Everyone knows the history of Rolex, but did you ever wonder about the early years of leather watch straps on watches before Rolex made them famous? Rolex was formed by Wilsdorf and Davis the dynamic duo that started it all, and the first Rolex watches used leather straps. The young Hans Wilsdorf had experience in the export field, working for a watch export company. But soon, he became a watch enthusiast with unstoppable passion. He decided to broaden his interest for horology and go into business with an English chap named Alfred James Davis. Davis later married Hans’s younger sister and soon made it a family affair.
In the early days, Wilsdorf and Davis primarily focused on pocket watches and travel clocks that had become increasingly popular in during the early twentieth century. Truth be told, wrist watches with leather watch bands did not come into fashion until sometime later, at least not for men. Originally, they were initially favored on women and only in small numbers. Men just downright didn’t appreciate a wrist watch and frowned upon the idea. Hard to imagine such a thing nowadays with so many Rolex owners being primarily men. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until the Boer War around 1899. I know what you’re thinking – the what war? Actually, there were two Boer wars, the first Anglo-Boer war in 1880 that lasted about a year, and then, a second one broke out again around 1899 that went on for a few years. They were referred to as the Freedom Wars. It was a rebellion of farmers (Boers) in South Africa – basically a war fought by the British Empire and the Dutch Settlers.
The fact is that because the weather in South Africa was so hot during the war and men couldn’t stand to wear their jackets or vests to accommodate the pocket watches, the soldiers figured out how to strap a pocket watch to their wrist using some rather crude leather attachment at the time, the beginnings of a leather watch strap. This, my friends, is where Wilsdorf and Davis found their niche.
Ironically, the wrist watch was born out of necessity, and quickly caught on once Rolex was born. But aren’t usually the best things in life conjured up out of necessity being the mother of invention? The personal computer, the cell phone, the automobile, Rolex….Just imagine if the war was being fought somewhere cooler and they were not forced to remove clothing and still relied on the pocket watch. There are some fascinating photos of that time period showing the leather strap watches of the early Rolex version even though they were not yet named Rolex. Here are a few.
After the Boer wars, around 1906, a London Saddle maker – named Alfred Pearson – took those wristlets (the original name for leather watch straps) and fashioned some wire loops to the ends of a pocket watch. He also fashioned a fine tailored saddle leather to the watches. Customers in droves found them to be a bit more ascetically pleasing as well as adjustable – this gorgeous little invention. The leather watch strap was perfect for sizing around the wrist also. Around this same time is when things started to take off for the small company of Wilsdorf and Davis who registered their company in 1908 as Rolex. What’s even more interesting is there are no facts or history as to the origin of the name Rolex to this day. But, at least you now know the origin of some of the history of the wrist watch and the leather bands.
Today, there are a host of options regarding leather bands and straps for watches, especially for your Rolex. Most consumers are familiar with the Rolex Submariner being the more popular sport divers watch with a stainless steel band. But, did you realize that you can remove the OEM Rolex band and have it refitted with an attractive rubber strap version for comfort and looks? There is a little known company called Everest Horology Products that is starting to gain worldwide attention by the introduction of a rubber band for the sole purpose of replacing the factory Rolex bracelet. At $135.00, for the first version, it is an economical way to enhance your Rolex. There are several color options to choose from depending on your Rolex model, but Everest also offers various color options as well, and for a couple of hundred dollars, you can sport a whole new look. In case you wind up somewhere with inhospitable weather and don’t find it convenient to use your pocket watch, your new Rolex rubber replacement band from Everest Horology just might do the trick.