Rolex: The success story of Switzerland's greatest company

Synonymous with luxury and sophistication, Rolex watches are known the world over, and for many the brand is the defining word in the luxury watch market.

Although the watch is constantly associated with Switzerland, it was actually created in England. More precisely, in London. In 1905, German Hans Wilsdorf, at the age of 24, teamed up with his brother-in-law, Englishman Alfred Davis, and founded the Wilsdorf and Davis company, which purchased Swiss parts, assembled and distributed finished watches in England.

Prior to this, Wilsdorf had spent several years in Switzerland, where, after apprenticeships in several local companies, he learned the ins and outs of watchmaking. After gaining this experience, he founded his company in England, which initially imported parts from the Swiss manufacturer Hermann Aegler.

Until then, watches had traditionally been pocket watches, but in the early years Hans thought about investing in the nascent wristwatch market.

At the time, wristwatches were rare and new manufacturers saw an opportunity. Based on this, after some time they decided to focus only on wristwatches and produce watches that would be passed on to jewelers and merchants who would be able to put their own brand name on the case of the watch. This practice is known as "white labeling".

Thus, the first watches were only produced with the W&D logo engraved on the inside of the caseback.

However, in 1908, the inspiration to create a brand came to turn the watches produced into high value-added luxury items. From this idea, the brand and the name Rolex emerged.

The name has aroused curiosity and generated a lot of speculation.

According to the company, the name came from a simple inspiration by Hans Wilsdorf while riding on public transportation; after several ideas to come up with a short name that would be easy to pronounce in multiple languages.

However, there are those who dispute the official version and claim that the name comes from the French expression "horlogerie exquise", which means "exquisite watchmaking".

From the very first models bearing the name Rolex, the company decided to bet not only on external refinement, but also on a very high quality, expressed in the efficiency and accuracy of the watch markings.

For this purpose, the company invested heavily in Swiss suppliers who managed to come up with a mechanism made of small parts that guaranteed the high precision of the models.

The search was so intense that in 1910, Rolex received the Swiss certificate of chronometric precision, becoming the first wristwatch manufacturer to receive this honor. And in 1914, the company received a Class A certificate of accuracy from the Kew Observatory in London, which had previously only been awarded to instruments used in the British Navy.
These awards made Rolex synonymous with precision.

Another factor that increased the company's value was the fact that in 1919 its headquarters were moved to Geneva due to tax increases undertaken by the British government after World War One. Since almost all watch components were already sourced from Switzerland, the company decided to move its headquarters there as well.

However, despite the beauty and efficiency of the product, the first reviews of it on the market were mixed. Primarily because by focusing solely on wristwatches, the company faced criticism from more traditionalist consumers.

As a result, Rolex decided to pursue a different strategy and began supplying watches to athletes and researchers who needed more practical and affordable devices to wear while exercising.

While Rolex watches were being recognized by famous adventurers and athletes, the company continued to invest heavily in technology to make its models even more resilient.

Therefore, the company sought alternatives that would reduce or eliminate the main factors that affect the durability of watches, such as dust, heat and humidity.

The first solution was created in 1922 and promised to solve these problems with a movement that required daily maintenance to keep it usable, making it practically impossible.

The final solution was found in 1926 with the creation of hermetic closure technology, which was announced with the release of the Oyster model, considered to be the first wristwatch with a guarantee of water resistance.

This announcement brought the brand worldwide fame, but at the same time gave rise to critics and skeptics who did not believe Rolex's promises.  The proof was the fact that in 1927, British swimmer Mercedes Gleitze swam across the English Channel with a Rolex watch on her wrist. And at the end of the swim, the watch worked flawlessly.

This feat was recognized not only by the brand, but also by several newspapers, including the British Daily Mirror, which called the Oyster watch a miracle that defies the elements, a phrase that became part of the brand's advertising spots.

Shortly before that, in 1925, the brand adopted the five-pointed crown, which has been its logo ever since and is recognized worldwide.

The logo has come to symbolize not only the luxury and sophistication of the brand, but also the fact that 5 minutes elapse between one number and the next on the watch's display, which is reflected in the five points of the crown.

In addition, the crown epitomized the fact that the company has always been the first to innovate in the production of luxury watches. This was confirmed in 1931 with the launch of the Oyster Perpetual, which was the first wristwatch to feature an automatic winding system. It guaranteed that the watch would run until the end of its life.

In the following years, Rolex models appeared on the wrists of athletes, explorers and adventurers such as Jacques Piccard and Edmund Hillary, who climbed Mount Everest. This confirmed the longevity and durability of the watches that remained intact after their ascents.

And the durability of the watches was so great that even the pilots of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II refused the watches offered by the government and started wearing Rolex models.
And this conflict was extremely important for the brand's prominence.

Firstly, because British soldiers who returned home after being captured and confiscated watches from the enemy received a new watch as a gift from the company, which elevated the Rolex name on the world market.

An important factor was that during the conflict, American soldiers encountered British soldiers wearing Rolex watches on their wrists and marveled at their quality and durability. So much so that some of them decided to buy Oyster Perpetual watches and take them back to the US with them. This is how Rolex began to make a name for itself in the American market, which is now one of its main customers.

In the years that followed, Rolex continued to grow and became more and more popular in the global luxury market. So much so that it managed to maintain its influence even after the crisis that hit many traditional Swiss watch companies starting in the 40s.

Because of the crisis, several Swiss watch companies sold their businesses to conglomerates of international investors, but Hans Wilsdorf, going virtually against all and sundry, declared that Rolex, unlike its competitors, would never be sold. And so he transferred ownership of the company to a foundation in his name, which still exists today.

Hans Wilsdorf died on July 6, 1960. After his death, the company continued to work in the same way and with the same spirit, always guaranteeing maximum quality.

Since then, various models have been produced for both men and women, with different colors and functions.

The watches are produced by more than 200 employees who undergo a rigorous assembly and certification process at the company's Geneva-based factories.

Initially, Rolex purchased parts from various local manufacturers, but over the years the company has acquired its own suppliers and thus controls the entire assembly process of its models, the so-called In House assembly model.

During the assembly process, each model is thoroughly tested to ensure the highest quality models are delivered to the market.

Due to the stringent production requirements, only 800,000 units are produced each year. And the high price is also a reflection of the high cost of raw materials, highly specialized labor and the above process.

In addition, the company invests heavily in safety mechanisms to ensure that the models are industrially owned, and to guarantee the safe delivery of the models to the company's stores and resellers.

As well as partner retailers, Rolex now has its own stores in several countries and even in Brazil, in São Paulo. All of them reflect the ultimate in luxury and sophistication that is characteristic of the brand.

At the same time, the company continues to invest heavily in promoting its models through what it calls Rolex ambassadors, including yachtsmen, equestrians, pilots, golfers, tennis players, with Swiss tennis player Roger Federer being one of the top names.

At the same time, the company sponsors competitions in various luxury sports, including Formula 1, as well as various yacht clubs around the world.

At the same time, the company has an annual turnover of more than $5 billion and is represented in more than 100 countries through a network of more than 4,000 authorized retailers.

Currently, the brand's catalog includes 15 models, but in total more than 170 different models have been sold, which can still be found on the parallel market and in some jewelry stores reselling watches that are the object of worship and admiration of millions of people.

And thanks to all these achievements, Rolex is one of the most revered brands in the world.


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