How Rolex watch became the world’s biggest luxury brand desired by the world’s most wealthy and successful people.
If you ask somebody to name a luxury watch brand at random, they will most likely respond with the word “Rolex.” The brand is so ingrained in our brains that we can barely think of any other make, despite the fact that there are plenty of them. Rolex is a bit like Coca-Cola – utterly dominant in consumers’ minds.
Rolex is perhaps the most prolific luxury watchmaker too. The brand probably churns out about a million watches per year. However, as you might expect, it’s tight-lipped about actual quantities. It doesn’t want its clientele thinking that it’s diluting the market in any way.
But how did this Swiss manufacturer get to this coveted point?
Rolex was one of the first luxury watchmakers to focus intensely on quality. Jewel-encrusted mechanisms weren’t enough. It wanted to create products that would last for the rest of its customers’ lives.
The fact that Rolex now stands at the top of the luxury watch brand league table is no accident. It is the result of having a genuinely superior product – at least at critical times in the company’s history.
Rolex is also incredibly focused on innovation. The company engages in regular research and development which allows it to make breakthroughs in watch design and utility where other brands simply can’t.
For instance, the Swiss brand was the first company to introduce a waterproof case. It also offered the first watch with a date, one of the first diving chronographs and the first self-winding watch.
These innovations weren’t easy. When that happened, hardly any other brands were even close. So Rolex isn’t a company that just got lucky. Decades of dedication to the cause are the primary reason why it stands where it does today.
It Focused On Utility
Aspects of the brand’s early philosophy are evident on today’s green Rolex watch dials. The company originally began making watches as tools for specific situations. Seamen, for instance, needed time pieces that would continue working flawlessly in appalling conditions. Watches had to keep working, even in the presence of spray and saltwater.
The self-winding mechanism was also helpful. Instead of having to wind their watches up every night, customers could simply rely on their movements throughout the day to do the work. Mechanisms inside the watch would move, providing mechanical energy that would then keep the hands on the outside rotating.
This early focus on utility and conquering all environments led Rolex to develop a reputation for quality. Everyone began thinking of the brand as the pinnacle of watchmaking.
In the first half of the 20th century, the concept of a luxury watch wasn’t particularly well formed. Yes – they did exist – but it was mainly about their function. It was way before smartphones, so they need to tell the time accurately – something that many other manufacturers are still mastering. However, in order for the watches to work as tools, they had to be the best that Rolex could make. Navy divers, for instance, needed watches that could tell them how long they had been underwater with a high degree of accuracy to minitage the risk of the benz.
It Works In Water
Speaking of which, Rolex was among the first watchmakers to push the idea that you should be able to wear your watch while swimming, sailing or soaking in the bath. In 1927, Rolex offered Mercedes Gleitze – the first woman to swim the English Channel – a watch with a waterproof case that she could take with her as she swam. The concept was a marketing novelty at the time. But later it proved immensely popular. It turned out that most watch users felt that they could benefit from waterproofing on their watches too.
Gleitze didn’t actually complete her swim of the channel on the occasion when she wore the waterproof Rolex. But for the Swiss watchmaker, that didn’t actually matter. They had already achieved their objective: to get the general public to associate the brand with unrivalled quality and competence.
Rolex didn’t become the biggest watchmaker in the world over night. It was something that took almost a century to achieve – and there was plenty of competition along the way.
Now, though, the watches are worn by all the world’s most successful and powerful people. And that in itself makes the brand hard to dislodge. Rolex’s popularity has become a self-perpetuating cycle with many of the world’s celebrities parading their watches in front of their fans. It’s a big change for a brand that actually started out prioritising functionality.