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Watches - Feature Article

The Rolex Coronet: A Brief History

It’s difficult to not be fascinated by the enduring appeal of certain brand logos and slogans. Through ingenious marketing, groundbreaking design, and a deft hand for dreaming up unforgettable and iconic symbols, certain companies have managed to create brands which go above and beyond simply signifying their products. Just consider for a moment the most famous brand symbols in the world - the stark red and white cursive of Coca-Cola, the quadrant of colours representing Microsoft, the repeating motif of Louis Vuitton - and you’ll realise that such logos have burrowed themselves into our minds, and have become part of our cultural consciousness. To see those shapes, colours, or arbitrary symbols is to have an immediate association with brand values, the lifestyle associated with the company, and often specific products in themselves. They have become part of our landscape and will remain so for decades - if not centuries - to come.

When it comes to the world of fine timepieces, there’s really only one logo which has broken through the industry to become an internationally recognised symbol, known and beloved even by those who perhaps have little interest in luxury watches. We are, of course, talking about the iconic Rolex coronet; a brand which has already endured for a hundred years, and has in that time become the single most recognised and appreciated watch company in the world. But where does this iconic crown logo come from? What does it represent? How has it changed across the decades? In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look, and examining one of the most famous yet mysterious pieces of branding in the world today.

A Timepiece Brand in a League of its Own

It’s the undisputed king of the world of watches, and a brand so utterly synonymous with luxury and class, few other watchmakers have ever come close to toppling its place at the very top of the tree. Rolex has long since ruled the roost when it comes to quality timepieces. Even though there are certainly more expensive and luxurious watches on the market, as well as watches which arguably boast finer levels of accuracy, the branding of this company has been so meteorically successful that such facts have never done anything to damage the Rolex brand in any way whatsoever.

Rolex seadweller crown

Quite why this is the case is the subject for another article on another day, but the likely answer to this conundrum surely lies in a whole range of elements - one of which is undoubtedly the regal presence of the Rolex coronet on each and every watch produced. Indeed, the symbolic crown-shaped logo is a masterstroke of graphic design; it’s simple enough to be instantly memorable, yet not too simple as to appear in any way childlike. It calls upon centuries of monarchical history, utilises one of the ultimate symbols of power and prestige… and yet it’s also beautifully stylised and represents artistry and modernity in the same stroke.

As anyone who knows about luxury watches will tell you, the Rolex company underwent a handful of changes in its early years while it was finding its voice and place on a busy and competitive market. The 24-year-old founder, a certain Hans Wilsdorf, could never have known what would lie ahead as he set up the Wilsdorf & Davis watch company in 1905, nor would he perhaps have guessed the influence a couple of his marketing decisions would have on the world of branding, either.

Until 1908, Wilsdorf was producing quality watches branded with ‘W&D’ - the initials of himself and his business partner, Alfred Davis. However, at the start of that year, the name ‘Rolex’ was registered as a trademark, and it began being used as the company name seven years later. Why Rolex? This is a question which Wilsdorf was asked hundreds of times during his working life, and yet he always remained elusive and ambiguous regarding the origin of this name. He would regularly claim that he simply liked the way the word sounded, or that it referred to the sound of the watch being wound. What’s more, he also claimed that it was a name which could be easily pronounced in all languages (something certainly pertinent for the tri-lingual Swiss watch buyers) and that it was small enough to fit comfortably on the face of his watches. While all of these answers are perfectly reasonable, they still provide an air of mystery to the name behind the world’s biggest watch brand - something which would become a consistent factor in Rolex’s marketing from that point on.

The Iconic Crown

Let’s turn our attention to that coronet. The iconic Rolex logo was dreamed up by Wilsdorf and Davis early on in the company’s history, and they reportedly experimented on a few different variations of the design before settling on one in 1925, the year the logo was trademarked.

rolex submariner crown

What does it represent? Well, just like the ambiguity surrounding the name ‘Rolex’, there’s an equal amount of vagueness regarding the symbol of the coronet itself. Wilsdorf never provided a satisfactory answer as to why he chose this crown-shaped design, and he left it to the brand’s fans and acolytes to come up with their own theories and ideas regarding why this stylised coronet was selected. Many claim that the coronet is, in fact, a stylised hand on which the watch is worn. Others state that the five points on the coronet represent the number of letters in the Rolex name. There are complicated backstories involving five tree branches studded with pearls which have been tacked onto the company’s history… but none were ever confirmed.

The truth behind the decision to use a coronet or crown as the company logo is most likely a simple one: the item itself represents wealth, power, exclusivity, and class - all factors the Rolex brand wanted to associate itself with from the earliest days of the company. Wilsdorf and Davis most probably struck upon this particular image of a coronet, liked how it looked, and stuck with it without much extra thought… but the fact they never explained its origin created a whirlwind of speculation over the years which certainly did no harm to the company’s PR efforts!

Slight Changes Across the Years

Unlike many brands of a similar age, the Rolex logo has changed relatively little across the years. The coronet itself has been occasionally a little squatter or more elongated from time to time, but not to any extent which would cause a casual observer to notice.

The other aspects of the branding are also worth a mention, however, as they have undergone certain noteworthy changes. The Rolex coronet was originally gold in colour (which seems the most obvious choice of colour for a crown to be), but between 1965 and 2002, the colour of the logo was darkened to a more bronzed hue. Since 2002, the coronet has been restored to the originally gold colour, much to the delight of fans of the earlier design.

Rolex explorer dial and crown

The text of Rolex’s branding (a capitalised ‘ROLEX’, written in Garamond font) is most commonly shown in a deep, British racing green. Associated with high-class pursuits, a sense of regality, and the colour of money, the gold and green colours of the Rolex brand is among the most instantly recognisable combinations in the luxury industry. Interestingly, the green colour was also changed during the latter half of the 20th century, when it was a more modern-looking greyish blue. However - again, to the delight of Rolex fans - the decision was taken to return the brand colours to gold and green in 2002, as the company wished to hark back to its glory days and most iconic designs.

With Rolex at arguably the peak of its powers, and producing over 2000 luxury watches per day, it seems unlikely the current heads of the companies marketing department would ever dream of modifying this most iconic logo. Indeed, even the company slogan ‘A Crown For Every Achievement’ makes reference to this design, and cements the idea that Rolex is a brand with which to celebrate, mark special occasions, and act as an observation of important milestones reached. Long may Rolex’s crowning glories continue!