Why It’s Okay to Hate Rolex

by James Dowling


Posted by James M. Dowling on February 10, 1998 at 22:24:33:

It’s a free world, you can love or hate any one or any thing that you choose. However the point that I would like to make is that a little research might convince even the most ardent critic of Rolex (or of the folks who wear them) that in this case a little tolerance might be no bad thing. Let us first look at the facts and then turn our view upon the perception.

  1. To all intents and purposes, Rolex invented the wristwatch, as we know it. Sure there were companies making and marketing the things before Rolex burst upon the scene in 1905. But none of them put the effort that Rolex did into this new market. The reason for this is that the older companies could see no reason to change; they had major investments in plant and machinery designed specifically to make pocket watches. So why should they change. Rolex had nothing, no history, no factory and most importantly no tradition. So the only option open to them was that of being an innovator; and the innovation they chose was the wristwatch
  2. Rolex without doubt invented the waterproof wristwatch; again as with all their other advances, they were not the originators of the concept. But they were the people who made it work, the screw down crown was a classically simple concept and Wilsdorf had the genius to see the simplicity and make it work for the company.
  3. Once again with self-winding mechanisms, Rolex saw the way the market was going, saw the mistakes all their predecessors had made and neatly sidestepped them all. Whilst many other competing self winding systems have arisen in the 65 years since Rolex introduced the Auto Rotor system, the vast majority of all automatic watches now use a version of the Rolex concept.
  4. However despite all of the above reasons, my opinion is that the greatest advance Rolex have ever made is their decision to gain chronometer certification for a few and then for almost all their watches. In the days before Rolex instituted this program, every watch manufacturer TALKED about the accuracy of their watches; but Rolex were the first people ever to have the accuracy proved by an independent agency. Before the advent of quartz watches; accuracy was in direct relationship to the cost of the watch; therefore people wanted to know that their watch was really accurate. Rolex gave them that assurance.
  5. Nowadays we are all used to the concept of Tool watches, that is watches designed for a particular job or hobby; you know the sort of thing…diving watches, sailing watches, pilot’s watches etc. Well Rolex invented that concept too. The Submariner, the GMT Master and the Milgauss were all pioneers in this field.
  6. Being waterproof and shockproof long before the rest of the watch industry was, Rolex became the natural choice of sports people who needed a watch. From this starting point they then moved to make watches FOR sportsmen; this moved the Tool watch concept on a little further. Watches such as the Explorer 1 and 2 were targeted at climbers and cave explorers, they were simple timepieces but with high visibility dials and very strong cases. Once again they created a market and defined it.
  7. They are, by far, the most innovative of all the Swiss watch companies; as well as all the new ideas mentioned above; Rolex have always pursued a long term development strategy. They have patented more than a thousand advances in horology during their 90+ year history.
  8. Rolex is now the most self-sufficient watch company in Europe; they make all their own movements (apart from chronograph movements), all their cases, all their bracelets and all their crystals. They own most of their distributors and have no shareholders (as all the shares are held by 2 family trusts which have charitable status) because of this they can pursue long term goals without fear.
  9. They are, without doubt, the largest Swiss watchmaker. Producing around 800,000 watches a year, they still sell every watch they make. They are dependent on no single market, one could really say that the world is their OYSTER!!!!!!!! (sorry)
  10. Perhaps the one problem they do have is that they have become a victim of their own success. Whilst the company has not changed its design philosophy; their public perception have changed. Whereas Rolex made its name with sports watches and still makes more of them than any other kind of watch; many people think of diamond encrusted Day-Dates when they hear the name Rolex. However this is not the fault of the company.
  11. Rolex have the longest single continuous ownership of any Swiss watch company; having been owned by the same two families (and its successor trusts) for its entire existence. During this time the company has essentially had only 2 chief executives (the third came to power in 1997). Both of these factors have enabled the company to steer in an uninterrupted course throughout its history.
  12. Many people whine about the cost of a new Rolex; they forget 2 things. Firstly Rolex manage to sell every watch they make (so obviously SOME people do not think they are too expensive). Secondly, no-one was ever forced to buy a Rolex watch; it is a decision people make with their own free will and their own money. In the end, the free market rules everything.
  13. It is difficult to talk about Rolex watches without talking about resale value; in simple terms Rolex (new or used) retain a higher percentage of their cost than any other production Swiss watch. Everything from the no date Submariner all the way to the President can be resold in an instant anywhere in the world, for very good money. Also, if the watch was bought used, it is quite possible to wear a Rolex for 2 or 3 years and sell it for the same price you paid for it. Apart from the cost of the money invested, essentially that makes it a free watch.
  14. One of the reasons to buy a Rolex may well be one of the best, but undoubtedly one that no-one ever thinks of: it is that most of the profits made through the sale of the watches go to good causes. As mentioned above, the company is owned by two family trusts. The larger one (the Wilsdorf family trusts) gives a fixed sum to the remaining members of his family but the majority is given to charitable causes; including a high school in his home town and the watchmakers school in Geneva. This gives rise to the thought that if it were not for the substantial profits made by Rolex, there would probably be no Franck Muller; because it was at the Geneva watchmaker’s school that Muller learned his trade.

As I said in the introduction, if you want to hate Rolex; then be my guest but at least I hope when you do you will at least give the devil his due.

Please note the above is copyright James M. Dowling 1998; reproduction & distribution prohibited without written permission from the author.