Among the company’s innovations are:
•The first waterproof wristwatch “Oyster”, 1923
•The first wristwatch with an automatically changing date on the dial (Rolex Datejust ref.4467, 1945)
•The first wristwatch with an automatically changing day and date on the dial (Rolex Day-Date)
•The first wristwatch case waterproof to 100 m (330 ft) (Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner ref.6204, 1953)
•The first wristwatch to show two time zones at once (Rolex GMT Master ref.6542 , 1954)
•The first watchmaker to earn chronometer certification for a wristwatch
The first self-winding Rolex wristwatch was offered to the public in 1931 (so-called the “bubbleback” due to the large caseback), preceded to the market by Harwood which patented the design in 1923 and produced the first self-winding watch in 1928, powered by an internal mechanism that used the movement of the wearer’s arm. This not only made watch-winding unnecessary, but kept the power from the mainspring more consistent resulting in more reliable time keeping.
Rolex participated in the development of the original quartz watch movements. Although Rolex has made very few quartz models for its Oyster line, the company’s engineers were instrumental in design and implementation of the technology during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1968, Rolex collaborated with a consortium of 16 Swiss watch manufacturers to develop the Beta 21 quartz movement used in their Rolex Quartz Date 5100. Within about five years of research, design, and development, Rolex created the “clean-slate” 5035/5055 movement that would eventually power the Rolex Oysterquartz.
Rolex was also the first watch company to create a water resistant wristwatch that could withstand pressure up to 100 m (330 ft). Wilsdorf even had a specially made Rolex watch attached to the side of the (the watch was called the “DeepSea”)Trieste bathyscaphe, which went to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The watch survived and tested as having kept perfect time during its descent and ascent. This was confirmed by a telegram sent to Rolex the following day saying “Am happy to confirm that even at 11,000 metres your watch is as precise as on the surface. Best regards, Jacques Piccard”.
Rolex produced specific models suitable for the extremes of deep-sea diving, mountain climbing and aviation. Early sports models included the Rolex Submariner and the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date Sea Dweller. The latter watch has a helium release valve, co-invented with Swiss watchmaker Doxa, to release helium gas build-up during decompression. The Explorer and Explorer II were developed specifically for explorers who would navigate rough terrain, such as the world famous Mount Everest expeditions. Another iconic model is the Rolex GMT Master, which was originally developed in 1954 at the request of Pan Am Airways to assist its pilots with the problem of crossing multiple time zones when on transcontinental flights (GMT standing for Greenwich Mean Time).
Rolex is the largest manufacturer of Swiss made certified chronometers. In 2005 more than half the annual production of COSC certified watches were Rolexes. To date, Rolex still holds the record for the most certified chronometer movements in the category of wristwatches.
The company is now starting to introduce ceramic bezels across the range of professional sports watches. They are available on the Submariner, Sea Dweller-Deepsea, GMT Master II and Daytona models. The ceramic bezel is not influenced by UV-light and is very scratch resistant.
Rolex has three watch lines: Oyster Perpetual, Professional and Cellini (the Cellini line is Rolex’s line of ‘dressy’ watches) and the primary bracelets for the Oyster line are named Jubilee, Oyster and President.
• Datejust II
• Datejust Turn-O-Graph
• Lady Datejust Pearlmaster
or Paul Newman Daytona
• Day-Date II
• Day-Date Oyster Perpetual
• Explorer II
• GMT Master II
• Sea Dweller
• Sea Dweller DeepSea
• Yacht-Master II
• Quartz Ladies
• Quartz Mens
• Cestello Ladies
• Cestello Mens
• Danaos Mens
Rolex sells less expensive watches under the Tudor brand name, which was introduced by Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf in 1946. Tudor is actively marketed and sold in most countries around the world including Australia, Canada, most of Europe, India, Mexico, and in South Asia, the Middle East, South Africa and most countries in South America (Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela in particular). Sales of the Tudor line were discontinued in the United States in 2004
Rolex watches vary in price according to the model and the materials used. In the UK, the retail price for the highly sought-after stainless steel ‘Pilots’ range (such as the GMT Master II) starts from GBP £5,250. Diamond inlay watches go for considerably more. The book “Vintage Wristwatches” by Antiques Roadshow’s Reyne Haines listed a price estimate of Rolex watches that ranged between $650 and $75,000, while listing Tudors between $250 and $9,000. A Forbes Magazine article on the Swiss watch industry compared the retail value of Rolexes to that of competing brands Corum, Universal Genève and IWC