View all articles

Feature: 3 Things You’ve Got To Know About Rolex

If you’ve been wondering who our finalist is for most popular watchmaker in our In Focus series, wonder no more. If, like everyone else, you’d already seen a mile off that it was Rolex, well, yes, it’s Rolex. Audemars Piguet may have reinvented watchmaking for a new era, but it is without a doubt the watchmaking powerhouse that is Rolex that carried it through. If you want even more Rolex content, you’re in the right place—we’ll be posting a host of other Rolex articles right here on So, on to Rolex—here’s what you didn’t know about the five-pointed crown.

You Can Tell A Lot About A Rolex By Its Crown (Not That One)

Like a fingerprint, every Rolex watch has a few little identifiers that tell you a little something about it. There’s the serial number of course, which used to be sequential, now just a string of random letters and numbers that stop customers knowing if a watch has sat around in the jeweller’s window. Not too much of a concern these days, I’m sure you’ll agree.

But that’s not the only marker Rolex has left on its watches. Like Omega’s logo marked on its Hesalite-equipped Speedmasters, Rolex has taken to engraving a little Rolex crown in its crystals. It is in effect a miniaturised version of those extremely tasteful laser-etched glass ornaments you see for sale in the mall, barely visible and there more for Rolex than for you.

This little crown logo first started appearing in the new millennium, with the exception of the green glass Milgauss, which does without. It’s not a solid etching; it’s made up of lots of small dots that trace the outline of the famous crown logo. The purpose of this almost invisible marking? It’s a symbol of authenticity, too tricky for the counterfeiters to accurately replicate—although not for want of trying.

But it does more than just that, because there are little messages hidden within the laser-etched crown as well. Look in the hole where the crown would sit upon its wearer’s head, and you might notice an “S” on its side. If you do, that means the crystal has been replaced during a service. That’s not a bad thing, but nevertheless it’s there so Rolex knows it’s been done.

More recently, the secret messages in the crown have been further expanded to tell you what kind of crystal it is. Rolex didn’t previously use anti-reflective coatings—like you get on glasses—but now they do, and you can tell which your watch has by the little laser etched crown. If you just have the single ellipse at the bottom, that’s either no coating or just on the magnifying window; a double ellipse and that a coating on the underside of the crystal; a double ellipse with a line in the middle, and you’ve got a coating on both sides. It’s the confusion of anti-reflective coatings made nice and clear!

The Rolex Daytona Doesn’t Look Like How You Think It Does

Rolex’s poster child, the Cosmograph Daytona, was the first real success story of the brand’s modern era, turning a lamentable model into a two-year plus waiting list. This rags to riches story of the watch that couldn’t be given away becoming one that turned people into literal millionaires has made the Daytona one of the most well-known and well-scrutinised watches of all time.

Given a pen and a piece of paper, I think it’s fair to say many of us here could get pretty close to drawing one from memory with a decent degree of accuracy. Take the new 116500 Daytona—the “500” coming from the famous 500-mile-long NASCAR race at the Daytona International Speedway, Florida, by the way—and you’d probably get the ceramic bezel, laced with the tachymetre scale correct; you’d remember the screw-down pushers flanking the crown and crown guards no problem, and of course you’d remember most of the seven—yes, seven—lines of text on the dial. Easy.

But what if I told you that, no matter how hard you tried, you’re going to draw the case wrong? The polished stainless steel monobloc is perhaps the simplest part of the whole watch, so making a mistake seems almost impossible. Most of it is hidden for a start, save for those crown guards mentioned earlier and the symmetrical lugs top and bottom.

But here’s the thing… the lugs aren’t symmetrical. The left lugs are thicker than the right. Not by much, but enough to notice. This is true of all steel and bi-metal models. The precious metal cases are different and indeed symmetric, but anything with steel gets more metal on the left lug than it does the right. The reasoning? To balance the visual weight of the pushers and crown. Unfortunately, once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. Sorry!

Rolex Cheated At Becoming In-House

What do you look for when it comes to choosing a watch brand? For most people it’ll be a well-known name, high quality, a rich history and—last but not least—in-house production. The more discerning we’ve become as enthusiasts, the more importance has been given to a watchmaker’s ability to make the entirety of the watch by itself.

Now, between you and me, this isn’t really any kind of a historical thing. Even in the days of pocket watch makers, there were companies that made movements, companies that made cases, companies that made dials, and companies that put them all together and slapped their names on the packaging.

And after watches moved from the pocket to the wrist, this behaviour only amplified. Even big names like Patek Philippe used movements made elsewhere, focussing instead on expertly finishing them to a level befitting the Patek Philippe name. The notion of in-house is as historically correct as the rarity of diamonds.

There were, however, some companies that dominated the industry and did indeed make everything themselves. Take Omega, for example, a brand that really established the idea of producing high-quality watches all under one roof. It was doing all this decades before Rolex even existed.

So, when Rolex did come to be in 1905, there was no chance of catching up with that. With no manpower and no investment, founder Hans Wilsdorf had to pursue a different route: third-party suppliers. By carefully selecting companies that could make its cases, bracelets, dials and movements and marketing them as their own—by literally replacing the supplier’s branding on images of their factories with Rolex branding—Rolex could very quickly pretend to be as big as Omega.

And it worked. Not only did it work, but it reinvented the whole mentality of running a watch company. By the 1960s, it was almost unheard of for a watchmaker not to be outsourcing virtually everything. The Heuer Monaco, for example, was hand-selected from the finest Piquerez catalogue.

By the time Rolex had made a tonne of money and summarily beaten Omega into submission, it could now afford to become truly in-house. And so, from 1992, it began the purchase of all of its suppliers. First came casemaker Genex. Then in 1998, bracelet maker Gay Frères. No sniggering at the back! In 2000, it was the turn of Beyeler, the dial maker, Boninchi, the crown supplier, and Virex et Joli Poli, for the case and bracelet finishing. Then came Aegler in 2004, the company that gave Rolex its movements.

And that’s how you beat the system at being in-house. Well, almost. One supplier remains unpurchased to this day, Rolex’s hand maker Fiedler. Perhaps they’re holding out for a better offer …

For more on Rolex and for the last in our In Focus series, make sure to join us again next time. Meanwhile, if you want more, check out the rest of the blog here on

Looking for a pre-owned Rolex watch? Click here to shop now

Looking for pre-owned Rolex finance? Click here to shop now