It’s a strange sight. Globally, the retail stands of Rolex, one of the most influential and prestigious brands above the world, are mostly empty.
We live in strange times, but the situation in the luxury watch industry is particularly bizarre: there are not enough Rolex watches to go around. Consequential waiting lists, unscrupulous dealers, empty showcases, soaring prices and record-breaking auctions
What’s really going on
The root cause of this situation is the subject of intense debate and theorising in the watch collecting industry. Yes, it’s a question of supply and demand and just wanting what you can’t have. But there is more to the story. Some call it the “perfect storm” of factors associated with pushing the world of watches to the speed of light.
Here’s what we know about the reasons why Rolex watches are hard to come by right now: only some Rolex watches are scarce. It’s not that there is a general shortage of watches: on the contrary, this phenomenon applies to the most hyped and coveted models, mainly from a few brands. Rolex steel sports (or ‘professional’) watches are the most obvious example – think Submariner, GMT master IIS, Explorer and, of course, daytonas!
However, even some Rolex Oyster timepieces are difficult to obtain and sell above retail prices. As popular models became harder to obtain, people started looking for alternatives that were snapped up
As well as Rolex, exclusive steel watches such as the Patek Philippe Nautilus are also very low profile. You have to understand how psychology works. It’s not unique to watches, but what difference does it make now
The scarcity of Rolexes is nothing new, but it is becoming more and more extreme
Rolex waiting lists are not a new phenomenon. A general interest in watches has been building for years – and many watch experts believe that true scarcity of watches has begun since 2016 with the release of contemporary Rolex Daytones. But the origins of this mania can be traced back much further.
“Watch collecting used to be a closed community of passionate people who held small, private gatherings and events,” says Joshua Ganjei, CEO of Boston watch retailer European Watch Company, “but with the rise of internet blogs, watch-specific forums and the rise of instagram, the hobby has really become popular.”
This democratisation applies not only to sharing information and enthusiasm, but also offers more ways to buy and sell watches. Learning about and buying watches is easier than ever, and speculating on popular items is also about making a profit
Rolex has no artificial restrictions on supply
. It is widely believed that Rolex deliberately restricted supply. They think it may have been deliberate at first and that the effect was too good for Rolex to actually meet their current demand. This speculation is rampant, but we cannot somehow confirm this.
Pandemic affects supply, but that’s not all
Rolex is unusual in that it makes almost every component of a watch, but even if a sourced component or material is delayed or unavailable, everything comes to a halt. Even a simple mechanical chronograph contains over a hundred tiny parts.
As with everything else in 2020, the Rolex factory was closed for several months for COVID-19, so there was at least some impact on supply. Rolex does not disclose its production numbers, but in a normal year it estimates that it will produce around one million watches (although not all of them will be among its coveted models).
You can still buy a Rolex, you just have to pay more
Rolex watches are not “rare”. They are everywhere. Of course, there is a problem: the collector’s mentality, combined with the brand’s avid following and the above, all collude to drive up the price.
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