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Is Rolex a symbol of everything that is wrong with 2021?

Rolex is a brand that the vast majority of people know and one that many aspire to own.

It didn’t used to be this way and there was a long period when Rolex watches were viewed as ‘old men and women’ timepieces that did not suit the period they were living in.

The quality was not discernibly far ahead of much of the competition and when we look at vintage Rolex watches today, the ones that are worth so much money, we can see that the quality was merely good.

It is different today because the quality could easily be rated as excellent and so it should be when the asking prices are considered. These prices are not actually high in the luxury watch world, but for the average person they represent decades of hard work and a visual achievement that they can wear with pride.

For many, most actually, the Rolex brand is so all-encompassing and powerful that when they decide to buy their ‘rest of life’ watch they will literally walk into an authorised dealer (AD) and buy what is available. The model is not as important as the Rolex word on the dial.

The problem is that not much is available in 2021. If you want a Submariner, and Oyster Perpetual, an Explorer or a Daytona you may as well not even think about walking into a dealer to buy one.

You will be put on to a waiting list with no timeframes offer to you, your chance of buying one will continually be lessened because the authorised dealers will often sell to their ‘preferred buyers’ who have bought other Rolex watches in the past.

A salesperson asking “Have you bought other watches from us in the past?” is not uncommon at all and even if they do not ask they can easily check once they have your details. Having bought other Rolex models helps a lot in being allowed to buy a new release and there have been many incidents where potential customers have been told that they need to spend on another watch, not necessarily a Rolex, in store to have more chance of purchasing a Rolex.

Yes indeed, you are fighting to be ‘allowed’ to spend £1,000’s on a watch and for many watch enthusiasts they actually end up grateful. I have read questions from Rolex purchasers asking what gift they should buy the authorised dealer as a thank you for getting them a Rolex.

This is true. Some customers wait years for a watch, they spend a small fortune to eventually buy it and they still feel as though they owe the dealer. Oh, and if you do buy a new Rolex sports model the paperwork will be held back for a year and only given to you when that time has expired. This is done to deter people from flipping the watch immediately for a profit.

It is crazy by any measure.

Below are just a few examples of pre-owned Rolex prices for new models. Consider this, you buy the watch today and sell it tomorrow- the profit margins are insane-

Submariner (no date): Retail £6,450 / Pre-owned £12,000 upwards

Oyster Perpetual 36: Retail £4,450 / Pre-owned £6,500 upwards

Cosmograph Daytona: Retail £10,500 / Pre-owned £22,000 upwards

GMT Master II: Retail: £7,750 / Pre-owned £15,000 upwards

And this problem is not helped by Rolex as a brand. Despite the fact that the company makes close to a million watches a year you still cannot buy the popular models because they are limited in number. I cannot of course (legally) say why this is, but many reasons have been aired such as deliberately holding back production, dodgy authorised dealers and simply that demand outstrips supply.

As you can see the pre-owned prices are extreme which obviously leads to the predictable problem of people with purchasing history being able to buy and flip, and potentially make many £1,000’s profit in just a few hours.

Rolex tries to constrain how authorised dealers behave and many rules are in place, but the temptations will lead to some breaking the rules. Imagine an AD who has had a bad year selling a watch for £7,500 to a new customer, a watch that is worth more than £12,000 in the current market. The temptation to sell to someone they know and to take a cut of the profit must be high and so you can see how these things can spiral.

What the above highlights is how the hype has grown and why Rolex is where it is today. It is THE watch people buy when they reach a certain point in life. They know not of Patek Philippe, Vacheron, Audemars Piguet and so many others who make watches that are viewed by those in the know as potentially superior. Rolex is the luxury watch for the person who does not have an interest in watches (99% of people?) and for those aiming lower it is TAG (God forbid!).

This cultivation of the brand is in many ways valid. The marketing has always been brilliantly subtle, some of the designs are now so well known that a Rolex is one of very few watches other people can recognise on someone else’s wrist and it is hard to not say they are value for money when you look at the prices above.

A Rolex is cash around the world if you are in trouble, it is extremely well made and it also makes you a target which is of course a downside.

The problem is that in 2021 with millions struggling to survive economically and with so many major problems affecting us all, Rolex looks out of place and the clamour to buy such luxury, and be grateful about it, feels almost distasteful.

The reality is, however, that Rolex is getting stronger, demand is rising and the hype is growing every day. And all this is happening with a selection of watches that are not particularly attractive.

If there was no hype and no history I suspect that the vast majority of people would look through the Rolex collection and not see one watch they actually like. I feel like this, for all of the quality in a Rolex watch, I genuinely struggle to like any aesthetically apart from maybe the Oyster Perpetual 39 (discontinued) and even then I wonder if a big part of this is because of the hype?

When the hype is so big it is hard to split what you actually see and what others are telling you through forums, marketing and in retail stores. What I do know is that brands like Omega make equivalent watches and sometimes better movements and more finely finished cases for less money on some models. The hype for Omega is not at the same level as Rolex and this is likely because you can, on the whole, actually buy the Omega you want.

The watch world does not spin on what is in front of you. It revolves around what is out of reach.

There will be a follow up to this article because it is very one sided. The question that remains is, what would the watch industry look like in 2021 without Rolex? For all of the negatives above I am pretty sure that it would be much smaller than it is today.

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