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Blog: Rolex's Other Brands

Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2017 all rights reserved.

Update 15 October 2017

Wilsdorf & Davis and Stockwell & Co.

A correspondent drew to my attention that I had described Stockwell & Co. as "importers". This was wrong, and I was quite surprised to see that I had done it. Stockwell & Co. were carriers who, from June 1907, also acted as Assay Agents for some of their clients who were importers. Wilsdorf & Davis almost certainly used Stockwell & Co. to transport all their watches from Switzerland to London, and they also used Stockwell & Co. as assay agents for some of their watches. I have added a new section to clarify the relationship between Wilsdorf & Davis and Stockwell & Co.

Update 10 October 2017

Unmarked Rolex?

I was contacted by a correspondent who had purchased a trench watch and identified the movement as a Beguelin (BTCo.) from my Movement Identification page. From this he also knew that Beguelin supplied watches to Rolex. He told me that there are no markings on the case but the dial and crown are identical to many pictured Rolex on Google. His question was "Is it an unmarked Rolex?"

I explained that Rolex didn't actually make watches, they bought them from manufacturers such as Aegler, Fontainemelon, and Beguelin. Those manufacturers also supplied watches to other companies, so the only thing that distinguishes a watch supplied to Rolex from one supplied to another company are markings, such as the W&D sponsors mark, or the name Rolex or Rolex Watch Co., or one of their "other brands". Therefore there can be no such thing as an "unmarked Rolex".

Beguelin movements were not used in Rolex branded watches. They were used for other Rolex Watch Co. brands such as Rolco, Marconi or Unicorn. Any watch with a Beguelin movement and Rolex on the dial has had the name on the dial added later, Wilsdorf and Rolex did not use the Rolex name for these watches.

Rolex Unicorn

I was contacted by a correspondent about a "Rolex" watch he had bought; he said it had Rolex branding on the case and a Unicorn movement. On inspection it had the "W&D" sponsor's mark in the case back, "Unicorn" engraved on the movement ratchet wheel, and "Rolex" on the dial. Let's consider each of these points in turn.

W&D: Wilsdorf and Davis
W&D sponsor's mark
  1. The "W&D" mark in a gold or silver watch case is a sponsor's mark. It was entered at assay offices in Britain so that the company of Wilsdorf and Davis could submit items for assay and hallmarking. It was struck on any items that they sent for hallmarking and forms part of the hallmark. It is not "Rolex branding".
  2. The name "Unicorn" on the ratchet wheel is a brand that Wilsdorf registered as an alternative to Rolex for use on watches to be sold at lower price points. As such the name Rolex would not be used for these watches, that would have affected sales of the higher priced Rolex branded watches. This is a Unicorn watch, not a Rolex watch.
  3. The name Rolex would not originally have been put on the dial of a Unicorn brand watch. It is very easy to get a brand name painted onto the dial of a watch. Simply painting the name Rolex onto the dial of a watch does not transform it into a Rolex watch!

The section reproduced here is from my page about Rolex.

If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me via my Contact me page.


Rolex's "Other Brands"

Wilsdorf was extremely pleased with the name Rolex and decided to reserve it as a brand name for his best and most expensive watches, which at the time meant watches made by Aegler with jewelled lever "Rebberg" movements. Often these were "fully jewelled" with 15 or more jewels, but sometimes they had only seven jewels. A lever watch with seven jewels has the balance and escapement jewelled, but not the train wheel pivot bearings. This means that the train wheel bearings wear much more easily, so movements with less than 15 jewels are not "fully jewelled". See Jewels for more about jewel bearings.

Wilsdorf realised that markets also existed for watches to be sold at lower price points, so over the years before WW2 he created many other brands to fulfil this demand. Note that these were not model names for Rolex watches, like today's Submariner or Explorer, these were completely separate brand names, alternatives to the brand name "Rolex", although they were sold by the Rolex Watch Company. The movements for these watches came from suppliers other than Aegler, from factories that mass produced ébauches such as Fontainemelon and Beguelin. Because of their scale of production these ébauches were cheaper than those made by Aegler, but could be just as good in quality, e.g. with Swiss lever escapements and fully jewelled. However, cheaper movements, even cylinder escapement movements, were also used for these "other brands".

With such a wide range of brand names and ébauches ranging in quality from Swiss levers with 15 or more jewels down to those with cheap and humble cylinder escapements, Wilsdorf could supply a watch to suit every pocket. But this led to identity confusion. Such a plethora of names and price points all associated in some way with the Rolex brand detracted from Wilsdorf's aim of creating a prestige brand known for quality that could charge accordingly high prices for its watches.

In the early days Wilsdorf often allowed names such as Rolex Watch Company, RWC Ltd. or even just Rolex itself, to be used somewhere on these supposedly lesser brands. This was to give people the vague idea that they were effectively getting a Rolex watch but at a cheaper price. This idea back-fired because it affected sales of the higher priced "real" Rolex watches, so around 1945 all the other brand names except for Tudor were dropped, and eventually Tudor was floated off as a separate company.

The confusion created continues to this day, and working out whether an old watch is or isn't a Rolex. This ultimately comes down to whether Wilsdorf and Rolex would have called it a "Rolex watch" and is often a matter of judgement rather than an exact science. Sometimes I think I am just about getting to the bottom of this, and then another watch with a funny combination of names appears. The problem is not with watches that have no name on the dial at all, it is with watches that have Rolex on the dial when there is no right for it to be there, when it has been added by someone in an attempt to boost the value of the watch.

It is clear is that watches with brands such as Maconi, Unicorn, RolCo etc., were intended to be regarded products of the Rolex Watch Co., but not as "Rolex watches". These "other brand" watches did not originally have "Rolex" as a single word on the dial. That would clearly have given the idea that the watch was a Rolex and for Wilsdorf that was a definite no-no. If they have Rolex on the dial now, it has been painted on later, often much later.

The Name on the Dial

Watches branded Marconi, Unicorn, etc. would not have the name "Rolex" on the dial. That would defeat the whole purpose of creating a brand to be sold at a lower price point. If any of these "other brand" watches did have a brand name on the dial, it was the same as that on the movement, i.e. a watch with RolCo on the movement would have had RolCo on the dial. Sometimes they had "Rolex Watch Co." on the dial or elsewhere, often in the case, or even just "Rolex" on the case or movement, but as it was not a Rolex watch in the eyes of Wilsdorf and Rolex, it would not have "Rolex" on the dial, that would have devalued and damaged the main brand.

Watches are seen with a confusing mixture of these brand names on the dial, movement and case. Sometimes this can be rationalised by understanding what Wilsdorf was trying to achieve, but often it is a result of later modification in an attempt to make the watch more valuable. This most frequently is the addition of the name "Rolex" to a dial which never had it when it left the factory.

Logos and names are usually added using enamel paint, which looks quite convincing. If you know what you are looking for, it is easy to distinguish a name or logo added in enamel paint from a vitreous enamel dial, as I explain at Enamel Dials. Printed metal dials can be more convincing, but if the name shouldn't be there, it is still wrong and, since it is usually impossible to clean paint off a printed metal dial, an original dial has been ruined in the process.

The Other Brands

The first of Wilsdorf's other brands, registered in July 1909, was "Omigra". This looks suspiciously like Omega, a name that was well known and prestigious long before 1909, when the name Rolex still new and unknown. Wilsdorf must have had second thoughts about this and the registration was cancelled four months later at his request. Another brand registered by Wilsdorf that didn't get off the starting blocks was Elvira. Other names included Rolwatco, Falcon, Genex, Lonex, Rolexis, Lexis, Hofex and Wintex.

One of the next brand names created by Wilsdorf was Marconi, after the inventor and wireless telegraphy pioneer. Marconi Lever was registered on 24 January 1911. This was followed by Unicorn Lever (registered 17 March 1919) and Unicorn Watch (registered 20 November 1923).

Marconi Lever General Watch Co. movement
Marconi Lever: General Watch Co. Movement.

Marconi

Wilsdorf decided to increase his revenue by creating parallel brands to Rolex that would sell at lower price points. The Marconi name was the first to be used to any great extent. Marconi watches have non-Aegler movements, and Marconi watches in gold or silver cases imported into Britain often have the "GS" sponsor's mark of George Stockwell rather than the Wilsdorf and Davis W&D sponsor's mark. These watches were sold through "parallel" channels, i.e. not through Rolex dealers.

Stockwell & Co. were international carriers who, after June 1907, also acted as Assay Agents for some of their clients who didn't have British branches. Wilsdorf & Davis were based in London and had registered their W&D sponsor's mark in 1907 so they didn't require this service from Stockwell & Co., although it is quite likely that they used Stockwell to transport watches from Switzerland to the UK. The use of Stockwell as assay agent for some Marconi watches shows that Wilsdorf was, initially at least, trying to hide any connection between the Marconi and Rolex brands. Marconi branded watches are also seen in cases with Wilsdorf & Davis' sponsor's mark, so it is possible that this subterfuge was later dropped.

Today the connection between Rolex and Marconi is well known and Marconi watches are often described as "Rolex" watches, which is not right.

The problem with the Marconi name was that it was first and foremost an extremely well known as a company supplying wireless telegraphy equipment, to the RMS Titanic amongst many others. By advertising the Marconi name (with their permission?) Wilsdorf was in fact promoting someone else's brand, which he soon realised was not a good idea.

The movements of Marconi branded watches are often engraved on the central bridge with "Marconi Lever". All the movements that I have seen and identified were made by the The General Watch Co. This was founded as "La Generale" by the Brandt brothers, who also founded the Omega Watch Company. The General Watch Co. was created to manufacture watches aimed at the lower end of the market. In 1906 the Brandts withdrew from involvement with the company and it went its own way, soon diversifying into better quality watches with lever escapements. They made watches with the brand name "Helvetia".

Wilsdorf & Davis and Stockwell & Co.

Stockwell & Co. were a large company of British carriers with links to international carriers. They specialised in the transport of watches from Switzerland to Britain. From June 1907 they also acted as Assay Agents for some of their clients who imported watches in gold or silver cases.

Wilsdorf & Davis almost certainly used Stockwell & Co. to transport all their watches from Switzerland to London, and they also used Stockwell & Co. as assay agents for some of their watches, such as the Marconi watches discussed above. Wilsdorf & Davis had registered their own W&D sponsor's mark in 1907 so they didn't necessarily require this service. There were two reasons I can think of why Wilsdorf & Davis would have used Stockwell & Co.'s assay agent service. (1) To disguise the connection between an unbranded or "other brand" watch and Rolex. In this case, only Stockwell's GS sponsor's mark appears on the case. (2) When the assay offices that Wilsdorf & Davis were registered at had a long backlog of work. In this case, sometimes both the W&D and GS sponsor's marks are seen on watch cases.

Unicorn, RolCo, Tudor, etc.

The Marconi name was soon dropped in favour of "Unicorn". One problem with the name Unicorn was that it could not be registered as a unique name, hence the registration of "Unicorn Lever" and "Unicorn Watch", but anyone could register another phrase using the word unicorn, it wasn't sufficiently unique to be valuable. Wilsdorf then started using more unique names such as RolCo, Oyster Watch Company (which was rather confusing as there was also a Rolex Oyster watch) and many others, one of the best known these days being Tudor.

BTCo. Rolco movement
BTCo. Rolco movement: Click to enlarge

The image here shows a RolCo branded watch movement. This movement was manufactured by Beguelin & Cie S.A. or BTCo., who also manufactured watches under names Damas and Tramelan Watch Co.. This movement has been customised for Rolex by modifying the shapes of the bridges and cocks and putting the name ROLCO on the ratchet wheel. Beguelin also supplied the same movement to other companies including Ingersoll and these movements were made to look different so that it was not obvious that they were all from the same manufacturer. Apart from the shape of the bridges and cocks, all the other parts of these movements (bottom plate, train wheels, escapement, keyless work, etc.) were identical. You can see five different versions of this particular BTCo. movement on the movement identification page.

There was never any secret that Marconi, Unicorn, etc. watches were made for the Rolex Watch Company, but they were not called Rolex watches and not (usually) branded "Rolex". The distinction he created was subtle, but Wilsdorf was a master salesman, perhaps the first modern marketing expert, and he was manipulating names and brands to alter the way things were perceived. Omega did the same thing with Tissot; In "Omega - A Journey through Time" Marco Richon explains that in 1935 an economic collapse in Brazil made it impossible for Omega to maintain sales at Omega's normal price points. Rather than cut prices of Omega watches just for Brazil, which would have inevitably affected Omega branded watches sold in other markets, the company withdrew Omega marketing and sales from the country and sold watches branded "Omega Watch Co. - Tissot" at lower price points in Brazil.

In 1952 Wilsdorf is reported as saying For some years now I have been considering the idea of making a watch that our agents [emphasis added] could sell at a more modest price than our Rolex watches, and yet one that would attain the standards of dependability for which Rolex is famous. I decided to form a separate company with the object of making and marketing this new watch. It is called the Tudor Watch Company. Of course by this time Wilsdorf had been selling Marconi, Unicorns and all sorts of other branded watches, but the significant point here is that the Tudor watch was to be sold by Rolex agents alongside Rolex watches. The implication of this is that the brands other than Tudor were not sold alongside Rolex watches or by Rolex agents.

Today one sees Marconi, Unicorn, ROLCO, Tudor, etc. watches being advertised (not by Rolex I hasten to add) as "early Rolexes". Although this is not accurate, ephemeral things like brand identity are not black and white, which is clearly also what Wilsdorf himself had in mind when he created these other brands. Wilsdorf wanted purchasers of the "other brand" watches to feel that they were getting a Rolex at a cheaper price, whilst at the same time he was busy persuading other people that it was worth paying more to get a real Rolex, a watch with the Rolex brand name on it.

I have seen watches from the Great War era with BTCo. movements in silver cases that have the W&D sponsor's mark and "Rolex" in the case back and "Marconi lever" on the movement. Is this a Rolex? I would say no; it doesn't have an Aegler movement and is branded Marconi. Why is the Rolex name in the case back? It might have been punched by mistake or, more likely in my view, Wilsdorf was less careful in the early days about where he splashed the Rolex name. Perhaps he thought he could endorse lower priced Marconi watches with the Rolex name without people calling them Rolex watches. He would have quickly realised that this was a mistake.


Tudor dial with Rolex Watch Co. Thanks to Ray in Australia for the image.

The first mention of the Tudor name was in 1926 in a rather strange context. On a piece of notepaper headed "Horlogerie H. Wilsdorf, Bienne" there is a declaration by "vve. de Philippe Hüther" (the widow of Philippe Hüther) that she has registered the name "The Tudor" at the request of the company of H. Wilsdorf, and that she recognises that the brand is the exclusive property of that company and that it retains all rights to it. The implication of this is that the vve. de Philippe Hüther had been using the name Tudor but that Wilsdorf had proved a prior claim to it so she agreed to register the brand and that Wilsdorf's company would have exclusive rights to it in the future.

The Tudor brand was little used before WW2 except for watches sold in Australia. In 1946 Wildorf decided to create a separate company to sell Tudor watches and so "Montres Tudor S.A." was registered. An an S.A. is a "Société par Actions" or joint-stock company in English, a company owned by shareholders and run by a board of directors. In this case it appears that the shares in Montres Tudor S.A. were wholly owned by Rolex S.A. rather than being publicly offered.

When Is a Watch Really a "Rolex Watch"?

Is a watch with the name Marconi, Unicorn, ROLCO, Tudor, etc. on the movement, or marked "Rolex Watch Co.", or with the W&D sponsor's mark in the case back, actually an early Rolex? In the semantically complicated marketing world of Hans Wilsdorf the answer is, must be, "No".

These "other brand" watches were made for the "Rolex Watch Company", but they would not have called any of them a "Rolex watch". The other brands were not model names of Rolex watches, they were intended to be completely separate, and cheaper, brands. Whether they actually cost less to make is not the point, they used non-Aegler movements so that they looked different, and they were sold at lower price points. They were called a Marconi watch, or Unicorn or Rolco watch, etc. Wilsdorf didn't want to hurt sales of premium priced Rolex branded watches by associating these other brands with the Rolex name, but of course it was inevitable that people did do that, especially in the resale market.

A watch with one of these other brand names is correctly described as a Rolex Watch Company product, but not as a "Rolex watch", even though it clearly is a watch that was made for, and sold by, the Rolex Watch Company. This then opens the question as to how to identify a "Rolex watch" if not from a name painted on the dial. The short answer must be that it is a watch that Wilsdorf himself would have called a "Rolex watch".

By far the easiest identification for early Rolex watches is that had Aegler "Rebberg" movements. But Aegler didn't stand still and new calibres were developed that succeeded the Rebberg. But the fact remains that almost every Rolex watch ever made has an Aegler movement of some sort. If a watch doesn't have an Aegler movement, or one of the small number made with movements from other manufacturers, e.g. from Valjoux for chronographs which Aegler didn't make, then it isn't a Rolex watch.

Some early Tudor watches have Tudor on the dial along with the name of a Rolex model such as Oyster Prince, and, even going so far as to mark them with "Rolex Watch Co." on the dial or with "Rolex" inside the case back along with the Rolex trademark crown with five points with balls on their ends. The dial shown in the photograph here is clearly meant to be that of a watch of the brand "Tudor", but it also has "Rolex Watch Co. Ltd." around the sub-seconds dial. Is this a Rolex watch? The Rolex Watch Co. Ltd. wouldn't want you to say so, although they might want you to think so — at least while you were reaching for your wallet.

It is clear that Wilsdorf wanted to give Tudor watches more than something of the the lustre of the Rolex brand without actually calling them Rolex watches. However, this confused the identities of the two brands, which was not a good idea for either. Tudor was later separated from the Rolex brand and floated off as a completely separate company that stopped using the Rolex name and trademarks on its watches.

However, and this is probably the critical point for most people who are not professional hair-splitters, a watch made with one of these "other" Rolex brands would not have left the factory with the single word "Rolex" as a brand on the dial. If such a watch has the single word "Rolex" on the dial now, then that has been added later by someone else. You don't think that whoever did that might have been trying to deceive, do you? Dear me, what an unpleasant thought. As always, caveat emptor: don't believe everything that you read or are told.

Unmarked Rolex?

I was contacted by a correspondent who had purchased a trench watch and identified the movement as a Beguelin (BTCo.) from my Movement Identification page. From this he also knew that Beguelin supplied watches to Rolex. He told me that there are no markings on the case but the dial and crown are identical to many pictured Rolex on Google. His question was "Is it an unmarked Rolex?"

I explained that Rolex didn't actually make watches, they bought them from manufacturers such as Aegler, Fontainemelon, and Beguelin. Those manufacturers also supplied watches to other companies, so the only thing that distinguishes a watch supplied to Rolex from one supplied to another company are markings, such as the W&D sponsors mark, or the name Rolex or Rolex Watch Co., or one of their "other brands". Therefore there can be no such thing as an "unmarked Rolex".

Beguelin movements were not used in Rolex branded watches. They were used for other Rolex Watch Co. brands such as Rolco, Marconi or Unicorn. Any watch with a Beguelin movement and Rolex on the dial has had the name on the dial added later, Wilsdorf and Rolex did not use the Rolex name for these watches.


If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me via my Contact me page. Back to the top of the page.

Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2017 all rights reserved. This page updated November 2017. W3CMVS.