In today's world, the name Rolex is synonymous with quality, luxury and status. Rolex watches are considered to be the ultimate luxury timepieces and are in demand across the globe. Like many iconic brands, however, Rolex started small. In this article, we take a look at the first Rolex watch and celebrate the history of the Rolex brand.
The first-ever Rolex watch was the Oyster Perpetual, a waterproof, self-winding watch. Although the first-ever Rolex looks fairly different to the new and pre-owned Rolex watches available for sale today, for example, the signature crown logo was not added to Rolex watches until the 1930s, the Oyster is a key collection of Rolex watches and is still being adapted and updated.
There is, however, some contestation among Rolex history fanatics about whether the Oyster Perpetual was the first-ever Rolex watch. Some argue that Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, had created an ’11-ligne Rebberg watch using Aegler pieces years prior to the Rolex and consider this to be the first Rolex watch. Others argue that because all the pieces were Aegler and Wilsdorf is not mentioned on the documentation of the watch, it should not be considered a Rolex.
The first-ever Rolex watch was made in 1929. Its creator had been working in the timepiece industry since 1905 and launched the Rolex brand in 1908.
Hans Wilsdorf was born in Germany but was living in London when he created the first Rolex. He later moved to Switzerland to open up a Rolex store in Bienne.
Hans Wilsdorf was the founder of Rolex and created the first-ever Rolex watch. Wilsdorf started his career as a watchmaker with his brother-in-law Alfred Davis. Before founding Rolex, Wilsdorf and Davis worked in London and imported Hermann Aegler's Swiss mechanisms to the UK and placed them in new watch cases. They then sold the cases to jewellers who would engrave their own names on the dial. You can still find early Wilsdorf and Davis timepieces today, with a trademark "W&D" inside the case back.
The first Rolex, though it may be hard to believe, was met with a fair amount of scepticism. Uneducated critics of the watch named it "too complicated, too fragile, ill-adapted” as Edwardian gentlemen were familiar with pocket watches, rather than wristwatches, and were unsure how successful a wristwatch would be. Despite early criticisms, the quality of the watch proved the potential of wristwatches and Rolex quickly gained attention and acclaim.
One of the ways in which Rolex silenced their critics was by asking British swimmer, Mercedes Gleitze, to swim across the English Channel with the Oyster watch around her neck. The swim proved that the watch was waterproof and silenced critics in the media who doubted the durability of the watch. Gleitze became one of the first official ambassadors for Rolex.
It is not known who owns the first Rolex, it's likely that the watch was accidentally discarded or lost.
Not only was the first Rolex wristwatch entirely waterproof, but it was also perpetual. Unlike other watches currently on the market, the watch did not need to be would by hand and instead ran on energy generated by the wearer by moving their wrist.