In 1905 Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law Alfred Davis founded "Wilsdorf and Davis" in London. Their main business at the time was importing Hermann Aegler's Swiss movements to England and placing them in quality 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 word was made up, and its origin is obscure. Wilsdorf was said to want his watch brand's name to be easily pronounceable in any language. One story, never confirmed by Wilsdorf, is that the name came from the French phrase horlogerie exquise, meaning "exquisite clockwork". Another story claims that "rolex" was meant to evoke the sound of a watch being wound. The book The Best of Time: Rolex Wrist Watches by J.Hess and J. Dowling says that the name was just made up.
In 1919 Wilsdorf 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. The company moved out of the United Kingdom because taxes and export duties on the case metals (silver and gold) were driving costs up.
Upon the death of his wife in 1944, Wilsdorf established the Hans Wildorf 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.
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