Known as one of the world’s most powerful brands, Rolex has been crafting luxury watches since 1905. The Swiss company produces approximately 2,000 watches per day which makes it the largest luxury watch brand in the world. While their watches are ubiquitous, few people know much about the origin of the name Rolex. Is it a family name? How did it come to be?
Origins in London
While the company is Swiss, its origins are English. The first iteration of the Rolex company was Wilsdorf and Davis. Its namesakes were Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law Alfred Davis and the company that bore their names would eventually become Rolex. What the brothers-in-law actually created were fine watch cases that they would source from purveyors like Dennison into which they would place Swiss movements that they would import from Hermann Aegler. The earliest of the watches they created were stamped with “W&D” inside the caseback and today, these times pieces are quite rare.
Making a Move
Today, there seems to be a general knowledge of the creation of brands and with that knowledge, it’s often a challenge to imagine that businessmen in 1905 would create a brand that would grow and more than 112 years later, still be solid and successful. One of the company’s smartest moves may have been in moving the company to Switzerland. As you may imagine, the move in 1919 had more to do with the wartime taxes being levied on luxury imports as well as export duties on the silver and gold they used in their watch cases. These taxes and duties proved to be too much for the company as their production costs were skyrocketing. The move to Geneva, Switzerland guaranteed long-term success for the young company.
Naming a Brand
The name Rolex, it turns out, was simply a product of marketing and branding. According to Rolex, founder Hans Wildorf “wanted his watches to bear a name that was short, easy to say and remember in any language, and which looked good on watch movements and dials.” He said, “I tried combining the letters of the alphabet in every possible way. This gave me some hundred names, but none of them felt quite right. One morning, while riding on the upper deck of a horse-drawn omnibus along Cheapside in the City of London, a genie whispered ‘Rolex’ in my ear.” It was that simple.
An essay published in New York University’s Stern Business School newsletter noted that the author felt there had to be more to the story. To that end, the essayist claimed that the name Rolex seemed like an onomatopoeia of a watch ticking. Another theory suggests that Rolex is an abbreviation for “horological excellence”. Neither of these theories has any substantiation, but they are interesting and, perhaps, thought-provoking.
Beyond the Name
Rolex was registered as a trademark in 1908 and received a Class A precision certificate (this distinction is usually granted exclusively to marine chronometers) from Kew Observatory in 1914. Then they registered Rolex as a company name in 1915 and ultimately moved the company to Switzerland in 1919. The company continued to grow and flourish and create timepieces that are a hallmark of success. Establishing itself upon arrival as the Rolex Watch Company, they later became Montres Rolex, SA and eventually, Rolex, SA. Today, the brand is estimated at more than $8 billion and is owned by the trust established by Hans Wilsdorf. The trust ensures that some of the company’s income goes to charity.
Rolex is not only a solid and successful brand but also one which is firmly in the fabric of our lives. Do you have a Rolex on your wrist? What does it mean to you? If the workings of a watch interest you, you’ll want to learn more about one of the world’s most complicated watches Vacheron Constantin’s Tivoli Watch.