Hans Wilsdorf considered several options before arriving at his decision by chance one day. As he recounted in a speech delivered on 2 July 1958, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the brand: “I tried combining the letters of the alphabet in every possible way.
This gave me hundreds of names, but none of them felt quite right. One morning, while riding on the upper deck of a horsedrawn omnibus along Cheapside in the City of London, a genie whispered ‘Rolex’ in my ear.” A few days later the “Rolex” trademark was filed and officially registered in Switzerland. In 1913 the “Rolex” brand was registered internationally. Today it is registered worldwide. Few individuals can be said to have been both of their time and ahead of their time. And yet, Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex and visionary par excellence, was precisely that. This rare and timeless mix epitomizes both the man and the brand he created. The prodigious and prolific innovator, who died in 1960, left an invaluable legacy to watchmaking in general and to Rolex in particular.
Today, it is impossible to imagine a world where the wristwatch is not common currency. Yet, that was the case in 1905. Hans Wilsdorf, only 24, “convinced of its enormous potential in a sports-minded country… like Great Britain”, was determined to create a wristwatch as robust and reliable as the pervasive pocket watch, then the order of the day. No easy task. Precision had yet to be perfected in a case of such minuscule proportions, as he distinctly reminds us: “At that period, the wristlet watch was… an object of derision. Watchmakers all over the world remained sceptical as to its possibilities and believed this new-fangled object was bound [for] failure.”
THE ONE AND ONLY
It was especially Hans Wilsdorf’s unbridled daring and determination that led to the development of the ubiquitous wristwatch and catapulted the Rolex brand to the distinguished position it has occupied for over a century.
As early as 1914, in a letter from a body of lifelong and lively correspondence, the resolute Hans Wilsdorf proclaimed: “We want to be the first… and the Rolex watch should be regarded as the one and only, the best!” A crystal ball could not have been any clearer.
Indeed, not only did Hans Wilsdorf shape our perception of the wristwatch per se, its place, its purpose and its potential. He also made Rolex the ultimate reference in fine watchmaking, by consistently upholding the immutable values that defy time. Quality, passion and excellence. To this day, that very spirit, fired as much by dedication and perseverance as by foresight and imagination, permeates every Rolex workshop, every research laboratory, every department, confirming what Wilsdorf knew, in his heart of hearts, to be true from the very start: “Originality and quality [must be] our slogan for the future in every country. Every [Rolex] watch must be an ambassador of quality.”
ZEST AND ZEITGEIST
Hans Wilsdorf’s uncanny ability to take the pulse and set the pace of his times, respond with incomparable deftness and reactivity, and anticipate customers’ evolving needs translated into an unprecedented number of firsts for the brand and for the industry. From chronometer certification to the Oyster, the world’s first waterproof wristwatch, from the Perpetual rotor to the Professional watch models. “Rolex must continuously strive to think and act differently from the rest. Therein lies my greatest strength,” wrote Hans Wilsdorf.
That non-stop spirit of enterprise and innovation extended to every conceivable domain, from intellectual property – and the wisdom of coining, registering and protecting, as early as 1908, a resonant brand name such as Rolex – to avant-garde marketing, communication and testimonial advertising strategies, light years ahead of their time.
VISION AND VALUES
By adhering tenaciously to the traditional values he held dear, ever vigilant in the present and continuously imagining the future, Hans Wilsdorf created a truly timeless brand, at once classic and contemporary, and found a virtually magical formula for perpetuity, the very alchemy of the Rolex brand. At 70 plus, Hans Wilsdorf displayed the same unflagging spirit of his early years: “I am over 75 years old. However, I am still full of enthusiasm for the watchmaking cause, to which I regularly contribute fresh ideas.”
BOLDNESS AND BEAUTY
No doubt, Hans Wilsdorf’s resounding message to us today would be the selfsame message of yesteryear: “Step boldly. Success demands courage and iron will.” But, above all, “produce nothing but beautiful work.”