Rolex – the quiet philantropist

May 13, 2011 | By More

Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex and philantropist

Montres Rolex S.A. today is the company that manufactures the iconic timepiece commonly known as ROLEX. Supposedly the founder, Hans Wilsdorf, came up with the name from the French phrase horologerie exquise, meaning “exquisite clockwork”.

Born in Kulmbach, Bavaria and orphaned as a child, Wilsdorf worked for a Swiss watch manufacturer in La Chaux-de-Fonds and then later moved to London, where he worked for a watch importer. In 1905, he left to form his own business, wanting to provide quality timepieces at affordable prices.

In 1908, he created the Rolex brand to sell his quality timepieces at affordable prices. During World War I, he left England for Switzerland and established Montres Rolex S.A. in Bienne in 1920 .

Bridging the gap between scientists and nomads in Mongolia

Amongst the company’s innovations are many firsts for wristwatches: automatic date (Rolex Datejust, 1945), changing day and date (Rolex Day-Date), waterproof to 100m (Oyster Perpetual Submariner, 1953), two time zones (GMT Master, 1954) and many others.

Upon the death of his wife in 1944, he established the Hans Wildorf Foundation in which he left all of his shares in Rolex, making sure that an amount of the company’s income would go to charity. Today the company remains a private (estimated annual revenues of $3 billion), contributing over 50% of its profits to the foundation. Wilsdorf died in Geneva on July 6, 1960.

Finding a way to transfer unused medical supplies to the developing world

As one of the top two philantropist organisations in Europe, the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation supports the arts, culture, education helping build sports and educational facilities for schools, theatres, literature, architecture and others. They have also supported NGOs to secure and defend childrens’ rights in African countries such as Ethiopia and Senegal.

The Rolex Institute was created to further the company’s philanthropic programmes:

The Rolex Awards for Enterprise recognises pioneering men and women around the world who work to improve life on our planet; and advancing human knowledge and well‐being in the areas of science, technology, exploration, the environment and cultural heritage. Since the Awards were initiated, 110 Rolex Awards have been presented to receipients in more than 60 countries.

The Rolex Awards for Enterprise: Young Laureates Programme funds five young pioneers between 18 and 30 to deploy their ideas to solve tomorrow’s challenges in science and health, applied technology, exploration, the environment and cultural preservation.

Zhang YiMou mentors a Rolex Award protege

The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative seeks out extremely talented young artists in dance, literature, music, film, theatre and visual arts, and brings them together with great masters in their respective fields for a year of creative collaboration in a one‐to‐one mentoring relationship. Since its inception, 234 people, from more than 40 countries, have participated in the Rolex Arts Initiative.

Click here for more info about 2012 Awards

Google Translation from French about the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation
More about Hans-Wilsdorf
The OFFICIAL Rolex Website (Philantrophy)
The Rolex Institute
The Rolex Awards for Enterprise
The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative

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About the Author ()

EngTong, pioneer and innovator. Graduated from Imperial College London with an MBA from Cranfield School of Management. Lived in Scotland, England, California, Beijing and led teams in Italy, France, Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia to do the impossible. Now based in Singapore and believes the future is to blend the sophistication of western management practices with the strength of Asian Values. Trained as a Chartered Engineer. Member of IET, Associate of City and Guilds and a certified SixSigma Champion.

Comments (2)

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  1. Lee Yue Yee says:

    Dear Sir

    I read with interest on The Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initative.
    In Singapore there is a budding HARPIST who wins a place with the prestigious Juilliard Precollege Professional performing Arts School in New York City.
    This program is small and highly selective. For the 2013-2014 they selected only two from stop students around the world.
    However the family has already drained of funds to support his music education since the age of 5.
    Is there any way that the Rolex Foundation may provide finacial assistance in this case.
    Thank you
    Y Y Lee

    • Error: Unable to create directory uploads/2018/12. Is its parent directory writable by the server? ET says:

      Mr Lee,
      As you know, each philantropic organisation will have their own criteria and operating policies. I suggest you contact the them directly. Good luck and All the best.