A Brief History of Rolex and Their Current Models

A Brief History of Rolex and Their Current Models

The Beginnings

Rolex is often considered the largest name in horology however like all big things, the company was once just a couple of people. On the 22nd March 1887, Hans Wilsdorf was born in Kulmbach, Germany. In 1900, Hans began his career in horology, moving to Switzerland and working for a watch wholesaler, moving to London in 1905. This saw the start of the company we know today as Wilsdorf partnered with his brother-in-law Alfred Davies to form ‘Wilsdorf and Davies’ based in Hatton Garden.

Davies would later leave the company and Wilsdorf would rebrand. Wilsdorf needed a name which would be easily pronounceable in every language so settled on Rolex. The name Rolex also has an onomatopoeic quality, sounding like the winding of a watch.

In 1914 Rolex was given chronometer certification by the UK government after becoming the first watch in history to meet the accuracy of marine chronometers. A year later, Rolex opened their first office in Switzerland, moving the company permanently to the continent a short while later.

The Collection:

Oyster Perpetual:

Although the Rolex movements had chronometer certification, they were still vulnerable to the natural elements faced whilst at sea. In 1926 Rolex created the Oyster model, a waterproof and airtight wristwatch designed for everyday use.

However, designing the first waterproof, airtight watch wasn’t enough for Wilsdorf leading to another world first five years later, the worlds first automatic watch.


As a 40th birthday present to itself, Rolex would produce one of their most iconic models, the Datejust. Originally launched in 18kt solid gold, the Rolex Datejust 4467 was also the first watch to wear a jubilee strap. In the 1950s a stainless steel and bimetal Datejust was created with the first quickset watch invented in the 1970s.


Arguably Rolex most popular model, the submariner has a rich history, but it was not the first dive watch to be created. Designed in 1952, the accolade of ‘the worlds first’ dive watch lies with the Panerai Radiomir launched almost 20 years earlier. However, the submariner was the first watch to have a water-resistant rating of 100m. 


Rolex first tool watch, the explorer was first created in 1953. Made to withstand anything, an early prototype of the explorer was worn by Sherpa Tenzing Norgay on the first successful assent of Mount Everest. 

GMT Master:

In 1954 Rolex was approached by the commercial airliner Pan Am who wanted a dual time zone timepiece for their pilots. Thus, the GMT Master was born! 


Magnetization is a big problem for watches causing the hairspring and balance wheel to stick together. Rolex response to this was the Milgauss, the first watch resistant to magnetization created in 1956. A further game changer in the watch industry brought to us by Rolex.

Cosmograph Daytona:

Not the world’s first chronograph watch, in fact not the first Rolex chronograph either. However, all Rolex before the Daytona were given a modified oyster perpetual case and a movement made by one of their competitors. In 1963, the Cosmograph was born, made for the moon race but were unfortunately beaten by the Omega Speedmaster. The Cosmograph went through a few different names, originally known as the ‘Le Mans’ before being changed to Daytona in 1965.


Perhaps the least well known and potentially the least popular of the Rolex lineup, the Cellini was named after the Italian Goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini. The idea of adding a dress watch to the Rolex collection was a daring move for the brand originally known for their tool watches. However, in 1986 Rene-Paul Jeanneret (marketing director for Rolex) led the brand in a new direction creating the premise that a Rolex collector will have different watches for different occasions. Although his idea was correct, unfortunately the Rolex Cellini never took off, being Rolexes least popular model to this day. 

Sea Dweller:

Based on the submariner the sea dweller is almost like the submariners big brother. As the first watch with a helium escape valve, the sea dweller is built for deep water diving. Originally designed in 1967, the reference 1665 had a maximum depth of 610m.

Yacht Master:

One of Rolex youngest models (first making an appearance in the 1990s), the Rolex Yacht Master was originally going to replace the classic Rolex Submariner. Fortunately, Rolex decided to keep the Submariner and released the Yacht Master as a separate model.

Sky Dweller:

The newest and most complicated watch Rolex makes. The Sky Dweller was introduced at Baselworld 2012 as the first completely new Rolex in 20 years. The watch features an annual calendar complication making it the most complicated watch Rolex has ever produced.

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