When was the first Rolex wristwatch made?

The Rolex company was founded by German businessman Hans Wilsdorf, who registered the trademark Rolex in 1908. Wilsdorf was one of the first businessmen to recognize the potential of the wristwatch, which he helped to make fashionable.

Before Rolex

Wilsdorf started out in the watch-making industry while in his early twenties, apprenticing himself at a watch-exporter in La Chaux de Fonds, France, a region famous for watch-making. Ambitious and visionary, at the age of 24 Wilsdorf set up his own watch-making business, Wilsdorf & Davis, in London.

From the outset, Wilsdorf & Davies concentrated on developing wristwatches, which at the time were not popular. Termed "wristlets" and worn almost exclusively by women, these timepeces were viewed as merely a novelty, a feminine accoutrement; men still wore pocket-watches. In addition to challenging prevailing fashion, Wilsorf faced the task of producing a study, reliable timepiece. Because of wristwatches' relatively small size, compared with pocket-watches, people often viewed them wristwatches with skepticism - could these small devices withstand the rigors of daily human activity? Even the most expertly watch movements might be compromised by moisture and dust.

Wilsdorf persisted with his vision despite these obstacles, contracting with a watchmaker based in Bienne, Switzerland (also known as Biel) and sourcing low-cost watch movements in large quantities. After rigorous testing by watchmakers, these wristwatches were offered for sale in Wilsdorf's London office and rapidly became an accepted fashion item. Silver and gold models with leather straps comprised the early range, and by 1906, when the flexible bracelet was introduced, Wilsdorf & Davis had established itself as a leading British watchmaker.

The Name Rolex

The origins of the name Rolex are still debated, but the story goes that Hans Wilsdorf created the term by loosely conflating the words "Horlogerie Exquise", which in French means "exquisite watchmaker".

Developing the Brand

Wilsdorf continued to improve on the Rolex brand, relentlessly building up the brand name by focusing on excellent craftsmanship. To ensure his watches' reliability, he required that all pieces be subjected to extreme tests, including a variety of positions and exposure to low and high temperatures -inside a refrigerator and also inside an oven.

One of Rolex's most memorable models was the 1926 Rolex "Oyster", the first completely watertight watch. While hosting a dinner party, Wilsdorf found his strength tested while trying to open an oyster. He commented that he hoped his new watch design would be as resilient as the mollusk; thus the name was created. When introduced to the market, the Rolex Oysters were often displayed in the windows of jewelry shops, inside a fish tank.

Also in 1926, Rolex introduced a watertight winding-mechanism, followed in 1931 by the introduction of a self-winding watched, that ran on the movement of the wearer's arm, increasing convenience and eliminating the hazard of breakage by over-winding. Thus, over a period of only 30 years, Wilsdorf had a waterproof wristwatch and a self-powered wristwatch.

Rolex Today

Rolex continues to produce a wide range of high-quality watches, including watches for deep-sea diving. Considered an ultimate status symbol, the Rolex brand is often counterfeited, but copies cannot duplicate the original craftsmanship and often break down.

Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, Rolex sells its products around the world and also engages in a variety of philanthropic activities.