Rolex is a storied brand — one of, if not the most notable in the watchmaking world.
So it’s surprising how relatively little there is to know about the beginnings of the 100-plus-year-old brand. Even something as simple as where its name came from is shrouded in mystery.
Rolex, for its official brand story, plays it pretty simple. According the brand’s official website, founder Hans Wilsdorf wanted his new brand of watches to have a short name that could be said in any language.
Most importantly, he wanted something that looked good on the watches themselves, and that was symmetrical in capital letters.
“I tried combining the letters of the alphabet in every possible way,” Wilsdorf supposedly said, according to Rolex. “This gave me some hundred names, but none of them felt quite right. One morning, while riding on the upper deck of a horse-drawn omnibus along Cheapside in the City of London, a genie whispered ‘Rolex’ in my ear.”
If that seems incomplete to you, you’re not alone. Adding a bit of color to the story is an essay in NYU’s Stern Business School newsletter, written by adjunct professor of management David Liebeskind, who claims that Wilsdorf also thought “Rolex” seemed like an onomatopoeia of a watch ticking.
So, basically it doesn’t really mean anything. (Some have suggested that it’s short for “horological excellence,” but there’s no proof that Wilsdorf ever claimed that.)
It also hides the brand’s English roots, as the brand began in London in 1908 and moved to Geneva, Switzerland, in 1919.