Rolex is where it is now because it led the way for many innovations and milestones in the history of watchmaking.
The world’s first waterproof wristwatch (1926)
Launched in 1926, the Rolex Oyster was the world’s first truly waterproof and dustproof watch.
To protect the dial and movement from elements, the Oyster was developed with a hermetically-sealed case, closed by a screw-down crown and screw-down caseback, each lined with rubber gaskets.
The following year, Rolex founder Hans Wildorf, famously gave swimmer Mercedes Gleitze one of the earliest Rolex Oysters to wear in her attempt to repeat her swim across the English Channel.
After 10 hours in icy cold water, her Rolex was still dry inside.
The first self-winding mechanism with a perpetual rotor (1931)
Ever wondered why it’s called “perpetual”? Instead of being manually wound, the Oyster Perpetual Movement has the ability to run on the energy provided by the motion of the wearer’s wrist.
The activity of the wearer causes the rotor to move back and forth, thus winding the mainspring and powering the watch.
First watch with a date window on the dial (1945)
As simple as it can be today, the quick-changing date on the dial was a gamechanger during its time.
Rolex was celebrating their 40th anniversary in 1945, so they wanted to commemorate the occasion with a groundbreaking timepiece.
The result was the Datejust – the first self-winding, water resistant wristwatch, with a date window on the dial that changes at midnight.
The first watch to reach Mt. Everest (1953)
In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary became the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, along with expedition partner Tenzing Norgay.
On his wrist was a Rolex watch, an Oyster Perpetual that would end up being the ancestor of what is now known as the Rolex Explorer.
With the goal of creating watches that can withstand elements, Rolex started sending their Oyster Perpetuals to Himalayan expeditions.
The pre-Explorer eventually accompanied Norgay and Hillary to the peak.
First watch waterproof to 100m (1954)
Rolex already had water-resistant watches since the late 1920s, after they launched the innovative waterproof Oyster case.
René P. Jeanneret, a passionate diver and one of Rolex’s directors, thought it was time for a dedicated watch for diving.
Through Jeanneret’s insight, the Submariner was launched with the distinct honor of being the first water-resistant dive watch, one that was waterproof up to 100 meters.
First watch to display day and date of the week on the dial (1956)
While Rolex produced complicated watches before (such as Moonphase and Perpetual Calendars), they didn’t sell particularly well.
The Rolex Day-Date was the first complicated watch that resonated with the public.
It asserted its universal nature by becoming the first waterproof and self-winding chronometer to indicate, in full, the day of the week in 26 different languages.
The first wristwatch to have a command bezel designed for multiple uses (2007)
Rolex bezels have progressed in functionality through the decades – from 24-hour markers, to bi-directional bezels.
Rolex introduced the Ring Command bezels with the Yacht-Master II debut.
This time, the Ring Command does double duty and acts as a timing bezel, for setting the countdown timer, thus having time-setting functions similar to what a winding crown would.
First bi-color ceramic bezel watch (2013)
In 2005, Rolex introduced the Cerachrom ceramic bezel in their Professional watches. Made from extremely hard ceramic material, it is virtually scratch-proof, and fade-proof.
Some watches from GMT-Master line were left out from using the Cerachrom, due to their bi-colored bezels that were though to be impossible to create using ceramic.
In 2013, Rolex achieved what was thought of as impossible – to create a ceramic bezel with two colors, but produced as a single piece.
Rolex begins to create the bezel as one color, and then adding the other color before the bezel hardens.
The result is a bi-color, single ceramic ring, with no bleeding of color and gradual fading.
In true Rolex fashion, they are the only brand in the world to do this patented process.