One of the interesting questions posed in a forum recently asked “what watch would you get if there was not Rolex.” There were various responses that discussed the benefits of other watch brands and what other wrist watch aficionados would wear, but the responses missed the bigger question, “What if Rolex was not in existence?” and what would be missed.
Throughout the course of evolution ideas have built upon other ideas throughout development of the free world. Without Rolex, the foundation by which other watch innovations would not be around. Granted, another watch company would have probably filled the void, but the evolution of the modern mechanical wrist watch would be different. When Rolex became in existence early in the 20th Century, the rest of the watch world was stuck in tradition, factories that were only tooled for making pocket watches, and the notion of wearing a watch on ones wrist was a women’s fashion statement at the time. The only thing Rolex could do was technologically innovate and market in a way that no other company did and Rolex has since set the standard in both.
Throughout Rolex’s design evolution, perhaps the most notable contribution and void if the company were not around, is the solid Oyster case. Rolex’s iconic Oyster case design is the foundation for other watch brand designs. The Oyster case came into existence after two other notable Rolex technologies, the screw down crown and the automatic movement. Prior to the Oyster movement, watch cases had pressure fitted/snapped-in casebacks and molded cases with soldered lugs. Rolex set the design standard of a solid milled case, screwdown caseback that is screwed onto a rubber gasket, solid lugs, a raised caseback for the oscillating winding rotor, press fitted bezel ring for the crystal, and a cyclops lens on the crystal to read the date. Whether the Rolex Oyster case is imitated because of the technology the Oyster case introduced, or because of a nod to Rolex’s marketing with which other companies and consumers want to be associated could be debated with no conclusive results, it is certain that the Oyster case is recognizable world-wide and its design elements are found in other brands.
There are other areas which Rolex has made tectonic contributions to the watch industry. The whole notion of the water and dust proof watch, especially in the 1930’s, was addressed by Rolex and the screw-down crown. Having their watches being tested for chronometer accuracy and durability by COSC is another de rigueur for high quality, high output watch manufacturers that Rolex set. The automatic winding mechanism was perfected and put into production by Rolex [There an argument that the first automatic winding mechanism was invented by Perrelet], the GMT 24 hour hand for transcontinental flyers and anti-magnetic watches, are all Rolex innovations that others followed.
What brand would others wear without Rolex misses the point. What is more important is what advances and technologies would have been entirely missed if Rolex was not in the watch industry.