Every Rolex has a tale to tell...
As expensive as a Rolex is, the Swiss watch brand is one of the largest and most coveted in the world.
Statistics show that Rolex is in more demand than Omega, Longines and Cartier combined. Its 3-10 year waitlists are testament to this.
While Rolex were the first to invent the waterproof, airtight and dustproof wristwatch among other innovations, the brand has much more incremental and conservative changes to its designs these days.
So, what exactly is it that keeps this mysterious brand in business and why is it so protective of its name and product?
Why do people spend the money on a Rolex?
There are two kinds of people that purchase a Rolex; those who appreciate the high quality craftmanship and long-lasting daily wear.
And those who don’t know much about watches, only that a Rolex is the best you can have and is sure to draw attention.
Almost everyone knows what a Rolex watch is, what it looks like and what it means to have one on your wrist. A Rolex can be a conversation starter all on its own, it doesn’t matter if it is the cheapest one on the market.
There is no denying the sense of confidence, reliability, and dignity the brand name represents. Owning one of these watches opens doors and conversations with a whole new level of people, like having a Platinum life membership to an exclusive club.
Rolex watches are not just a practical object that helps with daily time keeping, they are the perfect combination of engineering, art and design.
So versatile and classic, they are appropriate for any occasion and part of any ensemble. They truly are a watch you can wear every day, which makes a Rolex worth the investment alone!
Watch collectors and aficionados simply love the Rolex brand and will pay lots of money to wear it.
But of course, investing in a luxury Rolex watch may also be a financial decision as Rolex is one of the very few brands to hold its value on the second hand market. Because they are so popular and in such high demand, it is most often that a Rolex appreciates in value.
But perhaps the biggest reason for making this milestone purchase is just that, its to celebrate a milestone or is true marker of personal success.
Many Rolex owners view a Rolex watch as an item to reward themselves or to mark an occasion such as a 21st birthday. A Rolex last a lifetime (or two!) and makes the perfect reminder for the wearer.
Not to mention, a Rolex can be handed down generations making even more precious and sentimental.
Why is a Rolex so expensive?
In their own words, Rolex enjoys an unrivalled reputation throughout the world for quality and precision in luxury watchmaking.
Rolex watches show time incredibly accurately and are extremely sturdy and reliable. But that is just the tip of the iceberg…
A commonly known fact in the watch community is that Rolex uses a type of steel that no other watch manufacturer uses.
Steel comes in a range of types and grades and most high end watches are produced using a type of stainless steel called 316L.
Since 2003, all Rolex watches are created using 904L steel which is more rust and corrosion resistant and is more robust than other steels (which also makes it much more difficult to work with).
Rolex had to replace most of their steel working machines and tools to deal with 904L steel and this is proof of how dedicated they are to their standard of the highest quality. It can also explain some of the price tag.
But perhaps the most important thing is that 904L steel can hold an unbelievable shine and polish.
It has also been said that Rolex has preposterous standards for diamonds, rubies, and emeralds that must be provided by outside suppliers.
Rolex reports that in the years they have been testing diamonds, only two in 20 million have been fake. Surely this would give them the confidence to not bother with the meticulous testing process.
Yet Rolex continue to test each batch of diamonds, which happen to only be IF in clarity, and D-G in colour (the four grades closest to white).
Rolex are also very dedicated to constantly improving their age-old quality and superiority as opposed to changing the watch landscape with a range of new looks every season.
They have a large research and development team that work in purpose-built labs at their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
The purpose of these labs isn’t just to research new watches and things that may go into watches, but also to research more effective and efficient manufacturing techniques. They even have a stress room where watch movements, bracelets, and cases undergo simulated wear and tear on custom-made machines and robots.
Is a Rolex really of superior quality?
One of the biggest things that set them apart from the rest is that everything from Rolex movements to bracelets are assembled by hand. While machines help with doing things such as applying the right pressure when attaching pins, aligning parts, and pressing down hands, each individual watch is handmade.
Rolex even produces their own gold in-house. 24k gold comes into Rolex and it is turned into 18k yellow, white, or Rolex’s Everose gold which is their non-fading version of 18k rose gold.
Rolex started with watches that were an “Officially Certified Chronometer” but Rolex decided to differentiate itself by obtaining certificates avec mention (certificates of superior performance).
By the late 1950's, Rolex launched a new generation of movements which were up to three times more precise than the criteria for obtaining a mention.
The chronometer certificates avec mention disappeared in 1973 but the inscription “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” remains as a reminder of this pioneering achievement.
Because of Rolex’s rather fanatical processes, from starting to shape the parts of the case to testing each completed watch for accuracy, the production of a single watch takes a whole year.
Rolex is very secretive about its data and does not disclose its yearly production, but experts estimate it anywhere between 800,000 and 1 million watches a year.
As well as each individual watch taking a year to be created and rigorously tested, each Rolex watch movement has a unique serial number that is photographed and matched with a case that also has a different unique serial number.
In the future when the watch is serviced, a watchmaker can learn everything there is to know about it.
Why are Rolex so protective of their brand?
When was the last time you heard an interview from the CEO of Rolex, Jean-Frederic Dufour?
You probably never have, as Rolex has a strict no interview policy, and that is not the only privacy ploy they enter into. The brand takes the concept of Swiss discreetness to a new level.
There is an impenetrable shroud of secrecy around them and you can only know what they want you to know.
Rolex’s secretive and quietly confidential nature adds to the mystery and desirability of the brand. You always want what you can’t have it seems!
Understandably no photography is allowed in any Rolex building, and all employees carry ID cards that are rigorously and regularly checked.
Accessing the Rolex safe requires entering a bank vault door and passing an iris scanner that identifies employees via their eyes.
There is a very real mystique behind the manufacturing process and operations of the entire company.
Shipments of Rolex watches are conducted with military levels of security, because a Rolex really is as good as gold around the world.
When it comes to marketing, Rolex adopts the principle that you should already know who they are. Their consumers actively seek them out, they don’t need to come to you.
But to ensure they stay top of mind, Rolex has subtle way of branding. Watch golf, tennis, F1, yacht racing or equestrian events (some of the biggest and most elite sports in the world) and you will see the name Rolex and the recognisable crown everywhere.
What this means is that you don’t only connect Rolex to fine watchmaking but also to the prestige around these globally loved sports.
The Rolex brand is consistent, reliable and most importantly, one of the most trusted in the world.
The company stays true to its proven methods and chooses to make continuous improvements instead of pursuing the new and different. Rolex focuses on a core set of products that improve, but vary very little, over the years.
Rolex does not produce overly complicated watches such as tourbillons or repeaters, rarely launches new collections, and stays away from online sales. And you can think again about there ever being a Rolex smartwatch.
They make small but classic changes to their range like larger cases, improved movements, ceramic bezels and now and again a new colour.
This makes them predictable, yet confident, classic and timeless.
Why is there a wait list for a Rolex?
One of Rolex’s most popular and most recognised designs is the Submariner.
Known for its excellent water resistance and versatile design, the Rolex Submariner Date LV model is fondly known as the “Hulk” due to its special green dial and bezel. The Hulk is the successor to the smaller "Kermit" LV.
But if you think you can waltz into a Rolex jewellery boutique and purchase one of these stunning timepieces and walk out with it proudly on your wrist… you can think again.
The waitlist for a Rolex Submariner Date LV is up to 8 years (and many people are willing to sit it out)! But why don’t Rolex just up their production numbers?
Rolex brings approximately as many models into stores as it expects to sell, and this leads to exclusivity and waitlists for the next few to come in.
The waiting lists are maintained as part of the brand's mystique of exclusiveness.
The extra demand generates higher prices as the less Rolex watches there are out there, the more valuable they are.
Also, the pinnacle of desirability is reached when the thing you want is not available. The hunt for the world’s most desirable watch (which is often unsuccessful) only adds to the Rolex myth.
The mystique surrounding Rolex is a major contributing factor to their continued and unqualified success. But there is a way to get around these wait times for a genuine Rolex.
Keep an eye out for sales from fellow Rolex enthusiasts, but be prepared to pay as much as (or even more than) retail value for the privilege.
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