10 Fascinating Facts About Rolex

Rolex is synonymous with grandeur and holds a special place in the world of high-end timepieces. For many, a Rolex watch is a symbol of achievement and success. Here are ten intriguing facts about this iconic luxury brand.

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1. Standard Stainless Steel is not Good Enough for Rolex

Most watchmakers and a multitude of other applications from food processing, pharmaceutical equipment to medical devices favor the industry standard stainless steel known as 316L.

But not the development team at Rolex! Instead, they use a higher quality of stainless steel called 904L. This form of stainless steel is 2-3 times costlier. And rightly so because:

  1. It has a higher level of nickel, making it more corrosion resistant.
  2. It retains its high polish even under harsh conditions from everyday wear.

They have used it since 2003 and are credited as the first brand to sell watches with cases made out of 904L steel. To date, very few watch companies have transitioned to 904L due to the high costs involved in refitting their factories with new specialized metal milling machines and tools. 904L stainless steel is just one more example of Rolex’s quality.

2. Rolex is the Single Largest Luxury Watch Company

One out of every four Swiss watches sold is a Rolex. In 2020, Rolex reported revenue of approximately $8.5 billion! In fact, the iconic Geneva maker accounted for one-quarter of the industry’s total turnover in 2020.

Not even a pandemic could take down the demand for Rolex watches, with 810,000 timepieces sold last year.

3. Rolex Did Not Originate from Switzerland

Today, Rolex is undeniably recognized as one of the great Swiss watchmakers and brands. However, it’s a little-known fact that Rolex has its origins in a different European country—United Kingdom.

In 1905, German-born Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law Alfred Davis set up a watch company, “Wilsdorf and Davis” in London. Check out our post to learn how the company came from a small pocketwatch-making shop to a global conglomerate.

German-born Hans Wilsdorf
                                    German-born Hans Wilsdorf 

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4. Rolex Makes Essentially Each Parts of its Watches.

In Rolex’s relentless pursuit of producing everything in-house, it has bought out numerous companies that were previously its suppliers of watch parts. For example, in 2004, they acquired the company that had been making their movements for an estimated 1.2 billion USD.

This has allowed them to have complete control over the production chain. Currently, the watchmaking titan has four factories from which they manufacture all the parts for their watches as well as manage their operations. 

It should come as no surprise that the company also has several internal R&D departments, with each focusing on a different perspective of the watchmaking process.

Examples of ideas they work on include new watch innovations and coming up with more effective and efficient manufacturing techniques.

5. Clockmaker’s Four

Rolex uses Roman numeral IIII instead of IV on its Roman numeral dials. This is not limited to ‘Rolex,’ but other watch brands in roman numerals do the same.

The use of IIII rather than IV is known as the clockmaker’s four, and to date, no single, definitive reason for its use can be found. But a common theory is that it gives the dial better symmetry with IIII as opposed to IV. 

Also, IV has only been used since the Middle Ages, with IIII being the preferred version among ancient Romans who could not write “IV” because those are the initial letter of their god IVPITER.


6. Rolex Dive Watches Are Individually Tested In Pressurized Water Tanks 

While Rolex is meticulous in its process of ensuing quality standards, dive watches receive a different treatment altogether. But what exactly qualifies as a dive watch?

To be described as a diver’s watch, a timepiece must comply with ISO 6425, which sets out minimum requirements for resistance to water pressure, shock, corrosion, and magnetism. 

It also stipulates that the watch must have a unidirectional rotating bezel to measure elapsed time and be sufficiently legible in complete darkness. Most importantly of all, ISO 6425 defines a dive watch as being able to withstand at least 100 meters of water pressure.

Rolex proceeds to test the water resistance of their diver watch models such as Rolex Submariner and Deep Sea watch in actual water. After being immersed to up to depths of 300 meters, each watch then undergoes a series of complex tests to check if any water has leaked into the watch. This is on top of having first met all the other diver’s watch international standards.

7. How To Gain or Lose a Few Seconds

According to Rolex, you can make your watch run a few seconds fast or slow without touching the crown. All you have to do is, leave the watch’s dial face up at night, which can cause the watch to gain up to a few seconds per day.

On the other hand, if you were to leave the watch face down, it could cause the watch to lose a few seconds a day.

8. Their Watch Movements are all Hand-assembled and Tested.

Rolex produces thousands of watches every year, but surprisingly, no shortcuts are taken in the manufacturing process. All watches get the bespoke attention you would expect for a fine Swiss-made timepiece. All the parts are hand-assembled and tested by an actual technician. 

However, all the simple mundane tasks such as cataloging parts are done by machine. In fact, at Rolex factories, robotic inventory machines store and retrieve trays with parts or complete watches and deliver them on-demand via a series of conveyor belts.

If an engineer needs a watch part, all they have to do is make an order on the online system, and less than ten minutes later, they have it. 

9. The Most Expensive Rolex Ever Sold Went for $18 Million

In 2017, a Rolex (The Paul Newman Daytona) exchanged hands for $17.8 million at a private auction. This also set the record for the most expensive watch ever sold. To understand how crazy this figure is, you can buy a private jet or a luxury villa in any of LA’s posh neighborhoods with this kind of money. 

The story goes that the opening bid for Paul Newman’s Daytona started at $1 million but was immediately raised to $10 million by the first bidder. This was definitely unexpected even for such a high-end auction and stunned the attendees.

With only two bidders engaged in counter-offers for one to emerge victorious by parting away with a cool $18 million dollars!

Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona
Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona

10. Rolex has an In-house Foundry

In case, you didn’t know, a foundry simply put , is a factory where castings are produced by melting metal, pouring it into a mold, then allowing it to solidify. Rolex iconic gold foundry is located at its largest facility in Plan-Les-Oates, Geneva.

Here they make their proprietary gold alloy termed Everose. This was an invention birthed by the necessity to overcome the tendency of rose gold to fade with time—especially when exposed to chlorinated or saltwater. 

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