How Rolex Became the Timepiece Titan It Is Today

Not just a fashion statement...


When it comes to combining timekeeping and luxury, few brands immediately spring to mind like Rolex does. The company has been through quite a while in its existence for over a century, and they’ve done a lot to broaden people’s horizons and introduce new concepts that have subsequently taken off really well. Some of Rolex’s models have become timeless classics, and the brand today is one of the most recognisable names on the global market, not just in the area of watches, but in general. How did they get there, though, and what did they have to go through in order to attain this status?

A New Angle

At the time Rolex was founded, few people cared about extreme levels of precision in their watches. The personal watch was a tool, a thing of utility, and not much else, and the models that existed at the time did the job relatively well. However, Hans Wilsdorf saw an interesting angle into this market – importing precise mechanisms into London from Switzerland, he was able to start manufacturing and selling watches that far exceeded the capabilities of what was available at the time.

And to some people’s surprise, it caught on. People didn’t really need this kind of precision, but they wanted it – and thus, Rolex was born in 1905, immediately setting itself up as a company that already stood out from the rest. But that was just the beginning. Wilsdorf had a very innovative mind, and he had a knack for figuring out the kinds of things that people didn’t even realise they wanted. And then he marketed that to them.


Manufacturing really took off when the company moved its offices to Switzerland to take advantage of the more attractive supply prospects in the area. Before that, Wilsdorf had managed to secure several certifications for his line of watches, such as the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision. Those gave the brand an extra edge and helped it stand out from the competition, even more, capitalising further on people’s perceived desire to have perfectly accurate watches. 

Solving Old Problems in a New Way

One of the biggest annoyances with wristwatches at the time was their susceptibility to water damage. The situation was so bad, in fact, that when Rolex announced its first waterproof model, many refused to believe the company and took it as a marketing gimmick. Wilsdorf had to go to great lengths to convince people that he wasn’t selling snake oil – including setting up aquarium displays at large stores, where people could see one of his famous watches submerged in water and still ticking.

The market was still relatively cold to the idea, though, and despite the relatively high demand for Rolex watches, the brand was still having trouble setting up a proper name on the market.

A Unique Approach to Marketing

Wilsdorf innovated in yet another way – this time on the marketing front. Today, we’re all too used to the idea of reading a blurb from a famous athlete or another celebrity praising the qualities of a given product. It’s so commonplace that people have started to naturally filter these kinds of promotions out. But few realise that it was Wilsdorf that popularised the concept in the first place, and back then, it was something that really helped him stand out from the competition. When Mercedes Gleize made her famous swim through the English Channel, it was a Rolex that she was wearing on her neck. And she then gave a printed testimony praising the watch’s qualities. It was no surprise that the brand really took off at that point.

Meeting All Demands

Over the years, something has changed about Rolex, however. Today, many people associate these watches with luxury, style, exclusivity, and class. But that wasn’t the original intention – far from it. When Rolex first arrived on the market, it was all about precision and utility. The brand stood out by producing models that could really stand the test of time and filled every niche imaginable. Some models combined the best of both worlds, like the stylish Rolex Explorer which you can find at luxury watch retailers like CHRONEXT.

It wasn’t until later in the century that the focus shifted towards marketing the watches as something more exclusive. And some have argued that this shift has been somewhat ironic. Because today, the models that are easiest to find are typically the “flashy” ones. But old, rugged classics like the GMT-Master or Sky-Dweller? You’d better have not only a deep pocket but serious connections because those are rare on the market.

The Rolex company hasn’t been doing much to push for even greater recognition in the last decades. It seems like they are comfortable in their current position on the market. And few can blame them because even without significant growth, they’re already the world leader in this field and one of the most recognized names in existence.


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