16 Myths and Misconceptions about Rolex

By Montredo in Lifestyle
May 9, 2019
16 Myths and Misconceptions about Rolex


Rolex has struck gold more times than a Swiss miner. However, its watchmaking expertise hasn’t only yielded financial success, but also some pretty tall tales. 

Myth 1: Rolex is the most expensive luxury watch manufacturer of the world.

While Rolex’s entry-level models, e.g. the Oyster or Datejust in stainless steel are positioned in the four figure GBP range, the price to pay for a Patek Philippe or A. Lange & Söhne is still significantly higher. The sky’s the limit at auctions and the most expensive Rolex Daytona Albino that went under the hammer reached an incredible price of about 1,4 million USD. Although, it’s really only a fraction of the cost of a Patek Philippe Supercomplication.

Myth 2: Rolex is a Swiss-American watch manufacturer.

Let’s make this clear from the start: Rolex is a Swiss brand and all Rolex watches are made in Switzerland. One reason why this brand is often associated with English speaking countries is because the company was originally founded in London. Another reason is that by placing an emphasis on the USA and Great Britain, it follows a very specific global corporate strategy. Even though Rolex (particularly successful in the US in the 50s and 60s) has a subsidiary and even a company training centre in the United States, the main headquarters are all based in both Geneva and Biel, in Switzerland.

Myth 3: Rolex established the first testing centre to certify the accuracy of watches.

Observatories existed already in the 18th century which studied the pace of pocket watches. Ships at sea also needed the highest possible watch accuracy to determine the longitude with the aid of the position of the sun and the exact time. Even if Rolex wasn’t the first brand to certify the accuracy of watches, it was still the first to certify wristwatches. Rolex’s founder, Hans Wilsdorf, quickly realised that the future of timekeepers belonged to those strapped on a wrist. Therefore, he placed a greater significance on technical advancements for the invention of the smallest possible timepieces.

Myth 4: A Rolex can always be exchanged anywhere and everywhere for cash.

Hardly anyone would dispute Rolex watches as quick assets. Some would even say that they are somewhat comparable to a separate currency, but the transaction to cash has its limitations. Theoretically, a Rolex can only be swapped for its full exchange value as long as the buyer recognises its inherent worth. At the same time, a potential buyer has to have the assurance that it’s an original and not a fake. This can be problematic when it’s kept in mind that even experts sometimes have difficulty determining an excellent counterfeit from the real thing.

Myth 5: Rolex created the first water resistant watch.

The Oyster is often pointed to as the “first completely waterproof wristwatch”. However, a watch’s water resistance is always a relative term (that’s why it’s often denoted in bars or metres) and any attempts to protect watches from the damage water can inflict are as old as the history of mechanical watches themselves. 

The first waterproof cases were created in the middle of the 19th century. The names from this time are nowadays mostly lost to the pages of history. Surprisingly though, the name of Heuer stands out, because it usually hasn’t been involved in the creation of water resistant wristwatches. However, it actually patented one of the first waterproof cases for pocket watches in 1895. 

The first water resistant wristwatch was commercially marketed by Depollier in 1915. While there were timepieces before the Rolex Oyster that were constructed to resist this element, Rolex was still the first to patent it. The real stress test of a Rolex’s water resistance capabilities occurred when Mercedes Gleitze’s attempted to swim across the English Channel and this record breaking attempt had a significant impact on the series production of waterproof timepieces.

Myth 6: Rolex never produced watches for other manufacturers.

Today, individual components are either self-produced or delivered from specialised suppliers. However, it used to be a standard practice for companies to help each other out with individual components. In doing so, they were capable of rapidly responding to any critical supply-demand situations. Rolex has always been more isolated and independent than most other brands in its manufacturing process. 

It’s often assumed that Rolex never made watches for other manufacturers. However, as with most things, there’s an exception to rule: the highly sought-after “California Dials”. They weren’t produced under the brand name Rolex, but rather for a small series from Panerai in the 1930s. The name California originated in the 1970s and, at the time, vintage Rolex models were revised by a California based company (which only increased their popularity) and equipped with bi-colour dials.

Myth 7: Rolex never sourced movements from other manufacturers.

It’s not a revelation for hardcore Rolex fans that for a long time, the Daytona collection was supplied with ebauches from Valjoux and later on, from Zenith (El Primero). This is why there’s still a stubborn misconception that Rolex was never supplied with movements from other manufacturers. By the same token, this is also more than likely why Rolex, unlike other producers, is the embodiment of a watch manufacturer which has remained autonomous. The worth of earlier Daytonas’ certainly doesn’t hurt its profile either. Especially the “Paul Newman” references 6239 and 6263 both belong to the most sought after Rolex models altogether.

Myth 8: Rolex created the automatic winding mechanism.

Beginning in the second half of the 18th century and long before this brand was founded, there were already pocket watches available with an automatic winding mechanism. Notably, Abraham Louis Perrelet and Hubert Sarton are largely considered the fathers of automatic watches. The first wristwatch with an automatic winding mechanism was created and constructed by the British watchmaker John Harwood, in 1924. The Hardwood rotor turns at a 300 degree angle until it strikes, which is why the mechanism today is known as the Hammerautomatik. Rolex also improved Hardwood’s automatic winding principle and constructed the first wristwatch rotor that swings 360 degrees and supplies the movement with an optimal amount of energy.

Myth 9: Rolex developed the first two sided, winding rotor.

This is also a myth. The first rotor that swung against the direction of the watch hand, better known as the Bidynator, was from Felsa. The Bidynator was created in 1942. It was launched eight years before the first two directional winding Rolex movement (Calibre 1030).

Myth 10: Paul Newman Daytonas’ generally go for the highest prices at auctions.

Whenever the new price segment of the Paul Newman reference is mentioned, it causes a lot of buzz. It’s usually thought that the most expensive Rolex models on the shelves are a part of the Daytona series, especially the 6263. Since 2015, it’s true that the famous 6263 Albino version was granted the honour of being the most expensive sold Rolex watch for a record sum of 1,4 Million USD. 

However, most “Paul Newman” references end up in the lower to middle six figure price bracket, yet still far behind the most expensive Rolex watches of all time. In 2016, a Rolex 4113 split seconds chronograph fetched a record price of 2,45 Mio. USD and is now the most expensive Rolex timepiece of all time. Another famous example is the former most expensive Rolex watch ever to be auctioned, an Oyster Perpetual with an enamel dial that sold for an unbelievable 1,22 million USD in 1949.

Myth 11: Steve McQueen privately wore a Rolex Explorer II 1655 “Steve McQueen”.

Steve McQueen is one of the most famous Rolex aficionados and made the Heuer Monaco famous in the movie Le Mans. However, there’s an unrelenting misconception that it was an Explorer II. Unsurprisingly, the reference 1655, with its distinctive orange 24 hour hand, received the nickname “Steve McQueen”. Just why exactly isn’t known. 

According to a rumour, the nickname originated from the advertisement of an Italian wholesaler. However, a Submariner No Date 5512 was actually the first choice of the movie hero and playboy. This unique reference is the first Submariner with crown protection and the lettering of “Superlative Chronometer – Officially Certified”.

Myth 12: The alloy 904L was developed by Rolex.

Rolex is known for its innovative capacity, especially in terms of the materials it chooses. It’s always searching for even more resistant, anti-magnetic, and non-corroding materials to stay ahead of its competition. Contrary to popular belief, the high grade steel alloy with the identification number 904L wasn’t created by Rolex. It’s a high grade steel, which is used mostly in the high-tech industry e.g. for space flight. It’s also available on the open market and can be used by other manufacturers as well.

Myth 13: Rolex’s 904L alloy is harder than the 316L alloy used by other manufacturers.

While the chemical composition of 904L in its purest form is really a bit harder than the 316L, it is still significantly under the statistical fluctuation margin. This means that the hardness of two material samples of the same alloy usually are considerably different from one another and there’s not really any significant kind of difference. The main distinction of the material properties lays in their somewhat higher corrosion durability in extremely aggressive environmental situations which, unsurprisingly, can usually be avoided every day. One way or the other, the primary focus of luxury watches isn’t about everyday use, but rather it can be enough to know that its material composition makes it more special than something else. Or would someone really prefer white gold based solely upon its useful properties for everyday wear?

Myth 14: Manufacturing costs are more expensive because the raw material 904L is more premium than the 316L.

As a matter of fact, the costs for the production of watch cases with 904L are higher. However, this isn’t due to the raw material itself, but rather the difficult process involved in working 904L. For everyone that has ever asked themselves why the similar material price of platinum watches is more expensive than gold: the main difference is the material craftsmanship involved in their creation.

Myth 15: Rolex watches with “exotic” country codes should be avoided.

Even if some buyers value the LC identification marking of their own country, it has to be said that, apart from the language of the day-date indication, all Rolex models are created exactly the same for every country. Still, many people emphasise the importance of the LC identification. No matter how often it’s stressed, it really doesn’t have any bearing on the watch itself. At the end of the day, every buyers going to decide how much the country code is going to be worth to them. 

However, it should be kept in mind that handbooks by Rolex are only created in one language. For example, if someone buys from a French Rolex concessionaire, the watch is only delivered with a French instruction manual. Also, a LC 160 can go for slightly less when it’s resold. However, it’s an obsolete argument when, due to a different country code, a significantly lower purchasing price is paid.

Myth 16: The logo on the crown sheds light on a Rolex’s authenticity.

Usually, crowns belong to the types of watch parts that are frequently switched out at some point. Notwithstanding, the logo on the crown can still be a solid basis for determining whether or not the winding crown is authentic. Yet, even after the crown was officially implemented as the brand’s logo, crowns were still manufactured without the emblem for a long period of time. This goes for innumerable Rolex Bubblebacks, whose winding crowns were signed with Rolex Oyster lettering. 

At the same time, there’s a lot of counterfeit crowns in circulation. For anyone that places a lot of importance on authenticity, the best thing you can do is compare two photos of the same reference that have been produced in the same year. It’s often the smaller details that can shed light on a watch’s legitimacy.