Rolex: A Brief History

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Rolex, now known for crafting some of the world’s finest timepieces, once began as a London-based timepiece distributor named Wilsdorf and Davis.

Hans Eberhand Wilsdorf, the son of German ironmongers, founded the company in 1905, alongside friend and partner, Alred James Davis. Wilsdorf’s mission was to elevate the contemporary wristwatch by enhancing the precision of its movement. To do so, Wilsdorf introduced small and precise Swiss movements into his timepieces, establishing a niche for reliable wristwatches.

Three years after its founding, in 1908, the company would be renamed Rolex. There is much speculation as to how the founders landed on such a name. But to put it simply, Wilsdorf 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.” By 1919, the company had relocated to the watchmaking capital of the world, Geneva, where Montres Rolex S.A. was registered. Over the next several years, Rolex would continue to gain recognition for its engineering, including the first Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision to be awarded to a wristwatch. From its founding, the firm would continue to introduce generation after generation of advanced timepieces.

The Submariner:

Some of Rolex’s greatest innovations include the Submariner. The Submariner, in conjunction with the Explorer, was introduced in the early 1950s, marking the firm’s new focus on sport. The Submariner, which was designed for divers, was the first of its kind to reach depths of 100 meters. This innovation would mark new standards for diver’s watches.

Clars will be offering an early Rolex small crown Submariner wristwatch, reference 6205, on May 19th at their Fine Jewelry & Timepiece Sale.


An early Rolex small crown Submariner wristwatch, ref 6205.
An early Rolex small crown Submariner wristwatch, ref 6205.

The timepiece, reference number 6205, is an early model of the Rolex Submariner. It was produced only second to 6204, and was later followed by 6200. Reference 6205 is one of three early models produced in 1954, including reference numbers 6204 and 6200. Although reference 6205 was produced the same year as 6204 and 6200, it quickly ceased production, while other models continued to enter the market. These early models marked the beginning of a 60+ year evolution of the Submariner.

References 6204, 6200 and 6205, share major aesthetic differences from their later counterparts, marking a major shift in its design progression. Reference 6205, was one of the first models to display the name ‘Submariner’. The dial does not feature the Submariner’s now iconic Mercedes hands, but pencil hands which are sought-after by collectors. Reference 6205 is considered ‘small crown’, as models today are easily identified by their oversized crown, a feature beginning with reference 6200. The watch remains intact with its original riveted Rolex Oyster bracelet.

The Daytona Chronograph:

Rolex continued its innovation surrounding sport with its introduction of the Daytona Chronograph in 1963. The timepiece was designed to meet the needs of race car drivers, allowing them to gauge average speed and track elapsed time.

Clars will be offering a Rolex Daytona Chronograph wristwatch, reference 6263, on May 19th at their Fine Jewelry & Timepiece sale.


A Rolex Daytona chronograph wristwatch, ref. 6263.
A Rolex Daytona chronograph wristwatch, ref. 6263.

This Daytona Cosmograph, reference no. 6263, began production in the early 1970s. Reference 6263, was the first model to be fitted with screw-down pushers, allowing for water protection up to 100 meters. Reference no. 6263, is one of the last to include a manually wound Valjoux movement. In 1988, the watches were equipped with automatic movements. This early model features a unique black dial, lacking the ‘Daytona’ name, but signed ‘Rolex Oyster Cosmograph’, marking the early evolution of the watch.

In its 110+ years, Rolex has pushed the advancement of timepieces. Some of these advancements include the waterproof capabilities of the Submariner, and the elegantly designed chronograph of the Daytona. Both models, developed in the mid-20th century, have undergone later evolutions, marking the timelessness of their designs.

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