Throughout its illustrious history, Rolex has sponsored and attached itself as a brand to some of the most important chapters of history. From Sir Edmund Hillary sporting a Rolex Explorer on his wrist, as he triumphantly conquered Mount Everest for the first time alongside Tenzing Norgay in 1953, to a Rolex Deepsea Challenge watch, which survived being attached to the submersible that took James Cameron 10,908m into the depths of the Pacific Ocean, to reach ‘Challenger Deep’, the deepest point of the worlds oceans.
These important advances in watch technology have always been much more than just gimmicks and has provided the collector with a rich source of timepieces, these luxury watches have continued to be a good investment too. As Rolex watches have remained a good store of value, they have become a perfect form of collateral for a pawnbroking loan.
Always a brand to push the boundaries of the capabilities of previous wristwatches, it was one of their first marketing ploys, back in 1927 promoting the newly developed totally waterproof “Oyster” model, that proved to be one of their biggest coups.
On October 7th 1927 Miss Mercedes Gleitz, a young typist and part time swimmer from London, on her eighth attempt, had just become the first English woman and only the twelfth person in history to successfully swim the English Channel. It had taken her fifteen hours and fifteen minutes, and the gruelling task had taken its toll on the young Miss Gleitz, who collapsed exhausted after the swim, remaining unconscious for over two hours. Unsurprising seeing as the swim had been attempted in the far more hazardous month of October, as opposed to the previously favoured months of July and August.
Glory, however was short lived for Mercedes Gleitz, as within a week of her triumphant swim, a woman by the name of Mona McLennan, claimed to have completed the same swim in a much faster time of thirteen hours and ten minutes. However, suspicions quickly arose as the legitimacy of Mclennans claim, and under closer scrutiny, she quickly admitted she was lying and her entire account was a hoax.
Unfortunately for Miss Gleitz, even though she had genuinely completed the swim, the public now had doubts as to whether or not her account of events rang true. Guilty by association it seemed. Deeply upset with the accusations, Miss Gleitz defiantly announced “Alrite, I’ll do it again” and the date of October 21st was set for what would be coined “The Vindication Swim”
Wilsdorf sent a letter to Miss Gleitz, offering her the gift of a gold Rolex Oyster watch, to wear during her mammoth swim. In exchange Gleitz would provide a testimonial about the watch and its performance.Never one to miss an opportunity, Hans Wilsdorf, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Rolex, caught wind of the upcoming event, and saw this as the perfect vehicle to launch his new fully waterproof “Rolex Oyster” released the year before in 1926, into the public eye
The Vindication Swim took place on 21st October 1927, and according to the The London Times “conditions we’re brutal”. Extreme cold conditions meant that at times during the attempt Gleitz had to battle slipping into a coma, due to the exhaustion and excesses she was putting her body through. Despite her valiant effort, after over ten hours battling the elements, Mercedes Gleitz was lifted into a rescue boat seven miles short of the finish and the vindication swim was over.
However due to the massive character and bravery displayed by Glietz during the attempt, few now had little doubt that her previous attempt had indeed been authentic.
However, it was in the rescue boat that a reporter noticed a small gold watch being worn on a riband around the neck of Miss Gleitz, and noticed he was keeping good time and must have throughout the attempt.
As promised on 27th October Mercedes Gleitz sent a letter to Hans Wilsdorf. It read: “You will like to hear that the Rolex Oyster watch that I carried on my Channel swim proved itself a reliable and accurate timekeeping companion even though it was subjected to complete immersion for hours in seawater at a temperature of not more than 58 and often as low as 51. This is to say nothing about the sustained buffeting it must have received. Not even the quick change to
the high temperature in the boat cabin when I was lifted from the water seemed to effect the even tenour of its movement. The newspaper man was astonished and I, of course, am delighted with it.
Wilsdorf obviously took full advantage of this priceless review purchasing a now famous front page advertisement in the “London Daily Mail” on November 24th.
The Rolex Oyster had arrived, and with the help of Mercedes Gleitz, arrived with world wide acclaim
This is a great example of the big part the Rolex brand has played in building it’s own mythology and worth. If you want a piece of history, as well as a stylish investment stop by Hopkins and Jones, London pawnbrokers, to see our range of vintage Rolex watches.