Watches - Feature Article

10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Rolex Watches

Our favourite lesser-known facts from Rolex’s impenetrable global empire.

Nobody ever goes in and nobody ever comes out. OK so that’s a slight exaggeration, but there definitely is an air of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory around Rolex. The Swiss behemoth has long been renowned for its vigilant discretion regarding what goes on inside its walls, which has helped envelop it in a mysterious aura.

Today, Rolex is a brand with an unparalleled reputation. No, really. In 2016, Rolex beat Google and Walt Disney in the world’s most reputable companies list. But despite its secrecy and near-impeccable record, we fished out some moments from Rolex’s past that may come as a surprise.

rolex air king dominos pizza

The Domino’s Pizza Rolex

As far as a watch oxymoron goes, this surely tops the list. At some point in the eighties, Domino’s began rewarding hard-working managers with personalised Rolex Air King watches. Exactly who it was in the Domino’s hierarchy that first chose to place the colourful logo on the dial of a watch long-heralded for its aesthetics remains unknown, but rumours are he or she did not win designer of the year that year. On a similar note, the only possible explanation for why Rolex agreed to let this happen was that it was infiltrated by an Omega mole. Rolex Air King Domino’s can be picked up on the vintage market for as little as £1,500.

christian bale american psycho rolex
American Psycho, Lions Gate Films, 2000

Rolex and American Psycho

When Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho was published in 1991, it gave birth to an explosion of newspaper columns. A comedy with a devilish edge, its story follows the social life of Patrick Bateman, an amoral product of Wall Street, who has an insatiable thirst for bloodshed.

Bateman has a taste for the finer things in life and a food critic’s knowledge of the New York restaurant scene. Rolex is mentioned over 25 times in the book including when Bateman, infuriated, insists, “Don’t touch the Rolex.” Despite the film being fronted by the flawless Christian Bale, Rolex didn’t want to be associated with it and insisted they change the line to, “Don’t touch the watch.” However, Bale’s Bateman did wear a Rolex Datejust 16013 in the film, which went on to become one of the biggest cult hits of the post-millennium era.

rolex perpetual calendar

A Rolex Perpetual Calendar?

Rolex do not venture into the world of haute horlogerie and so when a Perpetual Calendar (the ultimate complication) popped up in a gold Datejust case, it was instantly proclaimed as a fake. It turns out, however, that opposed to being a phony, it was a fully functioning modification made by the so-called “King of Complications”, Franck Muller, before he launched his own brand in 1989.

Rolex 5100 Texan by Gerald Genta

The Rolex Texan by Gerald Genta

Gerald Genta was a legendary watchmaker who designed some of the most iconic watches of all time, most notably the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Genta worked with a number of top watch brands in the 20th century, but little do most people know that he also did some work for Rolex.

Genta’s “The Texan”, as it was known to Rolex aficionados, had a tonneau-shaped case, angular lines and a chunky three-link bracelet permanently attached to the case. Only 1,000 of The Texan were made, and it was released two years before the Royal Oak, which looks remarkably similar!

Read more about this story at SalonQP.

rolex zerograph

The Rolex Zerographe

The Rolex Zerographe is extremely rare. Christie’s estimates that only 12 were produced, and only four have ever been seen. It’s barely recognisable as a Rolex and has some bizarre features such as the mix of Roman and Arabic numerals. It was released circa 1937 and was the first Rolex to have a rotating bezel.

This model sold in a Christie’s Geneva auction for over £300,000.

Rolex Solves a Murder Case

This story was well reported at the time for its twisting plot, but it's now 20 years old and is worth revisiting. Albert Johnson Walker is a Canadian conman who defrauded clients out of millions of dollars. In the early nineties, he made a dash to Europe in order to avoid various fraud charges. In England, he changed his name and set up a business with fellow Canadian, Ronald Platt. Walker helped Platt return to his homeland but insisted Platt leave his driver’s licence, signature stamp and birth certificate, under the pretext that they were necessary for maintaining their business. Walker then assumed Platt’s identity.

A few years later Platt ran out of money and returned to England where he met with Walker. The two went out on a fishing trip and Walker murdered Platt, tying him to an anchor and dumping him in the English Channel. Two weeks later Platt’s body washed up on English shores and was entirely unrecognisable except for his Rolex watch, which was still ticking. By looking at the watch’s service records police soon unravelled the story and convicted Walker. He is currently serving a life sentence in Kingston penitentiary.

rolex day date fluted bezel

The First Fluted Bezel

The fluted bezel, so popular on the Rolex Datejust and other models, also used by many of the world’s leading watch brands, was first intended as a way to screw the bezel onto the case. Wilsdorf introduced the Oyster case in 1926. It was the first waterproof watchcase and would change the future of the wristwatch. It had a ridged bezel, which was used in later models not because it needed to be screwed into the case, but because it was a popular aesthetic twist.  

rolex price rose gold

The Rolex Prince

The Rolex Prince, or Cellini Prince, is an official Rolex model, hidden to no one, but there’s a fair to middling chance many Rolex card-carrying members have never seen or heard of it.

The original hit the shelves in 1928, and was no doubt inspired by the success of Cartier’s Tank. It was on the dressier side of the Rolex spectrum and it instantly became known as the “Doctor’s watch” as its large seconds sub-dial was ideal for timing.

Today the rectangular Rolex can be found in a number of variations and metals, all with original Art Deco styling.

sharon stone rolex submariner
Photo credit: Ellle Magazine

The First “Boyfriend Watch”

Boyfriend fashion, the tendency for women to wear a boyfriend’s clothes—his band tee, his ripped jeans, etc.—hit a peak in 2010 when big-league fashion labels started producing women’s sizes and cuts in men’s styles. But the boyfriend watch trend dates back to the late 1980s when none other than Sharon Stone was snapped wearing a black Submariner.

Over recent decades, more and more women have been wearing traditional men’s Rolex watches and nowadays Rolex no longer distinguishes between men’s and ladies watches on its website. Miss Stone still wears her Submariner.

rolex 3135 calibre automatic movement

A Rolex Watch Takes a Year to Make

Once upon a time, Rolex used to advertise that its watches take a year to make.  This, it turns out, wasn’t an exaggeration and it’s still true today. Much of the work is automated and performed by extremely hi-tech machinery but a large chunk of it is done by hand. It has long been assumed that Rolex’s movements are machine produced but the reality is that humans are hand-assembling movements using machine assistance. Rolex even hand-finishes its parts. Almost all pieces of each watch are made on the premises from raw materials and then the watch is subjected to thorough testing. In total this process takes about a year per watch.


If you're after some more interesting watch facts, try our 10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Omega Watches

For more Rolex watches visit our pre-owned and vintage Rolex watches page.