The company Rolex, SA – which is the maker of the prestigious Rolex watches -- was founded in 1905 by Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis. It was named Wilsdorf and Davis and originally it imported Hermann Aegler's Swiss movements to the UK. The movements were then placed in cases made by Dennison and others. These watches were sold to jewelers, who placed their own names on them.
The earlier watches had “W&D” marked inside the case only. The company moved from the UK and set up its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1912. Before that the company registered the trademark “Rolex” in La Chaux-de-Fonds, in Switzerland, in 1908. In 1915, the company’s name was registered as Rolex. Later it was changed to Montres Rolex, SA and finally to Rolex, SA. It is not a public corporation and can never be sold, or traded on a stock exchange.
The company has several first against its name. These include the first self-winding watch and the first wrist watch with the date on the dial. It introduced the first waterproof watch case and the first watch that shows two time zones at the same time. It was also the first to get the chronometer certification for a wrist watch.
Rolex still holds the record for the most certified chronometer movements in the category of wrist watches. Not many people are aware that the company participated in the development of the original quartz watch movements in the early 1970s, though it made a few quartz movements for its Oyster line.
The company produced the first self-winding wrist watch in1931. It used the movement of the wearer’s arm to wind itself and made manual winding unnecessary. It also eliminated the risk of over-winding.
The company established a reputation for making watches that were suitable for the extreme conditions such as deep sea diving, mountain climbing and aviation. Wilsdorf had a specially made watch attached to the side of the Trieste bathyscaphe as it descended to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. It survived the test and kept perfect time.
Another well known brand produced by the company is Tudor. It is less expensive but offers good quality. The Tudor line is still sold in Europe, though it is no longer sold in the US.
Counterfeit replicas of the watches are made mainly in China and are sold for prices ranging from $5 to $1000. Replicas often use high quality Swiss-made movements and are almost indistinguishable from the originals.