Hans Wilsdorf, a Bavarian was orphaned at 12. At 24 decided to set-up his own watch-making business. He worked in London and La Chaux-de-Fonds. Wilsdorf, however, never claimed to be a watchmaker; until his dying day he signed all legal documents with the title "Merchant". Wilsdorf & Davies was founded in 1905 in London. Concentrated on the wrist-watch in a era when the pocket watch was king. Originally ébauches were sourced in Switzerland and sold as 'wristlet' watches in the far outposts of the British Empire.
The expanding bracelet started life in 1906. Wilsdorf wanted a short easily pronounceable and memorable name and came up with the name Rolex. Rolex was not until 24 November 1927 that the world famous Oyster watch range was "launched". The Rolex watch was on sale for over a year before the Daily Mail ad. However the Rolex ad was the first national watch advertisement for ANY watch company, not just Rolex. The whole of the front page of the Daily Mail carried an advertisement to "launch" the Rolex product. The whole page was for Rolex watches but the Oyster ad occupied less than 20% of the advert, most of the ad was for Rolex lady's cocktail watches.
The first Oysters were never tested; from the mid 1930s Rolex signed watches "Chronometre" on the dial with or without testing them. In the mid 1940s the Rolex dial legend became "Certified Chronometer" in the early 1950s it changed to "Officially Certified Chronometer" and only in 1962 onwards was the current legend used. However Rolex have always made Oysters which are NOT certified, their cheaper lines, of course and their current catalogue shows the models 14000, 14010, 67480, 14060 as being non certified. These are just the Rolex men's models, there are a similar number of Rolex women's models also.
Most, but not all, Rolex watches are tested by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC).
A Rolex Oyster accompanied Sir Edmond Hillary's historic climb to the summit of Everest in 1953. Sherpa Tensing Norgay wore a Rolex and this watch is now in the Rolex collection in Geneva. 25 years later Reinhold Messner conquered the same mountain without oxygen carrying the famous Rolex watch.
Rolex is one of the most sought after watches in the world.
The Rolex founder died in 1960.