In 1905 Hans Wilsdorf established a company in London who were to specialise in the development and production of watches. Three years later he chose Rolex as the brand name for his watches. This was because it was short enough to fit easily on the dial of a watch and was also easily pronounceable in most European languages. Switzerland in 1910 saw a Rolex watch be the first wristwatch to ever receive a chronometer certification and this was followed in 1914 by a Kew Observatory award, an honour which was previously only given to marine chronometers.
The famous oyster case was launched in 1926. This made the watch totally waterproof, a fact which was proven the following year when Wilsdorf enlisted Mercedes Gleitze to help endorse his product. Gleitze swam the English Channel wearing the Rolex watch and this created an awful lot of publicity resulting in many other famous names of the time endorsing the product. The perpetual motor, a self winding mechanism, which is now a staple element of Rolex watches, was launched in 1931. Fifteen years on and Rolex were still improving on their designs, launching the first watch to also display the date - the Oyster Perpetual Datejust.
Branching out slightly, the Oyster Perpetual Submariner was launched in 1953. This watch was able to withstand water to a depth of 100 metres. These types of watch were usually only manufactured by specialist marine chronologists and for a standard watch-maker to do this was quite impressive. The next 6 years saw Rolex launch new models of watch, including one which allows the wearer to read the time in two different time zones at once, and one which showed the day of the week as well as the date.
In 1959 Rolex sponsored its first sporting event, forging a relationship with the Daytona International Speedway. 1963 saw the advent of a new face at the heart of Rolex. Andre J. Heiniger was to be the driving force behind the company's success for the next thirty years.
The first major change to the company under Heiniger was the move to new headquarters in Geneva. The building was designed with all of the trademarks of Rolex in mind. These include accuracy, precision and beauty. The building was also surrounded by water to represent the oyster case used in the watches. Heiniger launched the Rolex Awards for Enterprise in 1976 to mark the 50th anniversary of the invention of the oyster case.
He also felt the awards would aid to increased recognition of human endeavour which is set to change the way the world works. 30 years after Rolex first appeared in America they opened an office on Fifth Avenue in 1977. Then, in 1979, Rolex became the official timekeeper at the Wimbledon tennis tournament in London.
Heiniger handed over the Chief Executive Officer position in 1992 to his son, Patrick Heiniger. In 2002 he launched a new initiative scheme, The Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative. This was to ensure that the world's artistic heritage was passed down from one generation to the next. Since this time, Rolex have launched one new model of watch, the Rolex Prince, based on a design from the 1920's. With such a long history of excellence, it is guaranteed to be only a matter of time before Rolex make the next big innovation in the field of wristwatch development.
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