For many people, the magnetic charm of luxury is hard to resist. While it may involve items that are currently in style, there are some luxury items which go over time, such as jewelry from Cartier, a Rolex watch, or a Rolls-Royce. Originating in 1904 as a partnership between Charles Stewart Rolls and Sir Frederick Henry Royce, it is their company that gives us, in diminutive terms, today’s word: Rolls.
For a luxury standard, Rolls has certainly had an unexpectedly turbulent history. From it’s very beginning, Rolls-Royce was a success: they built 6,000 of their first new model, the 40/50hp, in 1906, and, during the First World War, they converted their factory to build airplane engines, supplying nearly half of all Allied aircraft. Between the wars and up to the late 1960’s, the company continued to expand, briefly operating an overseas facility in Springfield, Mass., USA (1921-31), acquiring luxury car competitor Bentley in 1931, and devoting a larger share of the business to producing varied and innovative engines for aircraft and other machinery. Unfortunately, it was the difficulty in development of an engine- the RB211 turbofan- that caused the severe financial strain which caused Rolls-Royce to be nationalised by the Heath government in 1971. In the years since the motor company was spun off in 1973, Rolls-Royce has recommitted itself to building some of the finest luxury cars on the planet, and the market definitely seems to approve: Rolls recently announced a fifth straight year of sales increases and a 5-fold increase in sales from 2009 to 4,063 vehicles sold in 2014.
While “Rolls” seems destined to reach further heights in the luxury car market, its mentions in the English language seem to reveal its military tradition as well as the beauty, style, and wealth associated with its luxury status. The first mention of the word goes back to its military aviation history, as Harold Rosher in 1915 writes, “Had a first-rate crossing [presumably, the Channel], and was met by one of the Rolls at Boulogne.” Beyond its initial reference, Rolls has been widely used for its symbology, such as in Edgar Wallace’s The Double (1928), “Dick knew the gentleman very well by name; indeed, he had recognized his big yellow Rolls standing outside the hotel,” and J.B. Morton’s The Best of Beachcomber (1963), “She has a Rolls body and a Balham mind.” While many words have been used to discuss a Rolls, perhaps none have summed it up as succinctly as James May from BBC’s Top Gear, who, during the Albanian Challenge in Series 16 stated, “It’s just… nice….it’s nice in a Rolls Royce.”