Over the years, Rolex has established itself as the ultimate luxury watchmaker. Since its founding by Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davies in 1905, the brand has earned an honourable reputation, and has consistently occupied top positions in customer trust and satisfaction rankings. Today Rolex is the largest single luxury watch brand, producing about 2,000 watches per day. All this begs the question – what is it that truly distinguishes Rolex from its competitors?
Rolex has never ceased seeking improvements. It maintains an avant-garde position in the industry, constantly pushing the limits of expert watchmaking. It is known for groundbreaking developments such as the very first waterproof case, the first self-winding watch, and the first watch showing the date. In 1910, Rolex also obtained the first chronometer certification for a wristwatch. For these reasons, the brand is commonly perceived as the powerhouse of technological engineering. It is synonymous with utmost precision and high performance.
Rolex’s most significant innovation is without a doubt the development of a waterproof case in 1926. By screwing down the bezel, caseback and winding crown against the middle case, the company patented and standardised a system of water-sealing watches. The technology used in the Oyster arguably constitutes the most significant horological development to date, diametrically altering the way in which we use watches. We are reminded of this important milestone in the history of contemporary watchmaking, as all of today’s Oyster Perpetual models feature their recognisable original Oyster case.
As Hans Wilsdorf realised that the excellence of his product alone would not meet his ambitious goals, he explored the advertising possibilities in order to promote his unique waterproof watch. This prompted him to reach out to the British swimmer Mercedes Gleitze. She tested the watch as she swam across the English Channel on the 7th of November 1927. The Oyster proved itself a useful and durable companion, gaining a similar level of publicity as the swimmer herself. In fact, England’s Daily Mail boasted that Rolex was the ‘greatest triumph in watchmaking’. Although Gleitze didn’t actually finish the race that day, her fame nonetheless projected Rolex into the public consciousness. Since then, Rolex has always depended on skilful marketing in effort to establish its name as the industry number 1.
The company had also played a significant role in promoting men’s wristwatches in the early twentieth century. Rolex’s early wristwatches proved to be highly influential in reshaping the way the public perceived this new, practical way of telling time. As an alternative to pocket-watches worn by gentlemen on a day-to-day basis, Rolex’s timepieces challenged the notion of wristwatches as exclusively a ladies’ accessory.
Arguably, the company’s success lies in its faithful adherence to its key strategy of consistency in design. Apart from a few lines such as the Cellini, and Sky-Dweller, Rolex can be instantly distinguished for its well-known hallmarks. These include the cyclops lens on a sapphire glass, a patterned bezel, the crown, and a screw-down caseback. For decades, Rolex has maintained this characteristic aesthetic, allowing its products to become instantly recognisable on the wrist of the owner. This in turn has amplified Rolex as the timeless symbol of great achievements. Over the years, it has appealed to many eminent individuals, including presidents and silver screen stars.
In line with the founding ideas of Hans Wilsdorf, the company has always recognised the fact that in order to remain powerful, it must produce a remarkable product which offers more than functional excellence. To create and sustain the appeal of its timepieces, Rolex sought to cultivate a strong emotional significance of the watches making them popular celebration products. Unsurprisingly therefore, people have been purchasing Rolex watches as the item to mark an important occasion in their life, be it graduation, marriage, or a new job.
With its impressive legacy, brilliant marketing strategies, and consistency of style and quality, Rolex continues to conjure up images of success and decadent lifestyle.