Blog: Rolex World's Records
Date: 16 August 2023Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2023 all rights reserved.
I make additions and corrections to this web site frequently but, because they are buried somewhere on one of the pages, the changes are not very noticeable. I decided to create this blog to highlight new material. Here below you will find part of one of the pages that is either completely new or I have recently changed or added to significantly.
This entry is from the page about Rolex.
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Rolex World's Records
Rolex watch case backs sometimes have inside a reference to a certain number of "World's Records". It is not known exactly what records these claims refer to, but advertisements say generally that they were records for accuracy at Kew, Geneva and Neuchâtel observatories. All of these observatories carried out tests on the accuracy of timekeeping of watches over a number days in different positions and at different temperatures, and issued results as a number of marks; the higher the number of marks, the better the performance. If a watch passed a certain threshold number of marks, it would qualify to be awarded an “observatory certificate” of a certain class, with a Class A certificate being the best.
The published results of the Kew watch trials, which were relocated from Kew to the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington in 1912, don't reveal any absolute records being set by Rolex watches, but the report in 1928 of the 1927 trials says
Another noteworthy result this year has been the award of a “Class A, especially good” certificate for the 10¾ × 6¾ lignes (24 X 15mms.) rectangular bracelet watch sent by Messrs. The Rolex Watch Co., Bienne, which gained a total of 86.5 marks.
This is the event that Rolex advertised in 1928 as their 20th World Record. The watch had a 6¾ lignes movement measuring 15 by 24 millimetres and it was remarked in the letter communicating the results to Rolex that over the preceding 10 years no other watch of 13 lignes or smaller that had received a Kew Class A Certificate had been endorsed as “especially good”.
It appears that the World's Records claimed are not absolute records - the two Rolex watches entered by Aegler in the 1927 trials were placed in 31st and 39th positions - but rather records of accuracy for watches of their particularly small sizes. The achievement of a Kew Class A certificate endorsed especially good by a movement measuring only 15 × 24 millimetres was certainly a remarkable achievement. A later Rolex advertisement says that “No Wristwatch from 11-line down to 5½-line has at any time obtained a Kew Class A Certificate excepting the Rolex.”
An advert by Rolex in 1928 said “The Rolex factories have specialized in the production of small-sized movements since 1878, and the Twenty World’s Records which their movements have gained prove that they have attained to a position of pre-eminence, and constant research and experiments in the laboratories ensure that they will retain that supremacy. “ The World’s Best by Every Test ” is no mere advertising slogan, but the essence of accomplished fact. Many hundreds of Observatory Quality 10½ and 8¾ line movements have been produced during the last few months. Each and every one of them obtained an individual Swiss Official Class “ A ” Rating Certificate, proving that Rolex claims to unusual precision are founded as much on a generally superior method of production as on their World’s Records.”
During 1927 the Rolex Company obtained 288 Class “A” Swiss observatory certificates for 10½ ligne watches and 135 for 8¾ ligne.
After this, in Britain at least, Rolex wristwatches from 5½ ligne to 10½ ligne could be ordered with Swiss Class “A” certificates at an extra cost of £3 3s. on the usual retail price. This was a lot of extra money to pay for a piece of paper that didn't actually add much, because all Rolex watches were promoted as being of the same quality. It seems unlikely that many people bought a watch with a certificate, which explains why original certificates from this time are rare. Of course, at some time Rolex started to include certificates of performance with every watch sold.
The number of world's records claimed increases in steps from seven to thirty one. Knowing when the increment occurred can help to identify approximately when an otherwise undated watch was made.
By studying dozens of case backs with British hallmarks, and therefore date letters that pin down the date of hallmarking to a two year period, I have identified the approximate dates when the increments of World's Records occurred. British assay offices changed their date letter punches when new wardens were elected, part way through the calendar year. At the London Assay Office this was at the end of May, for most other offices it was the beginning of July.
- No Records: No claims to World's Records are seen in Rolex watch case backs hallmarked before the 1923/24 hallmarking year.
- 7 World's Records: Earliest evidence seen are hallmarks for 1923/24.
- 16 World's Records: Earliest evidence seen is an advert from October 1926. Watch cases hallmarked in Glasgow in 1927 or 1928 (date letter “e”). There is some overlap between the hallmark dates of cases marked 7 and 16 World's Records, an 18 carat gold case has been seen with 7 World's Records and Dublin Assay Office hallmarks for 1928 to 1929.
- 20 World's Records: This refers to an Aegler Rolex wristwatch with a 6¾ ligne movement that in June 1927 was awarded a Kew Class A certificate endorsed “especially good” for achieving 86.5 marks in the trials.
- 22, 23 and 24 World's Records:An advertisement dated September 1928 says “The Rolex Watch Co., Ltd. beg to announce their World's Records Numbers 22, 23 and 24 obtained in quick succession ...”
- 25 World's Records: Earliest evidence seen is an advert dated 15 October 1930. This advertisement says “See name on dial and movement” which reinforces the view that seeing the Rolex name on the dial was still a relatively new thing at the time. Thanks to Sally F. for the information about this advert and the following two.
- 27 World's Records: Earliest evidence seen is an advert dated 1935.
- 31 World's Records: Earliest evidence seen is an advert dated 1937.
- 34 World's Records: A single instance of 34 World's Records has been seen, dated to around 1941, although the first use was most likely earlier than this date. Further evidence is sought.
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Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2023 all rights reserved. This page updated September 2023. W3CMVS. Back to the top of the page.