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The Iconic History of Rolex Watches

Last updated on May 20, 2024

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Buying a Rolex is not just a regular purchase. It’s about becoming part of the brand's history and unique story.

In this blog, we explore Rolex watch history, the unique models that shape its legacy, and the stories that have captivated collectors for generations. 

If you’re considering buying a Rolex in Australia, then read on to learn the true story of Rolex and why it remains the world's most iconic luxury watchmaker. 

Table of Contents

  • 1. Exploring the Rich Rolex History
  • 2. The History of the Most Iconic Rolex Watches
  • 3. Rolex Submariner
  • 4. Rolex Daytona
  • 5. Rolex Datejust
  • 6. Rolex Explorer
  • 7. Rolex GMT-Master
  • 8. Rolex Releases, Innovations and Milestones
  • 9. Rolex Stories from the Ages
  • 10. How to Collect the Most Historic Rolex Watches
  • 11. The Reason for Rolex's Enduring Legacy
  • 12. Preserving the Rolex Legacy with Watch Insurance from JewelCover

Exploring the Rich Rolex History

What’s the reason for Rolex's enduring popularity? Its rich history. Here’s a rundown of some of the watchmaker's greatest achievements and the events that define its heritage.

  • 1905: Founded by Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis in London, initially as "Wilsdorf and Davis," importing Swiss movements and assembling them into watch cases.

  • 1908: Registered the brand name "Rolex," chosen for its ease of pronunciation in any language.

  • 1910: Received its first official chronometer certification, marking the beginning of its commitment to precision and innovation.

  • 1914: Obtained the Class A precision certificate from the Kew Observatory, a prestigious accolade for accuracy.

  • 1926: Introduced the Oyster, the world's first waterproof and dustproof wristwatch, revolutionising the industry.

  • 1931: Patented the Perpetual rotor, laying the foundation for self-winding mechanisms still used today.

  • Recent Decades: Rolex solidified its reputation for durability, precision, and luxury, with iconic models like the Submariner, Daytona, and Datejust. Today, Rolex stands as one of the most esteemed watch brands globally.

The History of the Most Iconic Rolex Watches

Beyond these seminal dates, the Rolex story can be told through the releases of its most iconic watches. These dates are releases that changed horology and how we understand the world of luxury watches. 

The Rolex Submariner luxury watch in black.

Rolex Submariner

Rolex unveiled the Submariner in 1953, a breakthrough era for diving watches. Its design, initially intended for professional divers, gained widespread popularity among enthusiasts and adventurers alike. 

Notably, the Submariner was the first watch to offer water resistance up to 100 metres. Over the years, it evolved to withstand greater depths, with later models boasting enhanced features like the patented Triplock winding crown and Cerachrom bezel insert. 

The Submariner's enduring legacy extends beyond its technical prowess, symbolising Rolex's commitment to innovation and exploration in the world of horology.

The Rolex Daytona luxury watch.

Rolex Daytona

In 1963, Rolex introduced the Daytona, initially targeting professional race car drivers. Its built-in chronograph and tachymeter bezel allowed precise measurement of speed and elapsed time, revolutionising timekeeping in motorsports. 

Over time, its popularity transcended the racetrack, becoming a symbol of elegance and precision. Notably, the Daytona gained immense cultural significance when it was famously worn by actor and racing enthusiast Paul Newman. 

Today, the Daytona remains a pinnacle of horological engineering, embodying Rolex's enduring commitment to performance and style.


In 2020, it's estimated that Rolex accounted for 24.9% of Swiss luxury watch sales, higher than any other brand.

The Rolex Datejust luxury watch.

Rolex Datejust

In 1945, Rolex unveiled the Datejust, pioneering the display of the date through a window on the dial, a groundbreaking innovation for the timepiece industry. 

Its classic aesthetics, coupled with a waterproof Oyster case, revolutionised wristwatch design. The Datejust's introduction marked a significant milestone in Rolex's history, cementing its reputation for innovation and luxury craftsmanship. 

Over the years, the Datejust has remained a symbol of timeless elegance and sophistication, evolving with advancements in technology while maintaining its iconic design elements.

The Rolex Explorer luxury watch.

Rolex Explorer

Launched in 1953, the Rolex Explorer was designed for adventurers and explorers. 

Notably, during the British Mount Everest expedition of 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay wore Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches, predecessors to the Explorer, as they made history by becoming the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest. This expedition solidified Rolex's reputation for reliability in extreme conditions.

Renowned for its durability, legibility, and ruggedness, the Explorer embodies the spirit of exploration and adventure, making it a sought-after timepiece for outdoor enthusiasts and collectors.

The Rolex GMT-Master luxury watch.

Rolex GMT-Master

Debuting in 1955, the Rolex GMT-Master was designed for professional pilots and frequent travellers to track multiple time zones simultaneously. 

Its distinctive bi-colour bezel, initially red and blue to distinguish day and night hours, became iconic. In 1982, Rolex introduced the GMT-Master II, allowing the wearer to independently adjust the hour hand, enhancing its functionality. 

The GMT-Master gained prominence when it was adopted by Pan Am pilots in the 1950s to track different time zones during transatlantic flights. 

This association with aviation further solidified its reputation as a reliable and indispensable tool watch for travellers.

Rolex Releases, Innovations and Milestones

The history of Rolex can also be told by its innovations. The engineering and creativity of the brand 

  • Oyster Case: Introduced in 1926, Rolex revolutionised the industry with the world's first waterproof and dustproof wristwatch.

  • Perpetual Rotor: Patented in 1931, Rolex's Perpetual rotor laid the foundation for self-winding mechanisms still used today.

  • Cerachrom Bezel: Rolex developed the Cerachrom ceramic bezel in 2005, known for its resistance to scratching and fading.

  • Parachrom Hairspring: In 2000, Rolex introduced the Parachrom hairspring, offering greater resistance to shocks and magnetic fields.

  • Triplock Crown: Rolex introduced the Triplock crown in the late 1950s, enhancing the waterproofness of its watches.

  • Glidelock Clasp: Introduced in the mid-2000s, the Glidelock clasp allows for easy adjustment of bracelet length without tools.

  • Chromalight Luminescence: Rolex's Chromalight luminescent material, introduced in 2008, offers longer-lasting and brighter luminescence in low-light conditions.

  • Rolesor: Rolex's patented combination of gold and steel, known as Rolesor, provides a luxurious yet durable aesthetic.

Rolex Stories from the Ages

One of the most fascinating parts of Rolex's history is the human stories that shape it. 

In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay ascended Mount Everest, proudly wearing Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches. Enduring freezing temperatures and treacherous terrain, the timepieces withstood the ultimate test of endurance, demonstrating Rolex's resilience and precision in extreme conditions.

In the 1950s, the British Royal Navy's Special Boat Service relied on Rolex Submariner watches during covert operations. These timepieces ensured accuracy and reliability during underwater missions, cementing Rolex's reputation for robustness and performance in military settings.

In 2012, filmmaker James Cameron piloted a solo dive to the Mariana Trench, Earth's deepest point, with a Rolex Deepsea strapped to his submersible. Descending nearly 11,000 metres, the watch emerged unscathed, demonstrating Rolex's ability to withstand the harshest environments and remain functional in the face of adversity.

How to Collect the Most Historic Rolex Watches

Collecting Rolex watches is not just acquiring timepieces; it's about immersing yourself in the Rolex history and story. 

As an aspiring collector, be sure to conduct the following research to buy the best Rolex and become an expert in the field. 

  • Research: Familiarise yourself with Rolex's history and iconic models to understand their significance.

  • Authenticity: Verify the authenticity of vintage Rolex watches through reputable dealers or experts.

  • Documentation: Look for watches with original paperwork, service records, or provenance to authenticate their history.

  • Condition: Assess the condition of vintage Rolex watches, prioritising well-preserved examples with minimal wear and original components.

  • Rarity: Seek out rare or limited-edition Rolex models, such as early Submariners or Daytonas, for their historical significance and collector value.

  • Investment: Consider the investment potential of historic Rolex watches, focusing on models with proven appreciation over time.

  • Maintenance: Ensure proper maintenance and servicing of vintage Rolex watches to preserve their value and functionality.

  • Patience: Building a collection of historic Rolex watches takes time and patience, so be prepared for a gradual acquisition process.

  • Diversification: Diversify your collection with a range of Rolex models representing different eras, styles, and complications.

  • Enjoyment: Ultimately, collect historic Rolex watches for the enjoyment of owning pieces of horological history and appreciating their timeless design and craftsmanship.

A collection of Rolex luxury watches in an authorised boutique in Australia.

The Reason for Rolex's Enduring Legacy

Rolex's enduring legacy is a testament to its unwavering commitment to excellence, craftsmanship, and innovation. 

Since its inception in 1905, the brand has consistently pushed the boundaries of watchmaking, introducing groundbreaking technologies and iconic designs that have stood the test of time. 

From the revolutionary Oyster case to the legendary Perpetual movement, Rolex has remained at the forefront of horological innovation. 

Its dedication to precision, durability, and timeless elegance has earned Rolex a revered status among watch enthusiasts and collectors worldwide, cementing its position as a symbol of luxury and sophistication for generations to come.

Preserving the Rolex Legacy with Watch Insurance from JewelCover

Rolex stands as an enduring symbol of innovation, precision, and luxury. 

From the iconic Submariner to the legendary Daytona, each Rolex watch carries with it a rich history and legacy that transcends generations. 

As you embark on your journey of collecting these historic timepieces, ensuring their protection and preservation becomes paramount. 

With watch insurance from JewelCover, you can cover your Rolex collection against loss, theft and damage, ensuring their legacy for years to come.

Get your free luxury watch insurance quote online now. 

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Rolex Watch History - Frequently Asked Questions

What makes Rolex watches so special?

Rolex watches are renowned for their exceptional quality, precision, and durability. They undergo rigorous testing and are crafted with the finest materials to ensure reliability and longevity. Additionally, Rolex has a rich history of innovation and has introduced many groundbreaking technologies to the world of horology.

What is the significance of the Rolex Crown logo?

The Rolex Crown logo symbolises the brand's commitment to excellence, precision, and prestige. It is prominently featured on the dial and crown of Rolex watches as a mark of authenticity and quality. The five-pointed crown represents the five fundamental elements of Rolex watches: precision, waterproofness, self-winding, durability, and elegance.

What are some notable Rolex milestones?

Rolex has achieved numerous milestones throughout its history, including the invention of the Oyster case in 1926, the introduction of the Perpetual movement in 1931, and the launch of iconic models like the Submariner, Daytona, and Datejust. These milestones have cemented Rolex's reputation as a leader in the watchmaking industry.

How do I care for my Rolex watch?

Proper care and maintenance are essential for preserving the appearance and functionality of a Rolex watch. This includes regular cleaning, servicing by a certified watchmaker, avoiding exposure to extreme temperatures and magnetic fields, and storing the watch in a safe and dry environment when not in use.

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