Over a hundred years on from the manufacture of its first wristwatch, Rolex remains one of the most iconic watch brands in the world, if not one of the most powerful brands of all time. It was ranked 2nd in the survey of UK Consumer Superbrands 2014 and regularly features in the Forbes list of the world’s most powerful brands. To give you an idea of its prevalence, seven out of every ten watch insurance quotations we generate is for a Rolex.
So what’s its secret?
Early on in the company’s long history, its founder, Hans Wildorf, recognised the importance of brand. In 1908, three years into trading using a white label model that allowed jewellers to put their own brand on the dial, Wilsdorft came up with the Rolex name – a made-up word chosen as a short, catchy name that worked in many languages and would fit neatly on the dial.
Wilsdorf went in relentless pursuit of quality and innovation, ensuring Rolex became the first watch to receive a Swiss certificate of chronomatic precision in 1910 and the first to receive a Class A precision certificate from Kew Observatory, previously a distinction exclusively bestowed on marine chronometers.
In 1926, Rolex created the first waterproof wristwatch with the Oyster, proving its reliability a year later when swimmer Mercedes Gleitzer swam the English channel with the Oyster DeepSea model on her wrist.
Technology at the brink
This link between pioneering technology and extreme tests is one the company has maintained with a series of high profile associations and sponsorships throughout its history, specially chosen to give unrivalled credibility to the company’s collections for deep-sea diving, aviation and mountain climbing.
In 1960, when the Trieste bathyscaphe dived 11,000 metres to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, it did so with a fully functioning Rolex on board, specially commissioned by Wilsdorf for the occasion.
A Rolex was first worn on the wrist of a world land speed record holder in 1935, when Campbell became the first man to drive a car at 300mph, and it will be worn by Andy Green, when he goes for the 1,000mph land speed record behind the wheel of the Bloodhound Supersonic Car next year.
In 2013, Rolex took over as the official timekeeper for the FIA Formula 1; a duty it also performs for the 24 Hours of Daytona, as well as two tennis grand slams and two golf majors.
Rallying the troops
But perhaps one of the most fascinating examples of Wilsdorf’s PR genius was seen in the Second World War. By then, Rolex was already sufficiently desirable to have been worn as the watch of choice of many RAF pilots – only to have these luxury items later confiscated at Prisoner of War camps.
Wilsdorf’s response to this was an offer to replace the watches on credit, and allow pilots to pay for them after this war. This vote of confidence that the troops would not only survive, but win the war, won hearts and minds for Rolex, and is credited with being one of the factors that helped the brand break into the American market after the war.
Whatever the reason, Rolex remains top of the tree in the watch brand stakes. So if you own one, it’s worth making sure it’s properly insured.