Watch 101 – Rolex

Who doesn’t know Rolex? Employing between 5,000–10,000 people (According to their LinkedIn profile) , with a total revenue of about 4.7 billion USD in 2016, Rolex is the biggest independent watch brand in the world. Rolex also owns Tudor. Being a behemoth, it is safe to say that out of all luxury watch brands, Rolex is counterfeited the most, which I think also helped more and more people to be familiar with the brand.

All too often, Rolex is either overestimated or underestimated. Overestimated when, for example, someone doesn’t know anything about the watch industry. In this case, it’s common for them to know Rolex as a luxury watch, and think it’s the most expensive one. But after learning more and going more in-depth to the industry, learning about other brands such as Jaeger Le-Coutre, IWC, Hublot, then going to Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Greubel Forsey and Richard Mille, the Rolex seems to be less significant now and often underestimated.

The stigma I often hear of Rolex from my colleagues is “the old guy watch”. And they’re not wrong, in Jakarta, most Rolex I see is on the wrists of males over 40 years old. This also happens because when a distinguished executive retires/moves on from their position to a different company, they often receive a Rolex watch for their service in that company.

Is it a good idea to buy a Rolex for investment?

The quick answer is no. Rolex’s value is known worldwide, and it’s safe to say that if the situation arises, you will definitely be able to pawn it for a significant amount of money (For example, if you got robbed of your phone, wallet, and all other communication device and valuables in a city somewhere, you will be able to pawn off your Rolex for money easily). They also retain value quite well, so you won’t need to worry of a Rolex depreciating as fast as a car.

For investments, looking at the recent trend, it’s unlikely that the watches will rise in value enough for it to be called an investment due to the number of production and the price. Looking at the interest rate nowadays and other options of investments, it is safe to say that if you are buying for investment, you’d be better off looking elsewhere. But! Vintage Rolex watches might perform better, especially the iconic ones such as the pre-Daytona chronographs. These babies costed about 200 USD between 1955–1960s, and they cost upwards of 20,000 USD now.

How much is a Rolex watch?

The range of price is quite big, starting at 5,000 USD, up to around 50,000 USD. Of course there are Rolex watches above/below that price range when it’s a vintage or a limited edition. In 2013, there’s one vintage Rolex that fetched 1.1 million USD in Christie’s auction.

When should I buy a Rolex watch?

For me, the answer to this is when:

  1. From a financial perspective, you won’t be setback significantly. For example, if you need to pay in installments for 12 months and it takes about 20% of your salary each month to pay the installments, I don’t think it’s time to buy yet.
  2. You’re confident enough in your level of success in career / life
  3. You want to celebrate an achievement

From Ariel Adams of ABlogToWatch, on why people buy a Rolex watch:

People tend to want buy a Rolex for one of the following main reasons: to celebrate an achievement, to own a watch that appears to hold value, to communicate a level of career or life success, to own a luxury watch that is a simple choice, or to wear a timepiece with a lot of history.

What Rolex watch should I buy?

I’ll say if you want a new one, I recommend the Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39, model 114300 2016. If you have a trusted friend/family that deals in secondhand watches, I’d recommend asking for their suggestion for a preowned Rolex in a good condition. Note the word trust, as I’ve mentioned earlier, counterfeit Rolex watches are flooding the market, and you don’t want to pay for a counterfeit one at the price of a real Rolex. A friend of mine that deals in secondhand watches said that it is possible to buy a good condition preowned Rolex watch as low as 50% of their original price if you’re lucky.

Ben Clymer’s (Hodinkee) opinion on buying your first Rolex watch hits me the most:

“I think that a vintage Rolex in particular is an excellent watch for beginning collectors for a few reasons. In fact, I would say that if one is comfortable with the brand positioning of Rolex, it is arguably the finest “first nice watch” someone can own. The reason that I would suggest vintage early in the collecting career is A) they can be had for little money, comparatively speaking, B) you get a superb, historic, and truly in-house watch from a bluechip brand, and C) it was the 1950s-70s when Rolex was really in its hey-day. In fact, I would argue that Rolex is the most important watch brand of the 20th century — their list of technical firsts is a mile long, and watches such as the 1970s Datejust (ref 1603), which very much like the modern Datejust today, can be purchased in good, original condition for $2500 (+/- depending on condition, etc.). The modern equivalent, which is very much the same watch, retails for double the price and the aging commonly found on the dial and hands give the vintage pieces a nice, elegant glow. The Datejust (or Oyster Perpetual, or Air King, etc.) is a superb everyday watch that is universally appreciated and universally acceptable — whether with a t-shirt and jeans or a suit. The cases, bracelets, and movements are of exceptional build quality and I don’t think there is a better buy for that kind of money.

I think a modern Rolex is a slightly different story, and the real benefit to buying new is if you want a true sport watch that can handle anything you throw at it. Sure, an old Submariner or GMT can be serviced to be completely water-proof, but they still have plastic crystals and 40 year old parts (here and there). A modern Rolex is built like a tank, and while they may not have some of the charm of some vintage pieces, they are truly exceptionally well-made watches. Though, I think they lack some of the charm of the early tritium and radium dials.”

The History

Let’s explore a bit about the history, and where the terms in Rolex watches come from! This short essay below will help you know just enough about the brand and their signature series.

Rolex has a long long history, dating back to 1905 when Hans Wildorf, at the age of 24, founded a company in London specializing the distribution of timepieces. They moved to Geneva in 1919 as even in that time, Geneva is renowned internationally for watch making.

I’m guessing that most of you have seen a Rolex watch before, on people’s wrists or storefronts. And it’s very likely that you have seen the word “Oyster” on the watch dial. In 1926, Rolex created the first “Oyster”, the first waterproof and dustproof wristwatch, that featured a hermetically sealed case for optimal protection. This protection is proven by Mercedes Gleitze, an English swimmer that swam across the English channel (The strait between London and Paris, where there is now a tunnel under it) in 1927, for 10 hours. After the grueling test, the watch remained in perfect order. Interestingly, this led Rolex to publish an ad in front of the Daily Mail proclaiming their waterproof watch success, and this is said to be the birth of the concept “Testimonee” or testimony.

Then after the word “Oyster”, you definitely have seen “Perpetual” engraved. In 1931, Rolex created the first self-winding mechanism with a Perpetual rotor, and is the foundation for every automatic watch in the world now. Both of these words mark most Rolex you see in the market, the “Oyster Perpetual” collection that Rolex usually refreshes every couple of years.

To all of you who wears an automatic watch, do you have a date window in it? It’s so common to see a date windows in a watch nowadays rather than time only, and we have Rolex to thank for that too! In 1945, they created the first “Datejust”, the first self‑winding wrist chronometer to indicate the date in a window on the dial.

The 1950s were a period of great innovation for Rolex. In this period, they released the “Explorer” (Celebrating the Oyster Perpetual that was worn by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in reaching the peak of Mt Everest), “Submariner” (First diver’s watch waterproof to a depth of 100 meters, and the bezel is used to let divers now their immersion time), “GMT-Master” (Developed to meet the needs of pilots), “Day-Date” (Further developing from Datejust, the Day-Date displays the date AND the day of the week on the dial), “Milgauss” (Designed to meet European Organization for Nuclear Research’s needs of a watch able to withstand magnetic fields of up to 1,000 Gauss), and lastly, the lady version of “Datejust”.

Then in 1963, Rolex created the first “Daytona” watch, designed as the ultimate tool for endurance racing drivers, the Cosmograph Daytona was robust, waterproof and featured a tachymetric scale on the bezel for calculating average speed. Unfortunately, the early reception for Daytona watch was lukewarm as it is different from what people like in that time. The earliest Daytona is now considered a rarity and fetches a hefty price. Paul Leonard Newman (January 26, 1925 — September 26, 2008) was an American actor. Despite being colorblind, Newman won several national championships as a driver in Sports Car Club of America road racing, and his race teams won several championships in open wheel IndyCar racing. He was also an ambassador for Rolex, and he is said to wore Daytona everyday from 1972 up to his death in 2008. Rolex even created special Daytona for him, dubbed “Paul Newman Daytona” nowadays, and these goes for over 20,000 USD in auctions. Of course, I need to warn you that there are more fakes than originals, and you’ll need to be very careful in buying these.

After the “Submariner”, Rolex released another divers’ watch for up to 610 meters, which is dubbed the “Sea-Dweller” in 1967. Unfortunately, after that, the quartz crisis hit the Swiss watch industry (You can read a little bit on it in my previous post about the Swiss watch industry). Rolex’s cash reserve and loyal fanbase were very helpful for Rolex to weather the storm in the next 2 decades.

In 1992, Rolex reinforces their ties with the sailing world with the release of “Yacht Master” series, and in 2007, they released the “Yacht Master 2”.

And last, recently Rolex released the “Deepsea” (2008, designed for extreme underwater exploration can go deeper than all but a few purpose-built research submersibles, and more than 100 times beyond the depth that any human could physically survive), and “Sky-Dweller” (2012, intended for world travelers, it offers a dual time zone with a particularly innovative annual calendar named Saros — in tribute to the astronomical phenomenon which inspired it — that requires only one date adjustment a year. To set its functions quickly and easily, it is also equipped with a new interface: the rotatable Ring Command bezel.)

To end this piece, I’d like to say that as a behemoth of the watch industry, Rolex is respected all around the world and continuous to innovate their offerings. They pander to a lot of different segments, is seen as a status symbol, and almost everyone knows of their value. For watch collectors, it’s almost a definite that they have at least 1 Rolex in their collection, and personally, I’m looking forward to adding one to mine when the time is right.

References

Watches pictures and history from Rolex.com

Twelve mistakes new watch guys make

Guide to buying your first Rolex

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