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A masterstroke that keeps demand for Rolex watches sky-high

By Pavan Lall
February 28, 2021 11:03 IST
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Rolex has been masterful at playing the demand-supply game, limiting its issue of coveted and in-demand watches to only one or two pieces per dealership.

Rolex watch

IMAGE: Rolex Datejust watches. Photograph: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

For watch collectors and horologists alike, shopping trips to Rolex dealerships for the last six months would have been futile.

That's because the company, famed for its waterproof watches that never depreciate, clamped down on factory production for three months starting March 2020.

The result: Shelves in stores were almost empty with limited products on sale not just in India but across the world.


Dealers across the country have less than two or three dozen watches as compared to the 200 to 250 they would normally stock.

Did that curb sales enthusiasm or impact the company's brand cache?

On the contrary, demand has never been stronger, say authorised dealers in Delhi who requested not to be named.

Part of this has to do with Rolex's unique market tactics of supply and demand that tightly control the numbers of select models that the Geneva headquartered luxury watchmaker gives out to dealers to sell.

For example, its steel and gold watches in certain sports models end up being cheaper than an all-steel version because there are fewer of the steel ones supplied.

The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, which is a chronograph, always has a waiting period of a year or even more — it's gone up further during the pandemic — and a premium that can be as much as the retail price of the watch.

Rolex watch

IMAGE: Rolex Cosmograph Daytona watch. Photograph: Kind courtesy, Rolex

For most of its watches, the company raises prices like clockwork — annually.

So, an Oyster Perpetual model, which cost around Rs 3.85 lakh last year, is now priced at Rs 4.25 lakh — a 10 per cent increase.

Collectors and buyers alike know that the watch they are buying today will be at least 50 per cent more expensive in a few years.

And that naturally rubs off to the resale price, forming a virtuous cycle, keeping Rolex prices and value constantly on the climb, says Edward Lee, a Kolkata-based collector of vintage and modern watches.

Rolex watch

IMAGE: Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch. Photograph: Kind courtesy, Rolex

Rolex watches are consistently sought after and keep appreciating, adds Rishad Cooper, a Pune-based watch collector and Rolex expert.

"Rolex watches are perfectly designed for comfort on the wrist.

"They are robustly constructed and cased, from excellent raw materials to keep accurate time, with consistent reliability," says the aficionado.

"The design language of famous sub-brands such as Datejust, Day-Date, Submariner, GMT-Master and Explorer, while keeping pace with technology to embrace subtle upgrades, are kept largely and carefully unchanged to feed generations of familiarity.

"This grows demand and keeps values headed North," Cooper adds.

Then, of course, there's the legacy spanning decades of success.

Is there more to the formula?

For starters, Rolex has been masterful at playing the demand-supply game, limiting its issue of coveted and in-demand watches to only one or two pieces per dealership.

That specifically includes stainless steel models like the Daytona, the Submariner, GMT, Explorer I and Explorer II, and of late the newly launched Oyster Perpetual with coloured lacquered dials.

"For Rolex, there is very little supply in the second-hand market because new supplies are constricted and people are also aware of the fact that these are starting to appreciate," says Imran Khan, partner, Well Known Watch House, a Mumbai retailer of both new and vintage multi-brand watches.

Rolex watch

IMAGE: Rolex Explorer II watch. Photograph: Kind courtesy, Rolex

While other brands, such as Panerai for example, too are seeing sales rebound but there isn't a premium, wait time or shortage.

That applies to brands such as Omega, IWC, and Cartier as well.

Is there a premium on all Rolex watches?

Khan says, officially no, but the market reality is that "there is a premium that dealerships from London and New York City to Dubai slap on and it can range from 50 per cent to 100 per cent on select models".

These include the Milgauss, the Cosmograph, Oyster Perpetual, GMT and the Explorers II.

Khan says that around six Rolex watches come up for resale every month at his store.

Last year, however, saw less than one in a month on an average, he says.

Pratik Dalmia, founder Mumbai-based Regalia Luxury Retail, which sells high-end watch brands such as Bovet, says that the other dynamic is that "the luxury timepiece category has seen demand staying relatively insulated from Covid, largely due to reallocation of budgets from other discretionary categories such as foreign holidays and extravagant celebrations, amongst others”.

This, he adds, has led to major watch brands such as Rolex seeing an over-demand from collectors and consumers alike.

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Pavan Lall
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