‘The Watch Book Rolex’ Makes Horological History

In the second revised edition of The Watch Book Rolex, published by te Neues, Gisbert L. Brunner precisely documents the aesthetic, technical and historical high points and key background facts of the fabled Rolex Swiss watch brand. Illustrated with over 400 photographs, this green cloth-bound volume does more than celebrate Rolex. The Watch Book Rolex shows and tells how Rolex has contributed to horological history, and why it remains such a globally popular timepiece company. The ultimate authority (to date) on all Rolex models, facts and figures, it’s an essential reference for Rolex lovers in particular, and prestige Swiss watch lovers in general.

For the past century, creations by Rolex have been valued as aesthetically and technically advanced, user-friendly, collectible and investment-worthy. People of influence have always worn Rolex and continue to do so today. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and civil rights leader Martin Luther King both wore gold Rolex Datejusts with Jubilee bands. The 20th century Spanish artist Pablo Picasso wore a Rolex. More recently, filmmaker Spike Lee, Prince Harry, actor Jennifer Aniston and tennis ace Roger Federer are frequently photographed wearing their respective Rolexes.

More than a reference volume, The Watch Book Rolex is a handsome and substantial artifact that embodies imperial purple paper endpapers, heavy paper stock, superb quality printing and 400 photos, many of them sourced from Rolex archives. These provide luxurious and educational visual documentation replete with detailed captions.

Author Brunner, photo editor Christian Pfeiffer-Belli deserve credit for this labor-intensive, beautiful book. The archival images of Rolex product photography, newspaper and magazine advertisements, catalogues and so forth colorfully document the technical, aesthetic and social history of Rolex watches and the brand’s expansion. The book’s clean, clear and classic graphic design includes notably graceful fonts and crisp headings. Although many pages embody English, German and French columns of text, there is enough white space in between them for the reader to absorb the information in their preferred language(s) with ease. Likewise, whether the photographs are full page, half page or smaller, the high resolution of all images, whether close-ups of watch dials or medium range views of watchmakers at work makes the photos a pleasure to study in detail. Kudos to graphic designers Jan Haux, Sophie Franke, Jens Grundel, Robert Kuhlendahl for smart and effective book design.

The Watch Book Rolex is lucidly divided into chapters covering History, Milestones, Production and Values, Rolex and the Spirit of Discovery plus Rolex and the World of Automobiles. The two-page Table of Contents is a particularly user-friendly spread, for alongside release dates for every Rolex from the Oyster (1925) to 2020’s Sea Dweller, page numbers are listed so readers can quickly locate the Rolex watch model that interests them the most.

Brunner’s text begins by detailing the industrious character, creativity and self-determined destiny of Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf. Born in Germany in 1881 and orphaned by the age of twelve, Wilsdorf was adopted by his aunts and uncles. After serving an apprenticeship at a company that specialized in the fabrication and distribution of artificial pearls, Wilsdorf decided to move to Switzerland and found work in La Chaux-de-Fonds at the watch exporting company Cuno Korten. (His principal responsibility there involved examining and manually winding the thousands of watches that Korten bought.) In 1905, Wilsdorf moved to London and worked as a salesman at a successful watch shop before establishing the firm Wilsdorf & Davis, Ltd., which purchased watches wholesale. At this time, wristwatches were rising stars as accessories for ladies and gentlemen, and Wilsdorf went to Switzerland and met with watchmakers, dial manufacturers, case makers and other suppliers to create superior wristwatches that he then imported into England and sold in London. The success of these watches came soon after their introduction to England.

In time, Wilsdorf created highly accurate and ergonomic watches that fulfilled urgent needs, such as the trench watch, which became popular during World War I. Featuring a hinged cover that flipped open when a tiny button at the “6” hour mark is pressed, the dial of this watch was thus protected from the abominable damages of World War I. Such a practical watch as this seems destined for a re-release, but then again, since Rolex is constantly innovating, only time will tell what intriguing new watches will emerge from the brand.

If you care about horological history, collect or sell Rolex watches, this is a must-have book for your library. Stylists and fashion aficionados will also find great value in The Watch Book: Rolex, for it illuminates every aspect of Rolex watch models— for all Time.

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