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Rolex was quick to react to changes in fashion, offering ancient Egyptian styled cases in the early 1930s to capitalise on the public’s fascination with Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1929 and coming out with a selection of military themed model names like Oyster Army, Oyster Commander and Air-Lion in the years during and just after World War II.
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While nobody in their right mind would take any vintage wristwatch today anywhere near water, originally, when they were new, the antique Rolex Oyster models offered for sale on this website were capable of being submerged in water without sustaining damage.
This was an important selling point to the general public and by heavily patenting the ingenious Oyster case design, it effectively put Rolex into the position where it could offer a unique product that its competitors couldn’t really challenge.
There is a certain irony in the fact that Rolex, given its dominance in the luxury watch marketplace today, is actually a far more modern company than most of its competitors and initially, wasn’t even Swiss.
The Rolex story began when a young German émigré, Hans Wilsdorf, set up in London as an importer of watch movements from Switzerland.
They certainly tried and the early waterproof watches by the other major houses are some of the most interesting, and desirable, of all to the modern day collector, but they remain as quirky, heroic failures that didn’t really pose any great threat to the Rolex Oyster when they were new.
In its early years, Rolex was very much a design powerhouse and many of its watches launched between the two World Wars are astonishingly attractive.
Having entered the 1920s in a very strong position, the challenge for Rolex was always going to be keeping the lead that it had established.
By this point, Omega, Longines, IWC, Zenith and the other traditional grand Swiss houses had all accepted that the wristwatch was there to stay and were producing some remarkably fine models of their own.
Why would anybody choose a product by a fledgling company with no track record, however high quality it was, when a similar item by a prestigious maker with a long and illustrious history could be bought for a the same price ?
But largely because this was a new field without an established pecking order, the astute Wilsdorf was able to position Rolex as the pre-eminent name in wristwatches by the end of the Great War.
While they tend to be expensive here, particularly if bought in London where business overheads are some of the highest on earth, untouched, entirely authentic early Rolex watches can be sourced even now from established specialists, like us, that simply couldn’t be found in other countries.