What is up, watch geeks? Christian here, and for the next few minutes, I’m going give you the skinny on Rolex.
What you’ll leave knowing:
– How structurally different Rolex is than, well, almost every other watch company.
– Just how important their existence has been to the development of watchmaking.
-Where their “profits” go?
-That they’re worth every penny.
Did you know that Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger LeCoultre, A. Lange & Sohne, Panerai and Piaget are all owned by the same company? Yep, it’s Richmont and those are only some of their brands. And I’d hate to tell you this but Breguet, Blancpain, Omega and Glashütte Original are also bundled together and owned by another company, the Swatch Group.
However, in an industry where everyone is owned and controlled by a few puppeteers, Rolex stands independently. They’re privately held, they answer to themselves and it’s working pretty darn well for them. But we don’t know how well, really. Because they’re privately owned, they have no obligation to disclose their earnings, loses or anything related to their financial records. So, while we can always keep a pulse on Richmont and the Swatch Group, Rolex remains a mystery.
DEVELOPMENT IS KING
Just five years after its founding in 1905 by Hans Wildorf, Rolex received the first Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision from wristwatch, granted by the Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne. Soon after, in 1926, they designed and produced the first waterproof wristwatch, all thanks to their new “Oyster” case. In 1931, Rolex patented their “perpetual” movement, the first unidirectional, self-winding movement. Although not the first watch movement to power itself, it was certainly great technology and, in retrospect, the largest commercial success of its kind. Since, the releases of the Datejust in 1949, Submariner in 1953, GMT Master in 1955 and Daytona in 1963 have shaped the world of wristwatches and, quite frankly, greater culture.
THEY’RE A CHARITY, KIND OF
Technically, they’re also a non-profit company. At the end of the day, the profit generated by the sales of Rolex watches is donated to the Hans Wildorf Foundation which is operated by trustees, not owners. Now, that doesn’t mean the salaries being paid to the executives and trustees aren’t astronomical (no one knows, they’re a private company) but the (likely) hundreds of millions of dollars in net income is donated to the foundation, which invests back into the growth of Rolex. This gives Rolex the opportunity to act autonomously and aggressively reinvest in their own company. Now, how Rolex uses the benefits of this structure is private but it’s probably a safe bet to say it’s an asset.
THE MUD TO THE BOARDROOM
The remarkably wide range of Rolex’s accomplishments define the brand itself. The Day-Date and the Submariner, two of Rolexes greatest achievements, are vastly different watches. And still, both are arguably the most famous and successful within their function and design classes.
Introduced in 1956, the Day-Date was the first wristwatch to feature the Day of the week in full text. It was manufactured only in precious metals (apart from 6 examples that no one has ever seen that were apparently made in steel). From Eisenhower and Glengarry Glen Ross to Tony Soprano, this watch has become a symbol of power and control. Collectors have identified an innumerable amount of Day-Date variations, from enamel dials to diamond bracelets. Most recently the center of attention in the Philips Watch Auction One, the Day-Date has seen a resurgence of appreciation in the mass market. Although it is still not the most valued Rolex within collector circles, the Day-Date is unquestionably one of the most significant wristwatches ever to grace the wrist.
On the other hand, we have the Submariner. In 1953, Rolex manufactured the Submariner to serve a distinct purpose, to survive the beating inflicted by the divers who would wear them. From its inception, it’s been an honest watch built to serve, not one pretending to.
Over the last decade, the Rolex Submariner has been the most studied, publicly praised and desired model in the vintage Rolex market. Whether James Bond or the British Military is to credit, the worlds attention rarely shifts from the Sub. As a result, seemingly insignificant details like “underlines”, fonts, “chapter rings” and even crowns have proven to add astronomical value to particular models. However, these same details, when featured in other Rolex models, often make marginal differences.
I brought these two watches forth to demonstrate the extreme reach of Rolex, their success in two completely dissimilar markets defines their unmatched presence in the wristwatch world.
THE ROLEX WAY
There is no single technique, technology or secret that has or could ensure that Rolex watches are built to the highest standard. It’s a mindset, a desire to ever improve means of production, which yields specific technological results. That mindset drove Rolex to develop the waterproof case, ‘better’ steel and the publics first automatic movement. It’s a company mission of constant, unrelenting improvement.
LET’S TALK DETAILS
Every Rolex is hand assembled. No one gives them that credit but it’s true. Every Rolex is completely manufactured in-house and by the hands of Rolex experts.
Not only are their watches 100% Rolex, but their work is remarkable. Their metal work, for example, is designed with simplicity in mind but still executed to the highest degree. Have a look at the photos below of some beveled lugs, oyster bracelets, crown guards and fluted bezels.
Every brand from Seiko to Jaeger LeCoultre uses 316L surgical quality stainless steel. Now, that’s some top grade stuff, no doubt. But, because Rolex watches are intended to serve as not only tools but unwavering companions, anything short of ultimate durability and resistance isn’t good enough. So, they upped the ante – they use 904L stainless steel. They introduced this steel, which has a higher nickel and chromium content, to prevent from deterioration and corrosion. So, while the rest of the watch manufacturing world is satisfied with materials that work, Rolex begs for more.
And, in case you’re not already impressed, this transition was far from easy. Rolex had to actually replace all of their existing machines designated to work with 316 steel with new machines capable of the new manufacturing. This was no small investment, I’m sure. But it is proof of their dedication to their incredible respect for quality.
Did Rolex always make their watches out of 904L steel? No, that didn’t start until ’84. But they have always lived with that mindset, that driving passion for quality. For watches that are better than the rest, even if their owners don’t always realize it.
THEY ALWAYS HAVE AND ALWAYS WILL UNDERSTAND
Rolex understands the global market for wristwatches better than any other industry figure. Frankly, Rolex understands their market better than nearly any other company, regardless of the field. Always temping, alluding to and ultimately delivering (most of) what their core clients desire and never failing to balance that product with the needs of the rest of the world, the people who don’t live and die to study the crown, rather just want to own it.