What Makes Rolex so Successful? Here Are Nine Reasons


Rolex is viewed by many as the Number One among major Swiss watch manufacturers. Why? Rüdiger Bucher, Editorial Director at WatchTime’s German sister magazine, Chronos, lists nine reasons for the success of Rolex.

Reason #1: Fame

Rolex is clearly the most well-known among the world’s luxury watch brands. You’ve heard of it even if you’ve never heard anything about Omega or Breitling, or even Patek Philippe. Fundamentally there are two Rolex customer groups – those who know a lot, and those who know very little. Aficionados buy Rolex for its extremely high quality. They may be less interested in extremely fine, complicated craftsmanship in favor of having the best all-around watch for daily wear. Other Rolex customers don’t know much about watches, only that Rolex is the best. For them the primary motivator is this: if you’re going to wear a watch, it’s got to be a Rolex. And this is a huge compliment for the manufacturer – because if even a person who knows nothing about watches views one specific brand as “Number One”, the company is doing something right.

Rolex Evergreen - Daytona Illustration
Rolex is the most recognizable luxury watch brand.

Reason #2: Product quality

The basis for Rolex’s success is its extremely high product quality extending over the many years of its existence. Rolex watches show time accurately and are robust, sturdy and reliable. Maintaining consistently high quality with estimated annual production numbers of about three-quarters of a million pieces is an art unto itself. And it’s to Rolex’s advantage to omit unusual complications. It has no tourbillons, perpetual calendars or minute repeaters – not even movements with a large date display, power reserve indicator or alarm function. The company concentrates on what it does best, and improves the detail ongoing. This is true for the movements as well as for the case. You won’t find a rotating bezel that ratchets so cleanly and smoothly like the one on the Submariner or GMT-Master II from any of its competitors – even other high-end manufacturers with much more expensive products.

Rolex Evergreen - Ceramic Bezel
Perfect feel: Rolex rotating bezels

Reason #3: Everything a watch needs

The significance of the Rolex name is linked to the fact that the brand introduced innovative features quite early on which have made the watch well-suited for everyday wear. In 1914 Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf submitted a wristwatch movement to the renowned Kew-Teddington observatory for chronometer certification. Today the chronometer test (currently conducted by the Swiss institute COSC) has become a standard for in-house mechanical Rolex calibers. In 1927 the first water-resistant wristwatch was introduced and the automatic winding mechanism followed a couple of years later – because to ensure the water-resistance of a watch, it shouldn’t be necessary to pull the crown every day. These two features are reflected in the product name “Oyster Perpetual”, which decorates virtually every Rolex. The Datejust, introduced in 1945, was the first watch to combine all three features – automatic winding, water-resistant case and chronometer certificate. Together with its namesake date window, it has all the essentials.

Rolex Evergreen - GMT Master
Water-resistant, self-winding and chronometer-certified: Rolex GMT-Master II

Reason #4: Design and recognition

The everyday wearability of a watch is a function of its design. The round shape of a Rolex contributes to its water-resistance and its superior legibility. Add to this a central sweep seconds hand and Cyclops date magnifier (another Hans Wilsdorf invention). Existing collections are maintained and continuously improved over the years. This is supported by Rolex expert Percy Christian Schoeler, founder of the internet portals Luxify and R-L-X-Forum: “Only very careful modifications to the iconic design of individual model collections over the decades have resulted in a high degree of recognition.” There are no sudden design shifts or leaps, and even case sizes are altered only very gradually. Typical design features like the grooved bezel, “Mercedes” hands, Cyclops magnifier and the Oyster bracelet are part of several different models and have rarely undergone change so a Datejust or a Submariner today looks very much like earlier models. It’s why it is always easy to recognize a Rolex from a distance. Watch expert Gisbert L. Brunner calls this the “10-meter rule” – and it’s not just the specialists who recognize them.

Rolex Evergreen - Datejust
Iconic features of the Rolex design: Cyclops date magnifier, fluted bezel, metal bracelet

Reason #5: Stability in value

The moment you buy a car, it drops in value by half. This fact is true to a lesser extent for watches – except for Rolex. For the high-demand sport models in stainless steel at least (though this is a stickier situation for gold Oyster models and the elegant gold Cellini watches) it’s possible to get just a little less, or maybe even more, than the original purchase price. This is an attractive point for any customer – regardless of whether they are buying the watch for this particular reason or any other. It’s reassuring to know you’ve made a wise decision.

Rolex Evergreen - Divers watches
Sporty Rolex models in stainless steel are popular and maintain price stability

Reason #6: Auction prices

The price stability of used but still relatively new watches depends in great part on the high prices achieved regularly by older Rolex watches at auction. After Patek Philippe, Rolex is the next hottest brand. There are thousands of examples of auctioning success with Rolex watches over the last several decades. In some cases the prices have reached dizzying heights. Back in October, in fact, a Rolex Daytona owned by actor and racing enthusiast Paul Newman became the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction, netting $15.5 million at Phillips’ New York “Winning Icons” auction. This beat the previous record for the most expensive Rolex wristwatch ever sold, a Ref. 6062 with its triple date display (pointer date indicator, weekday and month in window openings) in the one-time variation with a black dial and diamond markers that once belonged to Bao Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam. It was sold this past May at Phillips in Geneva for more than SF5 million.

Rolex Evergreen - Bao Dai
The Rolex Ref. 6062 “Bao Dai” with triple date display was sold in May 2017 at Phillips for more then five million Swiss francs.

Reason #7: Artificial shortages

The pinnacle of desirability is achieved when the thing one wants is not available. The famous Daytona in steel is for many such an object of desire, ever since an early version appeared on the wrist of Hollywood star Paul Newman. Rolex brings approximately as many models into stores as it expects to sell. The result is long waiting lists. The (often unfruitful) hunt for the world’s most desirable watch only adds to the Rolex myth.

Rolex Evergreen - Daytona - wrist
Rare and highly desirable: Rolex Daytona in stainless steel[

Reason #8: Marketing and communication

Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf was a marketing genius. He chose a name that was easy to pronounce in many different languages and made sure this name was printed on the dial – not entirely common at a time when customer loyalty was to the dealer, not the manufacturer. Wilsdorf called his water-resistant watch the “Oyster” and gave a Rolex to a swimmer who planned to swim the English Channel (which she wore around her neck). The story landed him a full-page advertisement on the front page of the Daily Mail. There were also ads in magazines in which a young actress submerged her hand and wrist (and watch!) into a fishbowl. Rolex marketing approaches have a more subtle touch. Beginning in the late 1970s, it emphasizes its presence in prestigious sports such as tennis and golf, automobile racing, equestrian sports and sailing. Rolex has been the “official timekeeper” at Wimbledon since 1978, at the U.S. Open since 1980, and for Formula One since 2013, clearly showing that Rolex represents sports and success.

Rolex Evergreen - Federer
Rolex has been the official timekeeper at Wimbledon since 1978 and has sponsored tennis legend Roger Federer for years.

Reason #9: Myth of the monolith

Rolex always makes a solid and composed impression. The company stays true to its proven methods and chooses to make continuous improvements instead of pursuing the new and different. Part of the brand’s mythology rests on the fact that Rolex did not jump on the quartz-watch bandwagon in the 1970s (even though there were some quartz Rolex watches). The company does not produce complicated watches such as tourbillons or repeaters, only very rarely launches new collections, and stays away from online sales. New technologies such as silicone parts in its movements are developed very slowly and used very conservatively – smartwatches or “smart” features are unthinkable. This makes the brand predictable for the customer and also protects the brand from missteps. The company does not make a big deal when introducing new products at Baselworld each spring. While other manufacturers boldly announce world records, hold press conferences featuring celebrities, or present 70 brand-new products, Rolex quietly works on detailed improvements. Larger cases, improved movements, ceramic bezels and now and again a new color – even innovations such as these are discussed among Rolex fans hotly and not without controversy. And regarding personal contact, Rolex often comes across as inscrutable and “oyster-like”– beginning with its production facilities for watches in Geneva and for movements in Biel, which customers and journalists rarely get to see from the inside, and ending with the CEO who, as a rule, gives no interviews.

Rolex Evergreen - Factory
Rolex company headquarters in Plan-les-Ouates in the canton of Geneva
16 Responses to “What Makes Rolex so Successful? Here Are Nine Reasons”

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  1. Jason hall

    Ideal if you want to look like a used car dealer-sorry,good enough watch just no style whatsoever.

    Reply
  2. Peter Gould, Australia.

    My Rolex Submariner, red writing, with feet first, is a testament to the watch and brand, as I’ve had it on my wrist for 38 years whilst being tested/subjected to very extreme conditions.

    I was a Firefighter for 40 years, and when i joined i purchased a well known watch brand, water resistant as well, only lasting 1 year.

    So I purchased another watch of the same brand, a model that could withstand the punishment the first watch received, but this failed as well.

    I always wanted a Rolex from a very young age, so now i had a good reason to purchase one.

    The watch has performed perfectly under conditions most other watches would fail, and still today, my Rolex is working perfectly, serviced every 5 years, never coming off my wrist for anything other than a service.

    So all you naysayers out there, I know of many Firefighters that wear Rolex Submariners, as they are just about the only watch that can withstand the punishment inflicted whilst working under very strenuous testing conditions, as a Firefighter.

    I still have the original box and papers, and now the value is $20,000+, as the demand for Rolex vintage Red Submariners has skyrocketed.

    Reply
  3. James Gray

    If I have left the house without my Rolex on my wrist I feel annoyed it is so comfortable

    Reply
  4. I own a Breitling, Omega, and Longinnes watches. I deemed Rolex as too “common”. I have changed my mind. My next watch will be a Rolex.

    Reply
  5. Tom Schumann

    If Rolex could improve on their design, they would be even more successful

    Reply
  6. Abdul hashim bin abdul hamid

    No doubtful the best in the world, l cant effort it, may be can give me one as this years christmas present, just a joke…

    Reply
  7. Tony Coppen

    I have had a Rolex Explorer 1 1016 for over 30 years. It still looks the same as when I bought it and works just as well. It is a classic looking watch which is often commented on.

    Reply
  8. Debashish

    Enjoyed Mr. Bucher’s views regarding Rolex immensely. In fact, it goes without saying that Rolex is my favourite watch brand.

    Reply
  9. Rolex watches r no as perfect as prescribe, Rolex mechanical watches keep running faster timing n date change after 12.01am even after 12.05,, the longer u wear is become very obvious.. No other mechanical watches in the market perform like this, I think?so Rolex watches is not precise as everyone think!

    Reply
    • I have a datejust from 1981, COSC CERT, and it keeps perfect time. Surprisingly accurate.

      Reply
  10. Excellent and informative! I have 3 and wear my submariner almost exclusively

    Reply
  11. I can not stand anymore in silence and do not comment on this issue -Rolex the best watch.
    I am a very passionate person about watches, I have learn a lotabout it

    Reply
  12. I am a Rolex owner. 2 watches actually and love them. But the artificial shortage has reach a point that stop me from buying a new one. It stripped my desire and happiness in shopping. The over retail price or 2 watches combined method imposed by many Rolex dealers put the supposedly joyful and privileged buying into an ugly, stressful and low esteem buying experience. It feel like extortion more than buying by willingness. Watch is no longer served as time telling purpose only. It is more like a sentimental instrument nowadays. You strip out that sentimental part, you strip the desires also. Hope my voice can reach someone inside Rolex.

    Reply
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