Rolex history for you to discover: 100 years ago, in 1914, the Kew Observatory in Great Britain granted a “Class A” certificate to a wristwatch for the very first time.

The achievement by a tiny Rolex watch marked the advent of the modern precision wristwatch. Get the full story and see the brands major “Oyster” developments from 1926 – 2014 by clicking on “READ MORE”…

 

Until the 15th July 1914 such a certification, which attested to the highest chronometric precision, had generally been awarded only to large marine chronometers after extremely rigorous tests. Rolex in fact was the first to prove that a wristwatch could be just as precise as a marine chronometer – something that was scarcely believable at the time.

The first success already came in 1910 when Rolex succeeded in obtaining a chronometer certificate for a small watch from the Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne, Switzerland.

If you wish to enlarge the pictures please click on them…

 

The first Rolex precision certificate dating from 1910

The first Rolex precision certificate dating from 1910

 

This proof of performance would contribute significantly to the rise of the wristwatch. On the strength of this success, Rolex would later then become the world’s largest manufacturer of chronometer-certified wristwatches. The Geneva based brand perfected the concept of the modern watch in 1926 by inventing the waterproof Oyster case to protect the precious movement and then, in 1931, by developing the self-winding Perpetual rotor movement. Today, all Rolex Oyster models are officially certified chronometers, the heritage of the pioneering role played by the brand in bringing precision to the wristwatch.

A feat of miniaturized precision by obtaining the very first “Class A” rating certificate for a wristwatch from the Kew Observatory near London, on 15 July 1914, Rolex accomplished an exploit that would forever change the destiny of the modern watch.

 

The 1914 Rolex Kew results

The 1914 Rolex Kew results

 

This first chronometer wristwatch met with flying colours the British observatory’s demanding criteria, the most stringent in the world: 45 days of tests, in five different positions and at three different temperatures (ice-cold, oven-hot and ambient). For the first time in history, a wristwatch fulfilled the requirements expected of the best marine chronometers. These navigation instruments, whose precision was used to determine the position of ships at sea (longitude), could not deviate by more than a few seconds per day without putting the safety of the ships at risk.

 

The 1914 Rolex Kew Certificate

The 1914 Rolex Kew Certificate

 

The tiny Rolex wristwatch certified by Kew 100 years ago recorded an average daily rate of only +1 second. This was the moment when the wristwatch gained legitimacy at Kew.

The 1914 Kew certified Rolex wristwatch Chronometer

The 1914 Kew certified Rolex wristwatch Chronometer

 

The man behind this feat was the German (he was born and he grew up in Franconia in Germany) Hans Wilsdorf, who founded Rolex in 1905. By obtaining this first chronometer certificate from Kew, Wilsdorf demonstrated that, in terms of precision, a small wristwatch could rival the best of timepieces – including pocket watches, which were the norm at the time.

 

Hans Wilsdorf the founder of Rolex

Hans Wilsdorf the founder of Rolex

 

In those early days of the 20th century, no one had yet managed to design a truly reliable and precise wristwatch. Wristwatches were not favoured at the time, as the small mechanism could not compete with the regularity and reliability of the larger pocket watch movements. However, since the beginning of his career, Hans Wilsdorf had been firmly convinced that the wristwatch would be future of the watchmaking industry. He devoted the energy of his youth to eliminating all the weak points of the wristwatch. The quest for precision was his first objective. Hans Wilsdorf, the visionary entrepreneur was firmly convinced that precision was essential to secure the acceptance and popularity of the wristwatch.

From a utopian dream to the chronometer wristwatch nearly two centuries after John Harrison designed the first marine chronometer, Rolex targeted equal precision for a wristwatch.

Rolex is one of the historic leaders in timekeeping and a true pioneer in chronometer wristwatches; Rolex made certified precision its signature. By the early 1950s, Rolex had manufactured nearly 90 per cent of all chronometers officially certified in Switzerland since 1927 — the year specific criteria for wristwatches were introduced.

When, in 1951, the regulations changed and it became compulsory to obtain chronometer certification from an official body, Rolex went further and made sure its movements obtained certificates bearing the citation “particularly good results”. This distinction gave rise to the famous phrase still inscribed on Rolex dials today: “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified”. Since the creation of the COSC (Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute) in 1973, special citations are no longer given on the certificates. But the signature on Rolex dials remains as a reminder that since the early 20th century, Rolex has played a central role in the development of the modern precision watch.

 

Interesting? What do you think? Please let me know!

 

>>> To continue our little historical Rolex excursion let me now show the brands major Oyster watch developments from 1926 to 2014 on the next pages >>>

 

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15 Comments

  1. Richard Kwok says:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful article. I am from Hong Kong and I have been a great fan of Rolex since 1980, till now I have collected the Submariner, DateJust, DateDay, Cellini, and Daytona, but your article really makes me more impressed with Rolex, which has always been the most desired brand in the Far East.

  2. Martin says:

    Brief but fascinating, I get the impression here that Rolex have remade all their older models with new in-house movements since 2000, is this true?

  3. Paweł says:

    At the beginning I hated Role watches, I found them tacky and targeted at people wanting to display their wealth. However, as I learned more about the brand I came to appreciate Rolex more and more. Finally this year I got Rolex Datejust, simply beautiful watch. Thank you for the article, it was great to read more about the history of Rolex.

  4. Steve says:

    Thanks for the history lesson. I learned a few things from it.

  5. NILESH D MISTRY says:

    Dear,

    Horology cirtification is age old, what presented of 1914,
    is today 100 YEARS.

    Glad to have good picture of Herr Hans.

    Nilesh D Mistry

  6. Hugo Maiutto says:

    Clap, clap, clap por this article. Thank you very much. I will treasure it.
    What a pity. I would have like to see more pictures of the movements.
    Hugo

  7. Edward Wickham says:

    Fascinating article on one aspect of the historical and technical significance of Rolex. As a horological newbie, it’s great to learn relevant history, it gives me a much better appreciation of the craftsmanship involved in fine watch making.

  8. Guy says:

    Thank you, Alexander, good piece of history and great photos as usual. I was surprised too by the accuracy of the first Rolex chronometer. I wonder if there is a book out there that reviews Hans Wildorf’s (Rolex) early patents and tries to get into the man’s head. His was a remarkable achievement.
    If there isn’t then I may know people who could write it.

    Best regards,

    Guy

    • A well known journalist has written the most comprehensive Rolex book ever some years ago. It was not for Rolex officially, but for a well known retailer. When Rolex learned about the book, they simply bought the rights and the book never appeared … So Rolex just has to print this oeuvre and we would know much more about the history of the ticking giant with the crown on the dial…

  9. Amir says:

    Amazing that the Rolex was able to achieve +1 second a day, when most modern watches struggle to get close to that today. Nice report!

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