Rolex SA was founded in 1905 by the German[citation needed] Hans Wilsdorf and his brother-in-law, Alfred Davis. Contrary to popular belief, Hans Wilsdorf was neither Swiss, nor a watchmaker. Wilsdorf & Davis was the original name of what later became the Rolex Watch Company. They originally imported Hermann Aegler's Swiss movements to England and placed them in quality cases made by Dennison and others. These early wristwatches were then sold to jewellers, who then put their own names on the dial. The earliest watches from Wilsdorf and Davis were usually marked "W&D" inside the caseback.

Hans Wilsdorf, along with Michael Hickman, registered the trademark name "Rolex" in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, in 1908. The word was made up, and its origin is obscure. One story, which was never confirmed by Wilsdorf, is that the word "Rolex" came from the French phrase horlogerie exquise, meaning exquisite clockwork. Another story claims that Wilsdorf was riding a bus when he realized that "rolex" was the sound a watch made while being wound.[3]