A Crowning Achievement

The history of Rolex, the largest single luxury watch brand in the world and a sponsor of this month's Open Championship, is a triumph of both watchmaking excellence and brand association.

The five pointed crown of the Rolex logo is recognized throughout the world as a symbol of quality. It has been the brand’s associations with historical accomplishments, though, that have taken it to such heights.

The Rolex Experience in Shanghai includes an enlightening letter written by Hans Wilsdorf, the company’s founder. The watchmaker’s executives will tell you the letter is original, and although it's possible, it does seem somewhat unlikely. Being such a valuable historic artifact, the original is most probably locked in a secret vault beneath the brand’s Swiss headquarters.

The letter spells out, in Wilsdorf’s own handwriting, the reasons behind the name Rolex. He explains that a good brand name should have no more than five letters; be easy to remember; look good on movements and dials and, perhaps most significantly, be easy to pronounce in every language.

Today, of course, Rolex is the largest single luxury watch brand in the world. Back in 1908, though, when Wilsdorf, registering the company’s new name and seemingly plucked it from the ether, it meant absolutely nothing at all.

Originally called Wilsdorf and Davis watches, the brand that would come to be known as Rolex was founded by the 24-year-old Wilsdorf, and his brother in law, Alfred Davis, in 1905. Back then, wristwatches were a relatively new commodity and the pair faced an uphill struggle to convince potential customers of their product’s accuracy.

Wilsdorf was absolutely determined to make the very best product he possibly could. He was relentless in his pursuit of perfection and was constantly attempting to improve upon the blank mechanisms he purchased from Swiss suppliers. For years he submitted his modified movements to official testing institutes and, in 1914, the Kew Observatory in London awarded Rolex with an ‘A’ rating for accuracy. It was an accolade that, up until that point, had only ever been awarded to marine chronometers.