Have you ever wondered how Rolex became so successful? Or why its watches set so many auction records? Read on, as our experts explain how and why this brand launched in the early 20th century went on to became a legend.
How Did Rolex Became So Successful?
- Rolex styles change very slowly
- Demand exceeds supply
- Only best-of-the-best materials are used
- Rolex invented the first waterproof watch
- Next, Rolex invented the Perpetual rotor
- Then Rolex continued inventing
- Celebrities love Rolex
- Athletes love Rolex
- A Rolex holds its value
- A Rolex lasts . . . and lasts
1. Rolex Styles Change Very Slowly
The first reason for how Rolex became so successful is simple: Rolex doesn't go in and out of fashion. Classic models like the Day-Date, Oyster Perpetual, Datejust, Submariner, and Explorer are recognizably the same from one decade to the next. Rolex doesn't try to up demand by adding on unnecessary complications or changes. Tom Pozsgay, head horologist at myGemma, explains: “The crux of Rolex’s success is in making a quality product and keeping things simple.”
2. Demand Exceeds Supply
Somehow the supply of Rolex watches never quite meets the demand for Rolex watches—and the company makes sure it stays that way.
Even though Rolex could sell double the amount, it produces only 800,000 to 1 million watches a year. Those are then available only through a tightly organized network of authorized Rolex dealers. (The brand does not operate its own boutiques.) Nobody can corner the market either: multiple buys of a single model are not allowed.
3. Only Best-Of-The-Best Materials Are Used
Rolex uses only the best. Its platinum is 950 platinum, refined at its in-house foundry. Gold is always 18K, also refined at its in-house foundry. Its pink gold—18K of course—is a proprietary alloy called Everose, created to its own specifications.
Even its steel is proprietary. A 904L alloy called Oystersteel, of the type employed by the aerospace industry for resistance to corrosion. The ceramic on those bezels is an extra-hard, proprietary ceramic called Cerachrome that is practically impossible to scratch and doesn’t change color with UV exposure. And if a Rolex watch is gem-set, then you can be sure that each and every gem—even on those blinged-out Pearlmasters—is internally flawless.
4. Rolex Invented The Oyster
Even if Rolex had never come up with another technical innovation, it would still go down in history for its 1926 invention of the Oyster, the world's first waterproof watch. Rolex became the first to create and patent a system of screwing down the bezel and case back against the middle case, completely protecting the calibre.
Inspired by the design of submarine hatches, the winding crown of the Oyster used two or three sealed zones. This ensures that the watch is water resistant and no moisture is able to penetrate the watch.
5. Next, Rolex Invented The Perpetual Rotor
Not content with inventing the first waterproof wristwatch, Rolex patented the first self-winding mechanism in 1931, known as a Perpetual rotor. Now watches could be wound by the movements of the wearer’s wrist throughout the day, saving the wearer from manually winding.
Kinetic energy was transmitted through the wheels of the winding mechanism to the mainspring. This means that the watch was continually being wound. As long as the watch was being worn, the spring stored and released energy.
6. Then Rolex Continued Inventing
The Datejust debuted in 1945 as the first automatic wristwatch with a date window. Then, in 1948, Rolex’s signature cyclops lens was introduced to magnify the date, so it would be easier to read.
For the divers, 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 other travelers, 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. 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 Cameron’s solo dive, he reached a depth of 10,908 meters and the Rolex successfully withstood 1,245 tons of pressure.
7. Celebrities Love Rolex
Every serious watch collector owns a Rolex. And celebrities are no exception. Well-known Rolex wearers—who sometimes have little else in common—include Bono, David Beckham, Justin Theroux, Rihanna, Drake, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Jay-Z, and Bruce Springsteen.
8. Athletes Love Rolex
What better way to build a reputation for high performance than by putting your watch on high-performance athletes? In 1927, Rolex promoted its Oyster watch by putting it on Mercedes Gleitze, who wore it during her 10+ hour swim of the English Channel.
Likewise, a Rolex was on the wrist of Edmund Hillary when he conquered Mount Everest in 1953. Today, its brand ambassadors include sporting legends Roger Federer, Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert, Rod Laver, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Sir Jackie Stewart, Tom Kristensen, Lindsey Vonn, and Ed Veisturs.
9. Rolex Holds Its Value
Everyone has heard that Paul Newman's Cosmograph Daytona brought a gavel price of $17 million when it came up for auction a few years ago. But even a vintage Rolex without a celebrity provenance tends to keep its value better than other brands.
Especially if it's a limited edition, a reference that has been discontinued, or anything that's otherwise difficult to get. For example, because Daytonas can be hard to find, they tend to bring higher prices.
10. A Rolex Lasts . . . And Lasts
And last on our top ten reasons of how Rolex became so successful is durability. Variations in altitude, temperature, and humidity that would spell the end of other luxury timepieces don’t seem to do anything to a Rolex.
Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Everest, got to the top with a Rolex Oyster Perpetual on his wrist. Decades later, in 1994, high altitude mountaineer Ed Viesturs received a Rolex Explorer II after summiting three of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks—Everest included—and went on to wear it as he conquered the rest. He’s still wearing it today.
Ready To Upgrade Your Watch Collection?
Upgrading is an expensive habit. Serious watch collectors tend to finance new purchases by selling off the watches they no longer love, something that's been tricky for anyone without industry connections—up until now.
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