Rolex SA is a Swiss luxury watch manufacturer based in Geneva, Switzerland. Originally founded as Wilsdorf and Davis by Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis in London, England in 1905, the company registered Rolex as the brand name of its watches in 1908 and became Rolex Watch Co. Ltd. in 1915. After World War I, the company moved its base of operations to Geneva, Switzerland in order to avoid heavy taxation from a recovering post-war Britain, and in 1920 Hans Wilsdorf registered Montres Rolex SA in Geneva as the new company name which eventually became Rolex SA in later years. Since 1960, the company has been owned by the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, a private family trust.
Rolex SA and its subsidiary Montres Tudor SA design, manufacture, distribute and service wristwatches sold under the Rolex and Tudor brands. In 2018, Forbes ranked Rolex as the world's 71st most valuable brand. As of June 2019, among the world's top ten most expensive watches ever sold at auctions, three are Rolex watches. In particular, Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona currently holds the title of the second most expensive wristwatch and the third most expensive watch ever sold at auction, fetching 17.75 million US dollars in New York on October 26, 2017. Rolex is the largest manufacturer of Swiss made certified chronometers. In 2005, more than half the annual production of watches certified by Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) were Rolexes. To date, Rolex still holds the record for the most certified chronometer movements in the category of wristwatches.
Alfred Davis and his brother-in-law Hans Wilsdorf founded Wilsdorf and Davis, the company that would eventually become Rolex S.A., in London, England in 1905. Wilsdorf and Davis' main commercial activity at the time involved importing Hermann Aegler's Swiss movements to England and placing them in watch cases made by Dennison and others. These early wristwatches were sold to many jewellers, who then put their own names on the dial. The earliest watches from Wilsdorf and Davis were usually hallmarked "W&D" inside the caseback.
In 1908, Wilsdorf registered the trademark "Rolex", which became the brand name of watches from Wilsdorf and Davis, and opened an office in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Wilsdorf wanted his watch brand's name to be easily pronounceable in any language. He also thought that the name "Rolex" was onomatopoeic, sounding like a watch being wound. It is easily pronounceable in many languages and, as all its upper-case letters have the same size and can be written symmetrically. It was also short enough to fit on the face of a watch.
In 1931, Rolex patented a self-winding mechanism they called a Perpetual rotor, a semi-circular plate that relies on gravity to move freely. Its system was the first wristwatch to use a 360° winding rotor and would become the basis of all future automatic watches throughout the industry. In turn, the Oyster watch became known as the Oyster Perpetual.
Upon the death of his wife in 1944, Wilsdorf established the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, a private trust, in which he left all of his Rolex shares, making sure that some of the company's income would go to charity. Wilsdorf died in 1960, and since then the trust has owned and run Rolex SA
Rolex SA is owned by the private Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, which is registered as a charity and does not pay corporate income taxes. In 2011, a spokesman for Rolex declined to provide evidence regarding the amount of charitable donations made by the Wilsdorf Foundation. In Geneva where the company is based, it is said to have gifted, among many things, two housing buildings to social institutions of Geneva.
According to the 2017 Brand Z report, the brand value is estimated $8.053 billion. Rolex watches continue to have a reputation as status symbols. It produces more than 800,000 timepieces each year. It is said that "The power of the Crown is never more felt than when trying to negotiate space in a retail environment for the product of another brand".