Rolex is one of the most luxury brands in the world, valued today, at around 8 billion dollars. Its history dates back a century ago and began with an orphan teenager whose inheritance was stolen away from him.
With nothing other than his determination to overcome his challenges, he ran away from his hometown and moved to another country after a few years working his way out, He decided to follow his passion and opened a watchmaking business. Little did he know that this business venture would lead him to pioneer modern wristwatches, changing its whole industry and creating a billion dollar empire.
Hans wilsdorf was born in kumbak germany on march 22, 1881 by parents, Anna and johan daniel wilsdorf.
He was the second son of three children. His family ran a fairly successful business that was passed down from his grandfather selling iron goods, classifying them in the middle range class. Unfortunately, his mother got ill during the next few years and died in 1892 to make it worse. A year later, his dad would pass away too leaving hans an orphan at the age of 12. Now, under the custody of his mother’s brothers, his uncle immediately decided to sell his family’s business and used some of the money for their education, putting all three of them in a nice prestigious boarding, school called ernestonem coburg in bavaria.
Germany hans hated this decision early on and became depressed while living in the new town.
Hans was seen as an outsider and was often teased by other boys because of his religion to get through his difficult childhood. He decided to put his focus on school as he got older. He understood that, even though he didn’t like the decision of his uncles, it became an important factor for his success. Our uncles were not indifferent to our fate.
Nevertheless, the way in which they made me become self-reliant. Very early in life made me acquire the habit of looking after my possessions and looking back
I believe that it is to this that much of my success is due hans enjoyed, reading books and became quite the bright student in school. The subjects he most notably excelled in were mathematics and languages where he learned french and english. He was always curious about travel and knew that languages would be very useful, which would eventually play a big role in his career during school. He became friends with the swiss boy, who would tell him stories of his birthplace in le cho de fun, a city located in switzerland that was well known for its long history in the watchmaking industry, and hans became very intrigued about the place one day.
Hans had enough of the way of his life and left the boarding school in germany to move to geneva switzerland at the age of 19.
He got himself a job as an apprentice for an international pearl exporting company. This company was buying pearls from various markets and would sort grade and package them for sale to jewelers. He noticed the company wasn’t really creating anything but was still making great profits there. He immersed himself to learn their business tactics and was making good money for his age.
One day hans received a letter from his friend who offered him a job for a company called kuno kortan kuno korten was one of the biggest high-quality watchmaking businesses at the time and was exporting about a million swiss francs worth of pocket watches each year.
They also produced some of their own watches from scratch. This well-known company was based in la show de foam the place he always wanted to go, even though the company he was already working at was more beneficial for him. His curiosity for the place and the business around watches were stronger.
Therefore, in 1900 he moved to lesho de fun to work for this company.
He was hired as an english, correspondent and clerk thanks to his ability to write and read english that he learned back in school and was getting paid with a monthly salary of 80 swiss francs
He was also responsible for winding hundreds of pocket watches every day and verifying they were accurate. He picked up tremendous insight into watchmaking and obtained a big deal of knowledge about how all types of watches were produced.
However, his time there was cut short, he had to go back to germany and serve in the army. After only two years at kuno korten after his service at 22 years old, he moved to london, england to work for another company of high quality watches there. He was responsible for a bigger role and was now in charge of increasing their sales.
During the two years he stayed there. He successfully managed to find more clients for the company and grew their sales over time by then. He was already thinking about building his own business of watches and was learning everything he could to further his knowledge into his future business during those years.
He also met his future wife florence, francis may crotty, and would get married shortly after one day. Hans was sitting outside with his much older brother-in-law, alfred james davis, and talked about life and plans for their future.
Hans told him He felt he was confident enough to open his own business of watches, but he just needed some capital. Alfred did have the money and knew how passionate hans was about watches. Despite being very young, he took a chance on the german and told him he was going to help him on his business venture and was ready to invest his money. They shook hands together and in 1905 they founded the wilsdorf and davis limited, which would eventually become rolex.
A few years later, they partnered up with a swiss watch company called hermon egler, which was based in switzerland and started importing movements from the swiss country to england, Placing them in watch cases.
They also opened an office in bien switzerland to favor his partnership there. Soon after they were specializing in the distribution of timepieces at affordable rates,
Even though hans was a lover of watches, there was one major thing he found unfavorable about the watch industry pocket watches at the time. Wristwatches were mostly worn by women as jewelry and were looked down upon by some the reason being for not being well precise.
On the time, these watches were much smaller than pocket, watches and consisted of smaller movements, which would regularly make the clock either go faster or slower. Due to small details in the movements
This was the main reason why pocket watches were more popular at the time and was considered masculine for its bulky size, but for hans he mostly found it inconvenient to use.
It was a little hassle for him every time he had to reach his hand in the pocket in order to see the time, especially when his hands were busy.
Until then, it was thought to be almost impossible to create the perfect wristwatch that could consistently show the exact time and be in everyday use. My personal opinion is that pocket watches will almost completely disappear and that wrist watches will replace them definitively hans. Wilsdorf 1914 hans predicted that sooner or later, wrist watches were going to be the new norm for everybody and was fully committed to finding a way to create the perfect wristwatch for it.
He spent the next several years, traveling to many countries all around europe and met countless watchmakers to discuss about the small details of watches.
During those years he started to release his own wristwatches beginning the same year. He founded his company, one watch after another.
He was crafting down on creating a better high quality and reliable wristwatch for men and women, applying what he learned from other watchmakers from his journey soon after his company began to get some traction and by 1908 it was one of the top firms in the watchmaking Industry in england, by now hans wanted to change the name of his company to something high class, catchy and easy to say no matter the language. It also needed to be short, so the name could fit easily in the dial of the watch.
He spent a big deal of time combining five letters from the alphabet to come up with something until finally rolex was born.
He immediately knew it was the perfect one and, a few days later, he registered the rolex name as a trademark for wilsdorf and davis limited in 1908.
During the next few years, rolex was becoming known for its high quality, wrist watches and many rich people were already starting to use it. But it didn’t take long after when the first world war broke out and many businesses, including watch firms, were struggling to stay in business and even had to shut down in some cases, but not rolex. This tragic event only made han’s company more famous because of its already reliable wrist watches
Many soldiers were given rolex watches instead of pocket watches, because it was much easier and safer to use. It also helped them to better coordinate their attacks because of its precision on time by then, the company had grown to such extent that they were employing 60 people.
In 1914, and had big open office spaces in london to further their credibility,
Rolex had already won the first ever wristwatch chronometer rating from switzerland, followed by a class a certificate of precision from london’s q observatory. This made the brand more trustworthy for people to buy, but not everything was sunshine and rainbows for hans. In 1914, the british applied 33 tax for all companies registered in great britain that were exporting goods across international borders.
It became a big concern for hans, so he moved his company’s headquarters from london to bien switzerland in order to avoid these taxes. Another reason for his move was because of the world war.
People from britain began to dislike the germans, since the name, hans wilsdorf was clearly german and even though he registered rolex before he was still using the wilsdorf and davis name in england, which was getting looked down upon.
This also led him to completely switch his company name from wilsdorf and davis limited to the rolex watch corporation limited in 1915 years later. Hans would also register rolex’s famous trademark logo of the five-star crown, which became implemented from then on on the dial of their watches.
In 1919, the rolex watch corporation moved its main office from bien to geneva, where it still stands today, from now on, the company focused on manufacturing the watch movements in bien and would transport them to geneva, where they carefully verify the movements were accurate, finishing them with Their high class design and launching their products it’s here in geneva, where hans would go all in with his team to improve the technical innovation of the wristwatch
We must succeed in making the watch case so tight that our movements will be permanently guaranteed against damage caused by dust, perspiration, water, heat and cold. Only then will the perfect accuracy of the rolex watch be secured.
Thanks to his patience and determination, it eventually paid off and paid off big time in 1926 rolex released their new model that would forever change the watch industry, the rolex oyster, the first ever waterproof wristwatch In history. This new model was sealed with a very tight case that provided an optimal protection for the small watch movements inside leading it to be waterproof.
Hans knew this was revolutionary and people would certainly be interested in it, but he decided to wait for the perfect opportunity to present it to the world in a very creative way. In 1927, hans heard about a woman from london named mercedes glycza, who claimed to be capable of swimming across the english channel, a 20.5 mile body of water that separated england and france.
People didn’t believe her, so she was set to do it again in front of thousands of people, even though the water temperature was much colder. Hans saw the opportunity and encouraged her to wear a rolex oyster watch around her neck after swimming for over 10 hours.
She was pulled out from the water after almost freezing to death and made it about four-fifths of the way across the channel. The task was not a complete success, but the rolex oyster came out of the water. In perfect condition.
People went crazy for the watch and hans followed the publicity by putting an ad in front of the london daily mail newspaper related to the event. This is the point where rolex rose to international fame as a revolutionary watch to further the hype.
Hans also marketed his rolex oyster inside of fishbowls, with real fishes in it on the sail display of every rolex dealership for people to see when they walked by this genius strategy worked amazingly and people became hooked on the products by now, hans decided to advertise heavily On rolex, so in 1928 he worked with the top british model at the time evelyn lane to promote his watches and of course, there were pictures of her wearing her wristwatch inside a fishbowl
The publicity didn’t stop there. In 1933, rolex oysters were seen in the newspaper again related to a flight over mount everest in which the crew members who were wearing their rolexes were very satisfied to see that, after the flight, their watches were still 100 functional. Another example was when the famous driver, malcolm campbell, set a speed record for driving around 300 miles per hour wearing his rolex in 1935.
hans asked his permission to publicize it and malcolm accepted it refusing to get paid. At this point, people began to perceive rolex not only as a high quality designed watch, but also as a trustworthy, reliable and technical wristwatch that anyone can wear for everyday use. Only great marketing is needed to make a company successful during these times rolex continued to fascinate people when they introduced their updated model. The rolex oyster perpetual in 1931, which was the first ever waterproof and self-winding wristwatch its previous model of the rolex oyster, was a great achievement.
But the challenge was that you still had to often manually wind the watch which made it more difficult because of its tight case.
You had to unscrew the oyster crown first wind. It then re-screw it again. Creating this self-winding watch was a dream that, for centuries, people tried to perfect, but none were successful from 1934 to 1940. Hans also produced some high quality watches outside of the rolex firm and trademarked it under his own name. But it was discontinued due to the hatred that french, british and u
Markets had for germany, even with all his achievements, hans would sometimes struggle to make his way in the market and had to put double the effort to make a successful company.
Due to his german name. When world war ii broke out rolex took a hard hit, it became difficult and expensive to export products outside of switzerland to some other big markets in europe. Hans was frustrated with the situation and to add to his bad luck. Another tragedy followed his wife passed away in 1944 to commemorate his wife. He established the wilsdorf foundation, a charity organization for social causes, something to mention shortly before han’s death.
He transferred 100 ownership of rolex to the will’s door foundation, which still owns and controls rolex. To this day, therefore, rolex will never go public or be sold, nor will they ever pay any taxes, because it’s essentially a charity as soon as world war ii, finished rolex started to take off and tremendously to give you an idea. In 1946, rolex had sold its 50 000 certified rolex chronometer, which they started certifying 20 years ago by the next year. In 1947, their sales reached their 100 000 certified rolex chronometer, doubling their sales from the past two decades. In a single year, its success was backed up from his new model that was released in 1945, the rolex datejust, the first waterproof self-winding wristwatch, to indicate the date of the month on the dial.
This was followed by another revolutionary model. Nearly 10 years later, the rolex day-date, the first waterproof and self-winding wristwatch to not only include the date of the month, but also the day of the week. These types of watches are still seen to this day, which is often the standard for normal use of wrist watches.
During the 50s rolex kept releasing a series of innovative watches, the most legendary one was the rolex submariner introduced in 1953. It was the first deep, diving, waterproof wristwatch that could reach 100 meters deep in the ocean without getting dysfunctional.
Hans wilsdorf died in the year 1960 following his death rolex started to approach itself as the luxury brand. It is today the company focused their marketing more toward being an exclusive watch. Collection for people of high society, which worked.
Another factor to consider is that in 1985, rolex started to manufacture their watches with 904l, a very endurable and expensive steel becoming the first watch to ever do so, which is one of the reasons for their expensive prices. Today rolex remains as the most recognizable watch brand.
In the world, from an orphan boy who started with nothing, hans wilsdorf went for his own path and is responsible for changing the watch industry. To what we know today, his passion for design and technical innovation has placed him on the list of one of the most influential men in the industry, and his legacy can be seen today in every person wearing a rolex.