Rolex was founded in 1905 by 24 year old Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law in London, England. The company was originally named “Wilsdorf and Davis” and was established for the purpose of distributing timepieces. Their business was based on importing Swiss movements to England and then locally placing them in watchcases. The assembled watches were then sold to jewelers who branded them with their own name on the dial. Due to increasing operating costs because of wartime taxes on luxury imports as well as export taxes on silver and gold, Rolex moved to Geneva, Switzerland in 1919.
In 1908, Wilsdorf and Davis changed the name of their company to Rolex. Several people believe the name was actually just made up. However, there are numerous theories about the origin of the name Rolex. Some believe the name Rolex was chosen because it sounds like a watch being wound. Another theory is that the name derives from the French words for exquisite clockwork: hoROLgerie EXquise. A third story goes that Rolex comes from contraction of “hoROLogical EXcellence”. However it is clear that Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf wanted the brand name to be short enough to fit on the face of a watch, to be easily pronounceable in any language and written with symmetrical letters. The name of the different watch lines often starts with Rolex Oyster Perpetual. Oyster and Oyster Perpetual are actually generic names and not a specific product line.
Rolex has been an innovator of the industry ever since it was founded. Rolex was the first watchmaker that earned the certification chronometer for a wristwatch. The company further manufactured the first waterproof and dust proof wristwatch in 1926. Rolex wanted to prove that their watch was waterproof and gain attention for the brand. They therefore equipped a young English swimmer named Mercedes Gleitze with a Rolex Oyster and sent her off for a 10-hour swim across the English Channel. Another innovation made by Rolex was the first self-winding mechanism with a perpetual rotor in 1931. This mechanism is until today used by every automatic watch. Rolex additionally played a significant role in the development of the first quartz movement. In 1945 the Rolex Datejust was the first wristwatch with an automatically changing date in a window on the dial. The Rolex Submariner of 1953 was the first watch to be waterproof up to 100 meters. Further, the Rolex GMT Master was the first wristwatch to show two time zones in 1954.The same year the Rolex Day-Date was the first wristwatch which displayed both day and date automatically.
Like many other luxury watch companies, Rolex likes to be associated with prestige sports and pioneering. Rolex supports activities such as deep-sea diving, aviation, mountain climbing, motor racing and expeditions. Rolex also sponsors large events such as Wimbledon, U.S. Open, 24 Hours of Daytona, Formula 1 and Le Mans.