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Rolex: Keeping Time

2 minute read
James Scully

From the red carpet to the wrists of rap stars, Rolex is recognized as the ultimate symbol of luxury and one of the finest Swiss watches—even though its origins are not Swiss. The brand dates back to 1905, when Hans Wilsdorf of Kulmbach, Germany, opened Wilsdorf & Davis watchmakers in London. At the time, men’s fashion favored large-face pocket watches, but Wilsdorf became obsessed with creating movements small enough to be worn on the wrist. So in 1908, inspired by the sound a watch makes when wound, Wilsdorf trademarked the name Rolex, which was both easy to pronounce in many languages and short enough to fit on a watch face. Within two years Wilsdorf created the world’s first dust- and waterproof timepiece and was awarded the first wristwatch chronometer rating by the School of Horology in Geneva. In 1926 he devised the first airtight, element-proof mariner’s watch, which resembled a submarine hatch. According to Rolex lore, Wilsdorf called the new watch the Oyster after having difficulty opening one of the mollusks at a black-tie dinner party.

In 1927 Wilsdorf, never one to shy from promotion, gave an Oyster to Mercedes Gleitze, who wore it to swim across the English Channel. The Oyster Perpetual broke the sound barrier with Chuck Yeager in 1947 and reached the peak of Everest with Edmund Hillary in 1953. Rolex is still considered the gold standard among watch collectors. After all, nothing says you’ve made it like a Rolex.

1 Roger Moore in Live and Let Die

2 Jessica Simpson, left, shows off the Rolex given to her by sister Ashlee

3 Sammy Davis Jr. in the early ’80s

4 Clint Eastwood at a 1996 Film Society gala honoring his work

5 Announcement in the Nov. 24, 1927, London Daily Mail

6 Rolex ambassador Roger Federer

7 A gold Rolex believed to have been given to President John F. Kennedy by Marilyn Monroe

8 The 1926 Oyster, the world’s first truly waterproof watch, left, and a modern Oyster Perpetual Datejust

9 A 1953 Submariner, conceived for divers

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