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Brief History: Rolex Watch Company

Including Serial Numbers, Production Dates and Calibers

Hans Wilsdorf

Hans Wilsdorf

The year was 1905 and the place was London, England. Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law Alfred Davis founded "Wilsdorf & Davis" and began importing high-quality Swiss watch movements, produced by Hermann Aegler, and placing them in good-quality cases made by Dennison and others. These early watches were sold to jewelers who marketed them with their own names on the dial. The earliest known examples of Wilsdorf & Davis watches are signed "W&D" inside the case back. Contrary to popular belief, Wilsdorf was neither Swiss nor a watchmaker. Wilsdorf was a German national, and Davis was British.

The "Rolex" trademark was registered in 1908, and the firm opened an office in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, the world's center for high-quality watchmaking. There is some debate as to the origins of the Rolex name. Wilsdorf was said to want an easily recognizable name that could be pronounced in any language and would fit easily on the dial of a watch. Some suggest that the name came from the French phrase horlogerie exquise, meaning "exquisite horology". J.P. Hess and James Dowling, in their book The Best of Time: Rolex Wristwatches, An Unauthorized History, clam that the name was just made up. "Rolex" was first registered as a company name on November 15, 1915. The Rolex name did not appear on the watch dial until 1926.

Rolex Moves to Geneva and Launches the "Oyster"

In 1919, the company's headquarters was moved to Geneva, Switzerland, because taxes and export duties in the United Kingdom were driving up costs. The company was first established in Geneva as the Rolex Watch Company. Subsequently, the name was changed to Montres Rolex, SA and finally just Rolex, SA.

One of the most important developments in the history of Rolex watches came when Wilsdorf purchased the patent for a revolutionary moisture-proof winding stem and crown from its inventors, George Peret and Paul Perregaux. The result of this acquisition was the development of the world's first truly waterproof case, which was given the name "Oyster" in 1926. In an effort to market the new Oyster watch, Wilsdorf hired a young London typist named Mercedes Glietz, the first woman to swim the English Channel. In 1927, prior to Glietz' second attempt to swim the Channel, Wilsdorf announced to the world that she would be wearing his water-proof Rolex Oyster watch and that she would emerge from the water and his watch would be running and on time, something which had never been previously accomplished. Though Miss Glietz did not complete this second crossing, which occurred under much more difficult conditions than her first swim, the watch performed beautifully. She and her Rolex Oyster made headlines around the world!

To this day, Rolex continues to form creative advertising partnerships with athletes and athletic events. They are the official timekeeper of the Wimbledon and Australian Open tennis tournaments, and the Americas Cup yacht races, just to name a few.

The Wilsdorf Foundation

After his wife died in 1944, Wilsdorf established the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation to which he left all of his Rolex shares, ensuring that a significant portion of the company's income would go to charity in perpetuity. Rolex is still owned by this private charitable trust which supports many children's charities (Mr. Wilsdorf was an orphan) and cutting-edge entrepreneurial endeavors (Mr. Wilsdorf held over 700 patents). No Rolex shares are traded on any public exchange.

Today, the Rolex brand is recognized throughout the world as a symbol of prestige and quality. Rolex is by far the single largest luxury watch brand, producing about 2000 watches per day, and is certainly one of the top watch brands in the world.

Rolex Innovations:

Rolex Watch

Rolex has made many important contributions to the field of horology. Some key innovations are:

  • The first truly waterproof watch. (Rolex Oyster, 1926)
  • The first "auto-rotor" self-winding watch. (1932)
  • The first wristwatch with an automatically changing date on the dial (Rolex Datejust, 1945)
  • The first wristwatch with an automatically changing day and date on the dial (Rolex Day-Date)
  • The first wristwatch case waterproof to 100m (330ft) (Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner, 1953)
  • The first wristwatch to show two time zones at once (Rolex GMT Master, 1954)
  • The first watch manufacturer to earn chronometer certification for a wristwatch

Rolex holds the record for the most certified chronometer movements in the category of wristwatches. Rolex also participated in the development of the original quartz watch movement. Although Rolex has made very few battery-powered quartz models, the company's engineers were instrumental in design and implementation of the technology during the early 1970s.

Rolex Repair:

We are currently not accepting modern Rolex watches for repair because Rolex does not supply spare parts or technical information to many qualified independent watchmakers. To learn more about Swiss watch manufacturers' restrictions on parts distribution, read here.

Fake "Rolex" Watches:

The Rolex brand has been frequently copied, and you have no doubt seen email advertisements for imitation Rolex watches at deep-discount prices. Don't waste your money! These watches are cheap, poorly-made fakes that are not serviceable and will not perform like the genuine article. Counterfeiting products is illegal. We do not encourage or endorse the purchase of any counterfeit watch!

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Rolex Watch Company

Rolex Serial Numbers and Dates

Rolex serial numbers are located on the side of the watch case, between the lugs on the 6:00 end. It is usually necessary to release the bracelet in order to see the serial number. This should only be done by an experienced watchmaker to prevent scratching the case or bracelet. You should never purchase a Rolex watch if the serial number has been removed or tampered with.

Year S/N
1966 1871000
1966 1994956
1967 2163900
1968 2426800
1970 2555384
1969 2689700
1970 2952600
1971 3215500
1972 3478400
1973 3741300
1974 4004200
1975 4267100
1976 4538000
1977 5008000
1978 5482000
1979 5958000
Year S/N
1980 6434000
1981 6910000
1982 7386000
1983 7862000
1984 8338000
1985 8614000
1986 9290000
1987 9766000
1987 1/2 9999999
1987 1/2 R000001
1988 R999999
1989 L000001
1990 1/2 L999999
1990 1/2 E000001
1991 1/2 E999999
1991 1/2 X000001
Year S/N
Nov 1991 N000001
1992 C000001
1993 S000001
1994/5 W000001
1996 T000001
Aug 1997 U000001
Nov/Dec 1998 A000001
Jan 2000 P000001
Mid 2001 K000001
Mid 2002 Y000001
Mid 2003 F000001
Early 2005 D000001
Early 2006 - New Z000001
Jan 08 - Nov 08 M000,001
Dec 08 - Present V000,001

Rolex Watch

Calibers and Year Introduced

Caliber Model Year
3035 Date / Datejust / Submariner 1977
3085 GMT 1977
3055 Day-Date 1977
3075 GMT II / Explorer II

1981

3135 Date / Datejust / Submariner 1988
3175 GMT II / Explorer II 1988
3185 GMT 1988
3155 Day-Date 1988
3000 Non-Date 1990

Renaissance Watch Repair is not affiliated with Rolex, SA. The Rolex name and names of various Rolex watch models as shown here are trademarks of Rolex, SA. Information provided for educational purposes only and we make no warranty as to its accuracy or reliability.