Would there be a watch industry without Rolex?

The title of this article is somewhat hyperbolic and to suggest that there would be no watches without Rolex is not what I am saying. What I am asking is if the watch industry we know would be anywhere near as powerful as it is currently if the Rolex brand was not as revered as it is today?

I was very negative about Rolex recently, but it would be wrong to not acknowledge the sheer influence the brand has.

I have written about lower end quartz watches previously and the multiple threats they face from smartwatches, fitness trackers, smartphones, Covid and the simple march of time. For many a simple quartz watch offers too little functionality for the price and they cannot understand why a Seiko or Citizen, for example, can cost the same as an Apple Watch which can do so much more. Just so much more on every discernible level.

This has been highlighted by the Swatch Group posting losses for the first time since 1993 which I guess we will see replicated after a year of so many jewellers shut and the general decline in the economy.

The luxury side of the watch market is very different though and it does not appear to be suffering in quite the same way, and in some cases it is continuing to move forward at an even greater pace. The clamour to buy the hyped model of the moment, to pick up a watch that could dramatically rise in value or to simply show off to your watch buddies is growing all of the time.

You only need to look at the value of certain current models and vintage pieces, and the recent history, to see where this has come from. Rolex.

Ask anyone which watch brands they know and you will get Rolex, Omega, Timex, Seiko, Citizen and maybe a couple of others. You will always get Rolex though and Rolex is the brand to aspire to for 98% of non-watch people.

What has happened in the luxury watch industry is that the rise of Rolex vintage has inspired sales of the new models and also the likes of Patek Phillipe and Audemars Piguet (certain models only). Many are looking for the model that will get more popular and by extension the one they cannot get, but the blueprint in recent times has come from the Rolex market.

This to me is fragile and potentially a fad. I say potentially because this fad could last for some time, but the wider market is in trouble. At the moment it is powered by hype, vintage scarcity and in some cases media outlets with agendas. We have seen this happen with Heuer and also Panerai in recent times and it could easily happen to some of the others, but the drop in value for some models this time would be extreme.

I hope I am wrong and I do hope that the industry continues to grow, but one thing I do know is that it is where it is today because of Rolex.

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