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Thread: Rolex DIDN'T make the first self winding watch!

  1. #1
    Master bobbee's Avatar
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    Rolex DIDN'T make the first self winding watch!

    I like Rolex, and have nothing but respect for (most!) collectors of them, but I see and hear their claims of inventing the automatic wrist watch first, and laugh quietly to myself.
    This is their patent, from 1933: https://worldwide.espacenet.com/publ...&locale=en_EP#

    We can see that it was applied for in Aug. 1931, registered on 31st. Oct. 1932, and published 2nd. Jan. 1933.

    Rolex claim on their website to have "invented and patented the world's first self winding mechanism with a perpetual rotor" in 1931.

    This is not the truth.

    Here is a patent I found in 2015, posted elsewhere.

    https://www.google.co.uk/patents/US1...ed=0CCoQ6AEwAg

    https://patentimages.storage.googlea...S1853637-0.png

    As can be seen in both the description and the images, the patent was for a self-winding movement, "This invention relates to watches and more especially to wrist watches", that worked in the same (similar) fashion to a Rolex Aegler movement!
    Yet amazingly was applied for in Jan. 1929, and granted in April 1932, long before Rolex.

    I would like to take a moment here to point out this: A certain watch museum curator has claimed that the Rolex patent is not for a self-winding mechanism at all. He claims it is actually for a manual winding mechanism.
    I and many others took him at his word at first, but my later research found this to be false.
    I came to this conclusion by reading the patent claims in English, here: http://translationportal.epo.org/emt...=fr&TRGLANG=en


    Mechanism according to claim 1, characterized in that one of the ratchet wheels is connected to a usual rim of the retainer while the other meshes with a gear operated by a mass which moves relative to the ratchet Built during the accelerations imposed on the watch.
    As can be seen, it mentions a gear operated by a mass which moves relative to the ratchet, and this means a rotor as the mass.
    I was still not believed by the curator, but I will leave it to yourselves to decide who may be correct.

    Back to the topic in hand, and we can also see in the patent that the company backing Max Reiner is the Perpetual Self Winding Watch Co. Operating out of New York and owned/run by Emil Frey, the company went on to market a pendulum-type self winding wrist watch, which did not prove popular.
    Other companies that predate Rolex include John Harwood, who patented and marketed several self winding watches. First in 1923 with his bumper movement, for which Rolex were required to publish an apology in British newspapers in the 1960's. Rolex changed their claim from "First self winding watch" to "first self winding perpetual rotor watch".

    Even earlier than Harwood was the L. LeRoy self winding watch, several examples have been found of these pendulum powered wrist watches, which date - according to LeRoy's records - to 1922.

    Harwood watch.





    LeRoy watch.









    Max Reiner actually had five different patents regarding self-winding watch movements, a very busy and inventive mind.


    Rolex didn't even have the first marketed waterproof watch with the Oyster in 1927, this was predated by well over a decade by the same company that marketed Harwood watches at the time, Walter Vogt, later to become Fortis. Their watch was called the "Aquatic", and each watch was kept under water for 14 days before being placed on sale, and featured a hinged metal hook end that held down the crown.


    Aquatic watch.







    So, don't believe everything you hear!

    Thanks, Bob.
    Last edited by bobbee; 21st July 2018 at 10:22. Reason: Reinstating photos

  2. #2
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    Apple didn't invent the smartphone but they made the first one that was any good. Same with rolex and automatics I feel...

    Even Breguet made an automatic winding pocket watch, amongst others, Perrelet?

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    I'm sure I read recently that Rolex had retracted that statement as it's not correct.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 744ER View Post
    Apple didn't invent the smartphone but they made the first one that was any good. Same with rolex and automatics I feel...

    Even Breguet made an automatic winding pocket watch, amongst others, Perrelet?
    Hubert Sarton, 1778.

    http://www.ancienne-horlogerie.com/r...definitive.pdf

    The Rolex's popularity in the early years was down to marketing, something that others caught onto fairly quickly.
    Think Mercedes Gleitz swimming the Channel with one around her neck, and her trainer Jabez Wolffe wearing one while training in the sea.






    Like the thread name though, they did not invent the first like they claimed.
    I am merely putting the record straight, don't shoot the messenger...
    Last edited by bobbee; 21st July 2018 at 10:26. Reason: Reinstating photos

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    Quote Originally Posted by stix View Post
    I'm sure I read recently that Rolex had retracted that statement as it's not correct.

    Go to the Rolex official website. They claim to have made the first Perpetual rotor self winding movement.

    Their retraction was as I wrote above in the OP, and was regarding John Harwood's claim.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bobbee View Post


    Rolex didn't even have the first marketed waterproof watch with the Oyster in 1927, this was predated by well over a decade by the same company that marketed Harwood watches at the time, Walter Vogt, later to become Fortis. Their watch was called the "Aquatic", and each watch was kept under water for 14 days before being placed on sale, and featured a hinged metal hook end that held down the crown.


    Aquatic watch.







    So, don't believe everything you hear!

    Thanks, Bob.
    The Submarine watch probably predates the Aquatic dating back to the end of 1915 and advertised through out 1916-1919. interestingly this was also marketed as antimagnetic more than 10 years before Tissot's claim

    Good write up on this little known watch here
    http://www.vintagewatchstraps.com/blogsubmarine.php

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by bobbee View Post
    Best to save this kind of post for The Boys Room, fnarr

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    Fascinating read and thanks so much for taking the time to share. That Harwood is a stunner in the photo


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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    Quote Originally Posted by animalone View Post
    The Submarine watch probably predates the Aquatic dating back to the end of 1915 and advertised through out 1916-1919. interestingly this was also marketed as antimagnetic more than 10 years before Tissot's claim

    Good write up on this little known watch here
    http://www.vintagewatchstraps.com/blogsubmarine.php

    I often message David with the occasional find, and he has graciously posted several of them on his site. I wonder when he will post this one below...







    The above is the earliest (1915) known advert for a watch that uses a sub dial at 9 o'clock. David thinks it is a Borgel cased Longines movement, and at first he thought it was just an advertising error, until it was noticed the numerals on the sub dial actually are "upright" and not horizontal as they would be if it was an error.
    I found much of the info he writes about on my own, not saying before he posted it on his site though!
    The Submarine watch is based on the Dennison case, but as posted on David's site there are earlier waterproof cases.
    Last edited by bobbee; 21st July 2018 at 10:28. Reason: Reinstating photos

  10. #10
    Master bobbee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RustyBin5 View Post
    Fascinating read and thanks so much for taking the time to share. That Harwood is a stunner in the photo


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    Many thanks.
    I posted a heck of a lot of wrist watch stuff over at WUS, some going back to the early 1800's. I won't post a link but it was on F11.

  11. #11
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    They may not have made the first Auto, but clearly, they're as good at Marketing and branding now, as they were back in those days. Good to see a post with great information and true research applied to it, thank you.

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    Certainly looks like a Borgel case, I have seen earlier watches with the subdial at 9o'clock but they all have the 12 at the crown so that one is very interesting, thanks for sharing
    I'll pm you a couple of pictures from an old catalogue I have.


    Quote Originally Posted by bobbee View Post
    I often message David with the occasional find, and he has graciously posted several of them on his site. I wonder when he will post this one below...







    The above is the earliest (1915) known advert for a watch that uses a sub dial at 9 o'clock. David thinks it is a Borgel cased Longines movement, and at first he thought it was just an advertising error, until it was noticed the numerals on the sub dial actually are "upright" and not horizontal as they would be if it was an error.
    I found much of the info he writes about on my own, not saying before he posted it on his site though!
    The Submarine watch is based on the Dennison case, but as posted on David's site there are earlier waterproof cases.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by W44NNE View Post
    They may not have made the first Auto, but clearly, they're as good at Marketing and branding now, as they were back in those days. Good to see a post with great information and true research applied to it, thank you.

    They are brilliant at marketing and hype, but the watches are truly excellent, nobody can deny that.

    And thank you very much for the comments.

  14. #14
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    Rolex DIDN'T make the first self winding watch!

    Thanks bobbee for such an interesting post on Watch Talk. I find David's site fascinating as well. Out of interest does this trademark appear on the Borgel cased Longines (lifted from Mikrolisk)?


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    For whatever reason, the first inventors of a device are rarely the people who profit most. In the case of Rolex, it's a bit more than simple marketing. They made these watches in large enough numbers, at a price some people could afford, and made them very well. Their rivals fell-short on at least one of these aspects.it's staying the course that really matters.
    The strangest thing to me is that Rolex were initially a British company, based in London.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by alfat33 View Post
    Thanks bobbee for such an interesting post on Watch Talk. I find David's site fascinating as well. Out of interest does this trademark appear on the Borgel cased Longines (lifted from Mikrolisk)?


    It appears on all Borgel and the later Taubert (Borgel sold the company in the early twenties) cases, I think even solid gold ones.

    Thanks, glad you like the thread.

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    Quote Originally Posted by paskinner View Post
    For whatever reason, the first inventors of a device are rarely the people who profit most. In the case of Rolex, it's a bit more than simple marketing. They made these watches in large enough numbers, at a price some people could afford, and made them very well. Their rivals fell-short on at least one of these aspects.it's staying the course that really matters.
    The strangest thing to me is that Rolex were initially a British company, based in London.
    I know what you mean, Harwood sold over 30,000 watches, but went skint soon after.
    What surprised me a few years ago was finding out that the Swiss were copying English watches way back when, because the quality was unsurpassed.
    They put the names of genuine English makers on cases and movements, and sold the first watch fakes.
    What goes around comes around, eh?

  18. #18
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    They also did not invent the helium escape valve


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    Next somebody will claim that Seiko makes better divers than Rolex...?

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    Quote Originally Posted by paskinner View Post
    For whatever reason, the first inventors of a device are rarely the people who profit most. In the case of Rolex, it's a bit more than simple marketing. They made these watches in large enough numbers, at a price some people could afford, and made them very well. Their rivals fell-short on at least one of these aspects.it's staying the course that really matters.
    The strangest thing to me is that Rolex were initially a British company, based in London.
    Not quite, the partners moved the watch making business to Switzerland to avoid taxes, but Rolex has always been a Swiss company, Rolex as a brand name was registered in La Chaux-de-Fonds on 2 July 1908

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    Quote Originally Posted by Raffe View Post
    Next somebody will claim that Seiko makes better divers than Rolex...?
    I'm sure they will, but they'd be wrong.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ar.parask View Post
    They also did not invent the helium escape valve


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    Or the Rubik's cube!

  23. #23
    A really enjoyable post which, despite debunking a myth, does nothing to detract from rolex as a quality brand.

    In several instances much of the brands success in the early days came from the acquisition and improvement of existing patents - that and a relentless marketing machine that exists to this day.

    An enjoyable read.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Raffe View Post
    Next somebody will claim that Seiko makes better divers than Rolex...?
    They certainly make superb dive watches , worn by many, many, at a fraction of the cost. That's one perfectly reasonable interpretation of 'better.'

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    Does anyone else remember when Cartier claimed to have invented the wristwatch?

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    Quote Originally Posted by animalone View Post
    Does anyone else remember when Cartier claimed to have invented the wristwatch?

    Yes, many claim it but none have proof. Even Omega claim to have the first (1902), but I have found the advert and it is for a pocket watch in a wristlet.









    Here is an earlier one from 1893, and a photograph I found from 1888 with three officers wearing wristlets. All way before Omega!










    Girard Perregaux claim that The German Kaiser Willhelm ordered wrist watches for his naval officers in 1880, but they have no proof of this. Their website shows a trench watch with a 1916 patented crystal guard as their "proof".

    The nearest I have found is an article from 1900 saying that Willhelm the 2nd. wore a wrist watch on a bracelet.
    Last edited by bobbee; 21st July 2018 at 10:34. Reason: Reinstating photos

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    Quote Originally Posted by Umbongo View Post
    A really enjoyable post which, despite debunking a myth, does nothing to detract from rolex as a quality brand.

    In several instances much of the brands success in the early days came from the acquisition and improvement of existing patents - that and a relentless marketing machine that exists to this day.

    An enjoyable read.

    Great post, thanks very much.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bobbee View Post

    Girard Perregaux claim that The German Kaiser Willhelm ordered wrist watches for his naval officers in 1880, but they have no proof of this. Their website shows a trench watch with a 1916 patented crystal guard as their "proof".

    The nearest I have found is an article from 1900 saying that Willhelm the 2nd. wore a wrist watch on a bracelet.
    That picture always troubled me because it looks like the watch has luminous numerals, if I remember correctly luminous paint wasn't developed until about 1910 ? so surly that cant be the same watch they talk about from 1880

  29. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by animalone View Post
    That picture always troubled me because it looks like the watch has luminous numerals, if I remember correctly luminous paint wasn't developed until about 1910 ? so surly that cant be the same watch they talk about from 1880
    Correct, and the site begs for anyone to send them info if they have any that could help prove their claim.

    Here is a good one.
    This repeating movement in a ladies wrist watch was made by Louis Brandt (Omega) for Audemars Piguet in 1889.
    Simply stunning.



    Last edited by bobbee; 21st July 2018 at 10:39. Reason: Reinstating photos

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    ^^^^^That is tiny for a repeating mechanism

    these are the oldest wristwatches I could find pictures of in my books, my German is non-existent so if anyone wants to translate please feel free.
    I believe they all date from the first part of the 1800s



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    Those are great watches, wish I could read German...
    Breguet has records for a wrist watch made for the Queen of Naples in 1810, and Patek Philippe made a wristwatch for Countess Kosccowicz of Hungary in 1869.
    I have these two, first is circa 1790, second can be found on display at the Worshipful Company of clockmakers Museum, London and is circa 1780.
    You can see the similarities in design with each other (and some of those you posted animalone!) that show they are from around the same time.





    These are from 1585 and 1650 respectively, and show that the movements are certainly small enough to fit in a wrist watch!




    Last edited by bobbee; 21st July 2018 at 10:44. Reason: Reinstating photos

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    ^^ is that the one from the Cheapside Hoard????
    Emerald case is incredible

  33. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by animalone View Post
    ^^ is that the one from the Cheapside Hoard????
    Emerald case is incredible
    Correct, I would love to see them. That emerald is gorgeous though...

  34. #34
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    The Swiss claim a number of false firsts in the watch industry. They even teach their apprentices these falsehoods.
    Press in jewels, non magnetic and low expansion hairsprings: Americans. Lever escapement, marine chronometer, pendulum: English. There are many more

    Brendan(webwatchmaker)

  35. #35
    Master bobbee's Avatar
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    A small addendum to this thread.
    Back in 2014, whilst doing some research on early wristwatches, I came across these three articles in US newspapers, concerning a self-winding wristwatch.
    All dated to 1890.







    After posting these articles, which were seen as interesting but not accepted by some as anything other than a pocket watch in some kind of holder, it took over eighteen months but I eventually found proof of this watch in the shape of a patent. I was ecstatic about this find, a vindication of my earlier finds.

    https://worldwide.espacenet.com/publ...C&locale=en_EP

    Images from patent.







    Then fairly recently I was conversing via email with David Boettcher of vintagewatchstraps.com, and sent him the images and patent above. To my utter surprise, David sent me this image a few days later:







    Notice the legend below the top centre watch?
    "NEVER WANT WINDING"!
    So not only do we have articles and patents, but now we have a manufacturer and an 1890 advertisement, the famous LeRoy et Fils, who went on to make 'pendulum' self winding wristwatches circa 1920, as seen in my first post.

    This isn't the end of the story though, as just today this page from a July 5th. 1890 edition of 'The Graphic' magazine arrived.







    Added bonus with this purchase is the reverse has large advertisements for Benson's watches, Negretti & Zambra binoculars, and Samuel Fox & Co 'Paragon' umbrellas of which I have a very nice vintage whangee example. A nice black frame for this 'cherry on the top', and a place above the cabinet, just as a reminder like...

  36. #36
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    Fascinating documentary evidence. Amazing this stuff is still surviving.

    Sent from my CLT-L09 using Tapatalk

  37. #37
    If I understand right, it is kind of winding system that definitely is not automatic.

  38. #38
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    Thanks for the update Bob, incredible how you find this information.

    I’d say the bracelet system is as automatic as a rotor-based system. A regular movement that the wearer performs anyway, has the side effect of putting energy into the mainspring. Not as convenient or practical as a rotor system.

    The only automatic mechanical winding system I can think of that doesn’t involve external movement is the Atmos, but maybe there are others.

  39. #39
    Master bobbee's Avatar
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    Thanks all, but especially you Simon as you understand both the mechanics involved, and the system itself.
    If by simply putting on the watch winds it fully, for a claimed 30 hours, then it surely comes under 'self-winding'.
    I wonder if applied to a modern watch this could become quite the 'in' thing, think of the many applications and permutations there could be.

  40. #40
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    For me Rolex is somewhere in the middle of the invention and improvement of automatic movements.
    From Perrelet to Harwood to this to Rolex to Eterna to Seiko. All were steps along the road to what we wear today, each standing on the shoulders of those that came before.
    For Rolex to co-opt history for marketing purposes is dirty pool in my mind and one reason I find the brand increasingly distasteful.
    It’s a real shame as they have a strong history to use when advertising without reaching for dubious ‘firsts’ or historical achievements cough-Everest-cough.


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    Oh this will be like the Omega Speedmaster being the only watch worn on the moon then!

  42. #42
    Grand Master SimonK's Avatar
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    How about looking into who made the first hacking movement? GSTPs and WWWs didn't have this nor, I think, the AM 6B, although it would have been a useful feature - we are always seeing military units in war films synchronise their watches before a mission. The Smiths W10 had this feature, what about the Mk X and Mk XI?

  43. #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by SimonK View Post
    How about looking into who made the first hacking movement? GSTPs and WWWs didn't have this nor, I think, the AM 6B, although it would have been a useful feature - we are always seeing military units in war films synchronise their watches before a mission. The Smiths W10 had this feature, what about the Mk X and Mk XI?
    Very interesting Simon. I know that the US Type A-11 watches were hacking circa 1941/42, not sure who invented the first though.
    I think the MWR brainboxes would probably have the answer...

  44. #44
    If anyone wants to read about very early self winding mechanisms then this book is the a wealth of information: http://www.watkinsr.id.au/Origins.html

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