaker Doxa, to release helium gas build-up during decompression.
The Explorer (1953) and Explorer II (1971) were developed specifically for explorers who would navigate rough terrain, such as the world-famous Mount Everest expeditions. Indeed, the Rolex Explorer was launched to celebrate the successful ascent of Everest in 1953 by the expeditionary team led by Sir John Hunt.
The 39 mm Rolex Explorer was designed as a "tool watch" for rugged use, hence its movement has Paraflex shock absorbers which give them higher shock resistance than other Rolex watches. The 42mm Rolex Explorer II has some significant differences from the 39mm Explorer; the Explorer II adds a date function, and an orange 24-hour hand which is paired with the fixed bezel's black 24-hour markers for situations underground or around the poles where day cannot be distinguished from night.
Another iconic model is the Rolex GMT Master (1955), originally developed 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 was the international time standard for aviation at that time (and still is) and was needed for Astronavigation during longer flights.
By the start of World War II Royal Air Force pilots were buying Rolex watches to replace their inferior standard-issue watches. However, when captured and sent to prisoner of war (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 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 officer camp Oflag VII-B 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 Axis powers 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 because of 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, because of 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 in 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. It was also reported that in November 2013 the Rolex Speed King owned by Flight Lieutenant Gerald Imeson during the Great Escape was sold for £60,000.
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 days of operation when inactive, they were able to determine the time of death within a small margin of error.
In tennis, Rolex is the official timekeeper of Wimbledon, the Australian Open, the US Open, and the French Open, all four Grand Slams. In golf, it is the official time keeper for two of the four majors, The Open Championship and the U.S. Open, as well as the PGA Tour and European Tour; the presenting sponsor for one of the five senior majors, The Senior Open Championship; and the official sponsor of the Women's World Golf Rankings.
Rolex is the title sponsor to the 24 Hours of Daytona, from which the Daytona model takes its name. In 2013, Rolex became the official timekeeper to the FIA Formula 1 motor racing championship. Rolex has also been the official timekeeper to the Le Mans 24 Hours motor race since 2001. Ex-Formula 1 driver Sir Jackie Stewart has advertised Rolex since 1968. Others who have done so for some years include Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Roger Penske, Jean Claude Killy, and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. It is also the sponsor of the Rolex International Jumping Riders Club Top 10 Final competition.
Members of the Hunt expedition wore Rolex Oysters in 1953 on Mount Everest but the only watch that Hillary wore to the summit was a Smiths "De Luxe" (currently on display at the Clockmakers' Museum within the Science Museum, London). Both Rolex and Smiths initially claimed to be the first to the summit (Rolex even put out an advert saying as much). While feasible (eg if Hillary and/or Tenzing had carried both or if one had a Smiths and the other a Rolex) it was later admitted by Mr. R. A. Winter, Director of the Rolex Watch Co., Ltd that Hillary was only wearing one watch at the summit, "and that a Smiths watch." He goes on to congratulate Smiths "on the fact that their Smiths de Luxe ordinary wind wrist watch reached the summit with Sir Edmund Hillary." (BHI's Horological Journal, Letters, October 1953, 651)
Also in the year 1953, one or several Rolex Oyster Perpetual (ref. 6098) watches were given to members of the Italian expedition "Sesto Continente", an exploration in the Red Sea, either underwater and on coasts of the surrounding countries- The expedition, organized and directed by Bruno Vailati, has been filmed in the homonymous documentary that was shot in the Red Sea and the Dahlak Islands and presented at the 15th Venice International Film Festival in 1954. The expedition included commander Raimondo Bucher as director of the sports section, accompanied by his wife Enza, Italian underwater hunting champion, Silverio Zecca, known as the amphibious man, the painter Priscilla Hastings, who would make her own works directly on the sea bed, the journalist Gianni Roghi, the hydrobiologists Francesco Baschieri Salvadori and Luigi Stuart Tovini of the University of Rome, dr. Alberto Grazioli, expedition doctor, film operator Masino Manunza and photographer Giorgio Ravelli. The Sesto Continente is a (edited 1954) film directed by Folco Quilici during the "National Underwater Expedition in the Red Sea" well organized by Bruno Vailati, the first in color in the history of Italian underwater cinema. The Rolex Oyster watches have been precious, and perfectly proper for the hard job to dive for thousand hours.
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.
Rolex is currently partnered with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences as a founding supporter of the upcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, which will explore the history of film. The brand has also partnered with four Oscar-winning film directors - Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron, Alejandro G. Inarritu and Martin Scorsese - in a campaign aimed to inspire the next generation of filmmakers to pursue their craft.
Mercedes Gleitze was the first British woman to swim the English Channel on 7 October 1927. However, 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. Hence Gleitze attempted a repeat swim with extensive publicity on 21 October, dubbed the "Vindication Swim". For promotional purposes, Hans Wilsdorf 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. 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". 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 dry inside and in perfect condition. One month later, on 24 November 1927, Wilsdorf launched the Rolex Oyster watch in the United Kingdom with a full front page Rolex advert in the Daily Mail. 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.'
The Rolex Institute was created by the brand to help support specific people and events in line with the brand's values, through two distinct programs.
The first is the Rolex Awards for Enterprise. Founded in 1976 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Oyster watch, the awards recognise and support enterprising individuals from around the globe who initiate projects aimed at making the world a better place. Winners receive a cash grant to advance their projects, along with international media coverage. (Rolex Awards for Enterprise).
The second is the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, a biennial philanthropic programme launched in 2002 that brings together gifted young artists with globally recognised masters in the fields of architecture, dance, film, literature, music, theatre and visual arts, for a year of creative collaboration and one-to-one. (Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative)
Rolex.org is the website for the brand's philanthropic arm, whose goal is to positively impact future generations within the fields of science, the arts and the environment. The website, in complement to but entirely separate from the brand's commercial site, aims to be a source of inspiration and education, presenting Rolex's past and present initiatives in support of individuals and organisations from around the world. The keyword "Perpetual" is regularly repeated throughout the website, evoking Rolex's Oyster Perpetual watch collection while underlying the brand's commitment to preserving humanitarian domains.