Rolex SA and its subsidiary Montres Tudor SA design, manufacture, distribute and service wristwatches sold under the Rolex and Tudor brands. Founded by Alfred Davis and Hans Wilsdorf in London, England in 1905 as Wilsdorf and Davis, Rolex moved its base of operations to Geneva, Switzerland in 1919.
Forbes ranked Rolex No.57 on its 2012 list of the world's most powerful global brands. Rolex is the largest single luxury watch brand, producing about 2,000 watches per day, with estimated 2012 revenues of US$7.4 billion.
Alfred Davis and his brother-in-law Hans Wilsdorf, founded Wilsdorf and Davis, the company that would eventually become Rolex SA, in London, England in 1905. Wilsdorf and Davis' main business at the time was importing Hermann Aegler's Swiss movements to England and placing them in quality watch cases made by Dennison and others. These early wristwatches were sold to jewellers, who then put their own names on the dial. The earliest watches from Wilsdorf and Davis were usually hallmarked "W&D" inside the caseback.
In 1908, Wilsdorf registered the trademark "Rolex" and opened an office in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The company name "Rolex" was registered on 15 November 1915. The book The Best of Time: Rolex Wristwatches: An Unauthorized History by Jeffrey P. Hess and James Dowling says that the name was just made up. One story, never confirmed by Wilsdorf, is that the name came from the French phrase horlogerie exquise, meaning "exquisite clockwork" or as a contraction of "horological excellence". Wilsdorf was said to want his watch brand's name to be easily pronounceable in any language. He also thought that the name "Rolex" was onomatopoeic, sounding like a watch being wound. It is easily pronounceable in many languages and, as all letters have the same size, allows to be written symmetrically. It was also short enough to fit on the face of a watch.
In 1914, Kew Observatory awarded a Rolex watch a Class A precision certificate, a distinction which was normally awarded exclusively to marine chronometers.
In 1919, Wilsdorf left England due to wartime taxes levied on luxury imports as well as export duties on the silver and gold used for the watch cases driving costs too high and moved the company to Geneva, Switzerland, where it was established as the Rolex Watch Company. Its name was later changed to Montres Rolex, SA and finally Rolex, SA. Upon the death of his wife in 1944, Wilsdorf established the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation in which he left all of his Rolex shares, making sure that some of the company's income would go to charity. The company is still owned by a private trust and shares are not traded on any stock exchange.
In December 2008, the abrupt departure of Chief Executive Patrick Heiniger, for “personal reasons”, was followed by a denial by the company that it had lost 1 billion Swiss francs (approx £574 million, $900 million) invested with Bernard Madoff, the American asset manager who pleaded guilty to an approximately £30 billion worldwide Ponzi scheme fraud. Heiniger died March 5, 2013, after a long illness, according to an official statement issued by Rolex SA.
Today, Rolex watches are popularly considered status symbols.
Omega SA is a Swiss luxury watchmaker based in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland. Britain's Royal Flying Corps chose Omega watches in 1917 as its official timekeepers for its combat units, as did the American army in 1918. Omega watches were the choice of NASA and the first watch on the Moon in 1969. Omega has been the official timekeeping device of the Olympic Games since 1932. James Bond has worn it in films since 1995; other famous Omega wearers, past and present, include John F. Kennedy, Prince William, and Buzz Aldrin. Omega is owned by the Swatch Group.
The forerunner of Omega, La Generale Watch Co, was founded at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland in 1848 by Louis Brandt, who assembled key-wound precision pocket watches from parts supplied by local craftsmen. He sold his watches from Italy to Scandinavia by way of England, his chief market. In 1894, his two sons Louis-Paul and César developed a revolutionary in-house manufacturing and total production control system that allowed component parts to be interchangeable. Watches developed with these techniques were marketed under the Omega brand of La Generale Watch Co. By 1903 the success of the Omega brand led to La Generale Watch Co to spin off the Omega brand as its own company, and the Omega Watch Co was officially founded in 1903.
Louis-Paul and César Brandt both died in 1903, leaving one of Switzerland's largest watch companies — with 240,000 watches produced annually and employing 800 people — in the hands of four young people, the oldest of whom, Paul-Emile Brandt, was not yet 24.
Brandt was the great architect and builder of Omega. His influence would be felt over the next half-century. The economic difficulties brought on by the First World War would lead him to work actively from 1925 toward the union of Omega and Tissot, then to their merger in 1930 into the group SSIH, Geneva.
Under Brandt's leadership and Joseph Reiser's from 1955, the SSIH Group continued to grow and multiply, absorbing or creating some fifty companies, including Lanco and Lemania, manufacturer of the most famous Omega chronograph movements. By the 1970s, SSIH had become Switzerland's number one producer of finished watches and number three in the world. Up to this time, the Omega brand outsold Rolex, its main Swiss rival in the luxury watch segment, although Rolex watches sold at a higher price point. Around this time it was viewed as Rolex versus Omega in the competition for the "King of Swiss Watch brands". Omega watches tended to be more revolutionary and more professional focused, while Rolex watches were more ‘evolutionary’ and famous for their mechanical pieces and brand.
While Omega and Rolex had dominated in the pre-quartz era, this changed in the 1970s. That was when Japanese watch manufacturers such as Seiko and Citizen rose to dominance due to their pioneering of quartz movement. In response, Rolex continued concentrating on its expensive mechanical chronometers where its expertise lay (though it did have some experimentation in quartz), while Omega tried to compete with the Japanese in the quartz watch market with Swiss made quartz movements.
Weakened by the severe monetary crisis and recession of 1975 to 1980, SSIH was bailed out by the banks in 1981. During this period, Seiko expressed interest in acquiring Omega, but nothing came out of the talks.
Switzerland's other watch making giant Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG (ASUAG - supplier of a large range of Swiss movements and watch assemblers) was in economic difficulty. It was the principal manufacturer of Ébauche (unfinished movements) and owner, through their sub-holding company General Watch Co (GWC), of various other Swiss watch brands including Longines, Rado, Certina and Mido.
After drastic financial restructuring, the R&D departments of ASUAG and SSIH merged production operations at the ETA complex in Granges. The two companies completely merged forming ASUAG-SSIH, a holding company, in 1983.
Two years later this holding company was taken over by a group of private investors led by Nicolas Hayek. Renamed SMH, Société de Microélectronique et d'Horlogerie, this new group over the next decade proceeded to become one of the top watch producers in the world. In 1998 it became the Swatch Group, which now manufactures Omega and other brands such as Blancpain, Swatch, and Breguet.
Omega's brand experienced a resurgence with advertisement that focused on product placement strategies, such as in the James Bond 007 films; the character had previously worn a Rolex Submariner but switched to the Omega Seamaster with GoldenEye (1995) and has stayed with the latter ever since. Omega also adopted many elements of Rolex's business model (i.e. higher pricing, tighter controls of dealer pricing, increasing advertising, etc.) which was successful in increasing Omega's market share and name recognition to become more of a direct competitor to Rolex.
Société Cartier designs, manufactures, distributes and sells jewellery and watches. Founded in Paris, France in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier, the company remained under family control until 1964. The company maintains its headquarters in Paris and is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Compagnie Financière Richemont SA.
Cartier is well known for its jewellery and wrist watches, including the "Bestiary" (best illustrated by the Panthère brooch of the 1940s created for Wallis Simpson), the diamond necklace created for Bhupinder Singh the Maharaja of Patiala and the first practical wristwatch, the "Santos," of 1904.
Cartier has a long history of sales to royalty and celebrities. King Edward VII of England referred to Cartier as "the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers." For his coronation in 1902, Edward VII ordered 27 tiaras and issued a royal warrant to Cartier in 1904. Similar warrants soon followed from the courts of Spain, Portugal, Russia, Siam, Greece, Serbia, Belgium, Romania, Egypt, Albania, Monaco, and the House of Orleans.
Louis Cartier founded Cartier in Paris in 1847 when he took over the workshop of his master. In 1874, Louis-François' son Alfred Cartier took over the company, but it was Alfred's sons Louis, Pierre and Jacques, who were responsible for establishing the brand name worldwide.
Cartier Santos - steel/gold from 1988
In 1904, the Brazilian pioneer aviator, Alberto Santos-Dumont complained to his friend Louis Cartier of the unreliability and impracticality of using pocket watches while flying. Cartier designed a flat wristwatch with a distinctive square bezel. This watch was liked by not only Santos-Dumont but also many other customers. Thus the "Santos" was born. This was Cartier's first men's wristwatch.
Mackay emerald and diamond necklace, 168 carats Muzo, Colombia, 1931.
Louis retained responsibility for the Paris branch, moving to the Rue de la Paix in 1899. He was responsible for some of the company's most celebrated designs, like the mystery clocks (a type of clock with a transparent dial and so named because its mechanism is hidden, fashionable wristwatches and exotic orientalist Art Deco designs, including the colorful "Tutti Frutti" jewels.
In 1907, Cartier signed a contract with Edmond Jaeger, who agreed to exclusively supply the movements for Cartier watches. By this time, Cartier had branches in London, New York and St. Petersburg and was quickly becoming one of the most successful watch companies in the world. The Baignoire and Tortue models (both of which are still in production today) were introduced in 1912, followed by the Tank model in 1917. This, designed by Louis Cartier, was inspired from the newly introduced tanks on the Western Front. This line too has survived, with over thirty varieties made since.
In the early 1920s, Cartier formed a joint company with Edward Jaeger (of Jaeger-LeCoultre) to produce movements solely for Cartier. Thus was the European watch and clock company born, although Cartier continued to use movements from other makers. Cartier watches can be found with movements from Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, Movado and LeCoultre. It was also during this period that Cartier began adding its own reference numbers to the watches it sold, usually by stamping a four-digit code on the underside of a lug. Jacques took charge of the London operation and eventually moved to the current address at New Bond Street.
Pierre Cartier established the New York City branch in 1909, moving in 1917 to 653 Fifth Avenue, the Neo-Renaissance mansion of Morton Freeman Plant (son of railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant) and designed by architect C.P.H. Gilbert. Cartier acquired the mansion from the Plants in exchange for $100 in cash and a double-stranded natural pearl necklace valued at the time at $1 million.
Among the Cartier team was Charles Jacqueau, who joined Louis Cartier in 1909 for the rest of his life, and Jeanne Toussaint, who was Director of Fine Jewellery from 1933. After the death of Pierre in 1964, Jean-Jacques Cartier (Jacques's son), Claude Cartier (Louis's son), and Marionne Claudelle (Pierre's daughter) — who respectively headed the Cartier affiliates in London, New York and Paris — sold the businesses.
Bismarck sapphire necklace (1935), now at National Museum of Natural History US.
In 1972, a group of investors led by Joseph Kanoui bought Cartier Paris. President Robert Hocq, who created the phrase "Les Must de Cartier" (a staff member is said to have said "Cartier, It's a must!" meaning something one simply must have) with Alain Dominique Perrin, General Director, began introducing new products. In 1974 and 1976 respectively, the group repurchased Cartier London and Cartier New York. In 1979, the Cartier interests were combined, "Cartier Monde" uniting and controlling Cartier Paris, London and New York.
Cartier merged in 1981 with "Les Must de Cartier", and Perrin was appointed Chairman of Cartier SAA and Cartier International. The next year, Micheline Kanoui assumed responsibility for jewellery design and launched her first collection "Nouvelle Joaillerie". In 1984, Perrin founded the "Fondation Cartier pour l'art Contemporain" (the Cartier Foundation of Contemporary Art) to bring Cartier into the twenty-first century, by forming an association with living artists.
In 1986, the French Ministry for Culture appointed Perrin head of the "Mission sur le mecenat d'entreprise" (a commission to study business patronage of the arts). Two years later, Cartier acquired a majority holding in Piaget and Baume & Mercier. In 1989/1990 the Musee du Petit Palais staged the first major exhibition of the Cartier collection, "l'Art de Cartier".
Perrin founded an international committee in 1991, Comite International de la Haute Horlogerie, to organise its first salon, held on 15 April 1991. This has become an annual meeting place in Geneva for professionals. The next year, the second great exhibition of "l'Art de Cartier" was held at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. In 1993, the "Vendome Luxury Group" was formed as an umbrella company to combine Cartier, Alfred Dunhill, Montblanc, Piaget, Baume & Mercier, Karl Lagerfeld, Chloé, Sulka, Hackett, Seeger.
In 1994, the Cartier Foundation moved to the Rive Gauche and opened a headquarters in a building designed for it by Jean Nouvel. Following the accidental death of Robert Hocq in December of that year, his sister, Brigitte Hocq, became chairman. Joseph Kanoui became vice president of Cartier Monde. The next year, a major exhibition of the Cartier Antique Collection was held in Asia. In 1996, the Lausanne Hermitage Foundation in Switzerland hosted the exhibition "Splendours of the Jewellery", presenting a hundred and fifty years of products by Cartier. As of 2012, Cartier is owned, through Richemont, by the South African Rupert family and 24 year-old who is the granddaughter of Pierre Cartier, Elle Pagels.