While digital watches and smart watches remain popular, luxury timepieces are timeless works of craftsmanship. Earlier this year, several leading luxury timepiece companies unveiled their novelties for the se...
How Rolex Became so SuccessfulMay 22, 2019 - Watch Articles
How Rolex Became so Successful:
- Quality over quantity
- Luxury image
- Celebrity endorsement
- Horological innovation
- Defining Rolex watches
Throughout their history, Rolex has kept their watch collections succinct, preferring to improve upon existing series. According to our head horologist, Tom Pozsgay, “The crux of Rolex’s success is in making a quality product and keeping things simple.” Rather than adoring their watches with multiple complications, such as a power reserve indicator, minute repeater or tourbillion, simplicity and excellence has been at the core of Rolex’s value.
2. Quality over quantity
A key aspect of Rolex’s success lies in their commitment to quality over quantity. As opposed to cheaply mass-produced watches, creating robust and reliable luxury watches requires great time and precision from master watchmakers. It is believed that Rolex produces about one million watches a year. While this may sound like a lot, many people find themselves on waiting lists for these timepieces. Rolex tightly controls how may new watches are available at retailers, lowering supply despite increased demand to drive up prices.
While a limited number of new Rolex watches available in stores, there are plenty of pre-owned Rolex watches on the second-hand market. Due to their exceptional construction and impeccable reputation, Rolex watches retain value, with some exclusive timepieces, such as steel Daytonas and “Hulk” Submariners, being sold above retail.
3. Luxury image
Whether a watch novice or a self-professed watch enthusiast, everyone knows that Rolex is synonymous with luxury. Rolex achieved their prestigious reputation by aligning their watches with sophistication, success and adventure. This luxurious image is further illustrated through brand ambassadors such as A-list actors and world class athletes who embody success, wealth and power. With Rolex’s clearly defined luxury image, wearers of their watches get to enjoy the prestige associated with the brand.
4. Celebrity endorsement
Over the course of Rolex’s history, the brand has had no shortage of celebrity endorsements. From 1927, when Mercedes Gleitze wore the Oyster watch as she swam the English Channel, to Paul Newman who was rarely seen without his iconic Daytona, to master tennis player Roger Federer. Celebrities and style icons alike are often spotted with Rolex watches, including Brad Pitt, Rihanna and Victoria Beckham. This tactical decision to closely align the brand with A listers has paid off and further elevated Rolex’s image.
5. Horological innovation
A key part of Rolex’s success has been its history of innovation. At just 24 years old, Hans Wilsdorf founded Rolex where he pioneered the commercial success of the wristwatch, thanks to his commitment to producing small and exceptionally precise movements. By 1910, Rolex’s wrist-watches were the first in the world to receive the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision.
Rolex then revolutionized watch cases in 1926 with the creation of the Oyster Case: a hermetically sealed case that protected the movement from water and dust. To raise awareness about the robustness of their water-proof watches, Rolex gave marathon swimmer Mercedes Gleitze an Oyster watch to wear during her swim across the English Channel in 1927. After a 10-hour swim in freezing water, the Rolex watch remained in perfect functioning condition.
Another monumental innovation by Rolex occurred in 1931 when they patented the first self-winding mechanism, known as a perpetual rotor. With the perpetual rotor, the watch would be wound by the natural movements of the wearer’s wrist throughout the day, saving the wearer from manually winding the watch. This horological achievement is still seen in every automatic watch. One of Rolex’s most cherished timepieces, the Datejust, debuted in 1945 as the first automatic wristwatch with a date window. This watch was crafted with Rolex’s Jubilee bracelet and fluted bezel to make it instantly recognizable. Shortly after, in 1948, Rolex’s signature cyclops lens was introduced to magnify the date window for superior legibility.
During the 1950s, Rolex focused on making timepieces that could endure deep-sea diving, mountain climbing and aviation exploits:
- For Sir John Hunt’s Mount Everest expedition in 1953, the team wore a Rolex prototype that could survive the harshest of conditions. Following the successful summit of Everest, Rolex launched the Explorer which quickly met great fame.
- For the diving community, Rolex created the Submariner in 1953, which was the first divers’ watch that was waterproof up to 100 meters. This watch also featured a rotating bezel that allowed divers to measure their time underwater, crucial for knowing their remaining oxygen.
- For the pilots and travelers of the world, Rolex unveiled the GMT-Master in 1955. Named after Greenwich Mean Time, this watch had a two-tone 24-hour rotating bezel that distinguished daytime hours from nighttime hours.
In 1960, Rolex created the Deep Sea Special to endure a journey down the Mariana Trench, the deepest known depression on the Earth’s surface at nearly 11,000 meters. This watch was designed to ensure extreme conditions and voyaged 35,787 ft. down the Mariana Trench while maintaining functionality. Rolex’s innovations continued into 1963 with the Cosmograph Daytona, named after the Speedway in Florida. With Rolex’s outstanding durability, chronograph function and tachymetric scale on the bezel to calculate speed, the Cosmograph Daytona was the ultimate tool for race car drivers.
Jumping forward to 2005, Rolex invented the blue parachrom hairspring which made the watch’s movement 10 times more resistant to shocks while remaining unaffected by magnetic fields. In 2012, Rolex took another deep dive into the Mariana Trench with filmmaker James Cameron. Rolex created the Oyster Perpetual Rolex Deepsea Challenge, which was waterproof up to a remarkable 12,000 meters, setting the recording for the deepest diving watch. During James Cameron’s solo dive, he reached a depth of 10,908 meters and the Rolex successfully ensured 1,245 tons of pressure.
6. Defining Rolex watches
According to Pozsgay, Rolex’s most defining watches are those that have upheld the values listed above. These include:
- The Datejust: The first automatic wristwatch to display the date.
- The Submariner: The first waterproof diving watch which could endure 100 meters and included a unidirectional bezel.
- The Day Date: The first wristwatch to display the date and fully spelled day of the week, currently available in multiple languages.
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