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Decent books about Rolex watches are few and far between, but occasionally one pops-up that gets our interest.  Last week, Amazon started shipping “The Rolex Story,” by Franz-Christoph Heel which is an almost coffee table size hardcover book published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd. “The Rolex Story” is loaded with photos and information and is a great reference for the longtime Rolex aficionado and a fantastic book for someone who is new to the Rolex world.

“The Rolex Story” is a 142 page book broken into six sections chronicling the Rolex brand, history, model types, sport versions, elegant and contemporary models. Each section provides the high points and enough detail to understand the concept without getting too technical.  The first section titled “Brand & Myths,” attempts to capture over 100 years of Rolex history in nine pages. This section includes historical photos that compliment the text well. This section covers Rolex’s foundation and provides background as to why Rolex’s watches are on the leading edge of innovation, why they are the most vertically integrated company in the Swiss watch industry, and why their brand recognition rivals companies such as Coca-Cola and Apple Computer. The history section is not as detailed at Dowling & Hess’ “The Best of Time. An Unauthorized History of Rolex Wristwatches,” but this book does not have as many pages. 

Also within the “Brand & Myths” section is “The Oyster Opens” section that has eight dedicated pages devoted to the Rolex manufacturing facilities and watch production. Rolex’s factory is closed to both the public and the press, with rare glimpses inside provided by Rolex to few journalists.  Being a vertically integrated company, Rolex manufactures every part inside its watches from smelting gold to creating the Parachrom in its balance springs.  Most other Swiss watch manufacturers outsource difficult items such as hairsprings and sapphire crystals.  Rolex prefers not to rely upon others in the supply chain and subsequently makes all their parts within four main manufacturing facilities located in Switzerland.  This section of the book provides a description of each facility and is littered with stunning photos.  

The second large section of the book chronicles the history of particular Rolex models.  Rolex designs their watches to be purpose built and this section illustrates the thinking behind each Rolex technical breakthrough and provides insight into Rolex’s design ethos.  This section chronicles the reason behind Rolex’s pursuit for accuracy and certification, waterproofness, chronographic timing functions, and the introduction of real-world adventurers in Rolex’s marketing efforts.   Many of these functions were discovered more than 25 years ago and one of the reasons why Rolex watches very collectible that this section covers well.

The third sections focuses upon how specific Rolex watches are “Instruments for Your Wrist,” providing details on the evolution of the iconic Rolex Submariner, one of the first wristwatches that could withstand the depths reached in SCUBA diving.  This section also covers the evolution and utility of the Rolex GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) series of watches.  One nice aspect of this section are comparisons to other Swiss watch brands and provides contrast to Rolex highlights and features.

“Long Live Sports,” the fourth section of the book moves from the utility Rolex watches chronicled in the third section, and covers Rolex watches designed for specific sports. This section illustrates the background on chronograph development and the manifestation of the Rolex Daytona, the redesign of the Yacht Master II and it’s ring-command functions used for yachting.

The last two sections focus on the Rolex DateJust and Rolex Prince dress watches and a simple profile complete with technical specifications on the notable Rolex models. The last section is not a complete Rolex catalog, but it does provide background for the watches people think of when they hear Rolex.

The Rolex Story” a worthy for anyone’s watch library.  The book provides great detail and background for when the Rolex brand or a particular Rolex wristwatch piques your interest.  The book is not a replacement for purchasing an actual Rolex watch, but act as a decent placebo until watch buying time.  With references to German editors and German watch magazines, it appears that this book was initially published in German and translated into English. If that was the case, the translation is natural with nothing out of syntax. The images are mostly from Rolex’s press photo library. Nonetheless, the images are complementary and provide visual context.  At $33 on Amazon, this is a very reasonable book that every Rolex fan would appreciate.  

– Sheldon Smith