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 German-language 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

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46 Responses to “What Makes Rolex so Successful? Here Are Nine Reasons”

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  1. Fernando

    I have always loved the Submariner. I knew that is a watch I could pass to my son one day or even to a grandson. The quality and level of the detail are remarkable. When I don’t wear it, I think It was too expensive. When it is on my wrist, I think it was a bargain.

    Reply
  2. John Joachim

    Over hyped, clunky, criminal magnets. I love watches dearly. For me these timepieces are a boring RIPOFF!

    Reply
  3. Roy Kozey

    While Rolex offers a very nice watch if you do your research you can find MUCH NICER WATCHES for the same price or LESS!!!

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

    I want it

    Reply
  5. Jesse H

    I am also a avid watch lover and successfully been able to acquire a pretty decent collection of nice pieces. Until last year a used to think that I would never buy a Rolex due that the size wouldn’t appeal to my taste. I tried several submarine models and they all looked very small in my wrist until I got my hands in a new Deep Sea Dweller! At 44mm it looks outstanding in my wrist. Now it became my favorite watch to wear .. Jess

    Reply
  6. truly respectable watches. but a hype is a hype, and unfortunately attracts wearers and copy-cats you should not wish to be associated with. and in the end, the inflated price ballon will burst.

    Reply
  7. Steve Lee Parsons

    Many years ago, I worked on a construction project, and, we had a large vat of boiling oil (used to form PVC pipe sections). A co-worker’s Rolex datejust flipped off his wrist and dropped into the oil.
    After some time he retrieved the watch, cleaned it off and it was still running perfectly.
    I got my first Rolex that day, and now own 4, a Datejust, President, Submariner and a Daytona. Other than routine maintenance, they all still work with near perfection.

    Reply
    • Rolex does not make a watch called the ‘President’. They never have, and they never will. Please take a good long look at your dial…it says…’Day-Date’. You own a Day-Date’.

      However, they do make a bracelet called a ‘President’, as well as another bracelet called an ‘Oyster’, and also one called a ‘Jubilee’.

      Reply
      • Crown Guard

        Dont be jealous just because he has a Daytona and you don’t! Let the man call his watch whatever he wants

        Reply
  8. Sylvio F. Bertoli

    Very good article and I agree with most reasons mentioned. My dad gave me his Rolex Zephyr 1008 from the 60’s and it works as good as brand new to this date. During my whole life, whenever I had a chance, I bought another Rolex. I fell in love with the brand on the account of my dad’s nice speech about Rolex when he regarded his watch to me. He wanted me to feel special wearing his watch and sure thing he achieved his goal. It is too bad that he never bought another one and stuck to his old Jaeger LeCoultre and Omegas for the rest of his life. All my Rolex gained a lot of value, especially my Daytona 6263 ( thank you Phillips and Mr Bac) as differently from most ordinaty cars, the older a Rolex gets, the better. Rolex has one main disadvantage, though:- the cost of maintenance. It is insane. Whenever you take your Rolex for an overhaul, you wonder why on Earth you have not spent that amount of money to buy a good and cheap Japanese watch. Problem is that if you do buy a cheaper watch, after some tome you cannot stop missing your Rolex on the wrist. After all, watches are one of the few jewelry that are suitable for a man to wear.

    Reply
  9. Lawrence S. Burak

    Being a marketing and sales professional, all of the outlined points in this article were spot on and not surprising. Rolex brand has always been represented by the product and its excellence. Let’s not forget the “Top Benchmark Service that one gets when getting the watch serviced. I am fortunate to live in Manhattan, and when I pass 53rd and Fifth Avenue and have the time, I will take it in for a “Check Up.” You would think you are visiting one of the top medical centers but for timepieces. You can sense the passion for what is being done there, but it is measured depending on the customers inclination, mine being to learn what I can about the brand both old and new. I have a modest collection, but my favorite and my mainstay watch to wear is my GMT Master.

    Reply
  10. I own a Daytona and worn it everyday for 5 years it still keeps perfect time and I could sell it now for more than I bought it, but its more than a watch to me it also signifies a time of success in my life…

    For me the design and quality is out of this world it is a beautiful piece of jewellery. Its like driving a Rolls or a Bentley the process to creating a Rolex is similar in the approach to quality and craftsmanship.

    They only use the best products and techniques you only need to look at a highly polished 904L steel case and bracelet, the ceramic bezel on a GMT 2 sports watch the formula for the ever rose gold on a Yacht Master or try on an oyster or Jubilee bracelet see the finish on the dials, hands and inserts to marvel at the quality.

    Reply
  11. Actually all the reasons listed in the article converge to only two: great marketing and good quality, with a BIG emphasis on marketing. Everything else is just a consequence of these two reasons.

    Reply
  12. William Howarth

    An must have fashion accessory . Not the best time keeper and watches should be about time accuracy. Japanese watches are far less costly and more accurate. Watches such as Grand Seiko and even the latest tech in Citizen Chrono are better tine keepers in the long term . The Rolex needs expensive regular servicing.
    I own a Rolex but other than its fashion appeal I wear an inexpensive but accurate CItizen Chronicle Satelljte Wave GPS titanium recently offered for under £900!!
    Sorry.

    Reply
    • Your comments are generalized and don’t reflect reality. My Grand Seiko Spring Drive gains 2 to 3 seconds a week. Exceptional accuracy in anyone’s eyes. Then there’s my Submariner. It looses about half a second every 7-8 days. My Oyster Perpetual gains about 1 second per week. So, your very general statement that Japanese watches are more accurate is simply incorrect. Credit where credit is due. Rolex makes exceptional timepieces. They’re extremely well build and very accurate. Sorry to hear that you bought a Rolex simply as a fashion accessory. Sounds like a watch you probably shouldn’t own.

      Reply
  13. George Joannou

    Great article Ruediger. I have to say I totally agree with every point you made as to why Rolex makes watches that are known for being so reliable and highly sought by watch lovers. For me personally it is knowing that my Rolex is accurate, reliable and very durable. That is why I believe that you get what you pay for a solid and well engineered watch. Bravo, well done Rolex. Every year you deliver at Basel World.

    Reply
  14. Meir Barac

    IT TOOK TO ME 20 YEARS TO REALIZE THAT MY COLLECTION IS GOOD BUT THE PRICES THAT I PAID FOR BEST FIRMS AND COMOLICTED WATCHES – DID NOT MACH TO ROLEX..

    Reply
  15. Jerry Hom

    When I was a young man I wanted to carry an American Express credit card and wear a Rolex Datejust in gold and steel, as I grew older and lived life better, my tastes changed and in my own opinion more complex. I still use credit cards and rotate at least 10 fine watches, none are Rolexes!

    Reply
  16. Virgil Howarth

    Rolex makes a fine watch of very high quality. However, many modern day watches achieve the same quality (Seiko, Citizen, Omega) and many others at more reasonable prices. Since the need for wrist watches is diminishing, the wrist watch has become more of fashion statement. But if one wants a watch that will retain its value over time, Rolex in your best bet.
    Don’t be late…virg.

    Reply
  17. Ian Woollard

    I really like Rolex watches but the manufactured scarcity is something that really annoys me.

    Reply
  18. Point #2 is just ridiculous. There are several watch manufacturers that make higher quality watches than Rolex and their bezels ratchet as smoothly as anything Rolex produces. Ever hear of Patek Philippe?

    Point #7 is just a marketing strategy and it remains to be seen if it’s a smart one. Historically, creating phony “shortages” do not produce long term success because it will eventually drive potential customers away – that’s basic Marketing 101.

    One final comment – how are you defining success? You say Rolex is “viewed” as #1. What does that mean? I’m a bottom line guy – How are they in terms of sales or, more importantly, profits compared to SMH, or non-Swiss companies like Seiko or Citizen?

    BTW, I like Rolex, but this just reads like company propaganda as opposed to thoughtful analysis.

    Reply
    • I own a small collection of watches, including Rolex. I do not see the article as propaganda, but rather a well written opinion by the author of why Rolex is successful. The article did not say Rolex had the best quality, but rather that their consistent high quality is a major factor of their success. Their marketing strategy has already proved to be smart and successful for many decades, and continues today. Their new watch updates have strong sales. Overall, I found the article to be thoughtful, informative, and with many supportive facts.

      Reply
  19. Sergio Bures

    I own several good watches that I value due to their rarity. I was never interested in Rolex due to their ubiquitoseness even amongst those who don’t know anything about watches. I have to say however that I respect the quality of their products and ability to mass produce them without compromising it. I also respect their limited product options since I hate other brands that market so many different models without rhyme or reason that it makes you think they don’t know who they are. You can’t say that about Rolex.

    Reply
  20. Leonard Martinez

    It’s probably just me, but Rolex does nothing for me. I especially dislike the hands. I’d rather have a less costly IWC or Chopard any day.

    Reply
  21. Graham Williams

    I’ve owned my fair share of watch brands, some better looking than others, some costing in the same range as Rolex. But at the end of the day when I’ve parted with the other brands I’ve taken a good hit but not with the couple of used Rolex’s, I wore them for free.

    Reply
  22. You say in your 9 reasons that this watch has everything a watch needs.. False, the lack of any anti-reflective coating on any of its sapphire crystals causes glare and is really noticed when put next any other brand with anti-reflective coating on their crystals.

    Reply
  23. Jason hall

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

    Reply
  24. 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
    • Gerard Meeuwissen

      Buy a decent quartz watch: more accurate, very durable and dirt cheap in comparison!
      Keep your Rolex for all those other occasions when you want to feel …….

      Reply
  25. James Gray

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

    Reply
  26. 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
  27. Tom Schumann

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

    Reply
  28. 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
  29. 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
  30. Debashish

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

    Reply
  31. 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
  32. Excellent and informative! I have 3 and wear my submariner almost exclusively

    Reply
  33. 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
  34. 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
    • Paul in SF CA

      I own only one Rolex (Oyster Perpetual) which was originally bought by my grandfather in the late 1950s, early 1960s. The watch still looks great and despite having been serviced only ONCE in it’s life, still runs perfectly and keeps exceptionally accurate time. I have to agree with you, however, that the artificial shortages created by Rolex of popular models annoys me to the point I don’t even bother to look at Rolex as a “must have.” It’s ridiculous that even a fairly new Rolex becomes “out of stock” within a few weeks. I refuse to pay over retail for a pre-owned 2016 Submariner. I too feel like it’s extortion or, at least, an underhand way of gouging the customer and manipulating the market. Business is business I suppose. I don’t agree however that watches are “…more like a sentimental instrument.” That makes watches sound like an obsolete technology with little to no value. As a watch enthusiast, I see watches in a completely different light and use them to tell time and collect them because they are amazing pieces of art and blended with mechanical engineering at it’s finest. But that’s just me.

      Reply
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