So, a few months ago, I penned an article with the provocative title “Is Tudor better than Rolex?”, and the response – somewhat predictably – was extremely passionate and also rather divided. Hundreds of comments on Facebook made the arguments for and against, whilst others just called me plain crazy for even considering such a notion.
Depending on how closely you read the article, however, you may have noticed I also included a casual sentence, rich with foreshadowing. It read: “…who knows, maybe I’ll soon be penning an article about why Rolex is better than every other watch brand, period.” Well, here it is.
The Best Overall
Like now-retired American boxer Andrew Ward, Rolex is quite simply the best luxury watch brand, pound-for-pound, on the market today. It may not be the leader in every individual category, but on aggregate it is such a strong contender it simply cannot be defeated. As a vertically-integrated manufacturer, Rolex controls every aspect of the production lifecycle and consistently produces top quality, extremely reliable products in high volume. Perhaps even more impressively, the brand has found a way to make this mass-produced luxury product appear scarce and, therefore, inherently desirable.
Is it all just an elaborate scam, though? Were you just duped into paying way more than you should have simply for brand recognition? I would argue the answer is a resounding no. There have been a number of watch brands that have come and gone – and many are still around – which use an over-hyped marketing strategy without much substance to back it up; however, none of these have ever even come close to challenging the dominance of Rolex. The reason for this is simple: A Rolex watch delivers real value.
This is the reason why just about every watchmaker in Switzerland has something good to say about Rolex watches. You may not like the brand or its watches, but you have to respect them. Anyone who’s ever owned a Rolex will likely tell you how reliable and functional, how robust and well-made they are. Sure, they may be limited in terms of complications, but they do the one job assigned to them (i.e. tell the time) more reliably and consistently than practically any other mechanical watch on the market. If Rolex says its watch can do something, like remain water resistant up to 12,800 ft, then you can be confident the watch will do exactly that, every single time.
No Double Tourbillons
There’s also something to be said for an unblemished track record of consistency and innovation that stretches over more than a century. When it comes to innovation, we tend to think of large scale changes, like the invention of the Annual Calendar by Patek Philippe in 1996. Rolex, however, is all about incremental innovation, with a relentless focus on reengineering something until it’s absolutely perfect, and then they find a way to improve on it again. A prime example of this are their ingenious inventions, such as the Rolex-patented Easylink rapid extension system found on all Rolex Oyster bracelets. This allows the wearer to easily increase the bracelet length by approximately 5 mm. It’s not flashy, but it is functional, practical, and, above all, useful.
This is what’s known as making things ‘the Rolex way’, which they define as a way of making things unlike any other. For evidence of what this looks like, consider that most Rolex movements now come with a Superlative Chronometer certification. This is because the company wasn’t satisfied with the independently-tested requirements for COSC-certification. Thus, in addition to receiving COSC-certification, Rolex performs additional testing on its movements after they have been encased to ensure it satisfies their own impossibly high standards. Who does that?
Something You Can Count On
Then there’s the consistency factor. The statement “every Rolex looks the same” can either be seen as a positive or a negative, depending on who you’re talking to. If you’re an individualist who likes to stand out from the crowd, then Rolex is likely not the watch for you. If, however, you’re someone who values design continuity and brand recognition, Rolex is an instant communicator of status and wealth. A Rolex watch is also a currency unto itself. Bought a Submariner in Rome and want to flip it in Los Angeles? Easy. You can be confident the value of your watch will remain relatively unchanged by geographic location and that all dealers will be speaking pretty much the same language.
Speaking of buying and selling Rolex, this brings me to my next point. For the most part, Rolex watches are still reasonably sensibly priced and, relatively speaking, quite affordable, especially when you consider what you’re getting for the money. Many people who aren’t into watches automatically assume that if it’s a Rolex, it must be ridiculously expensive. However, just about every steel watch Rolex makes (with a few notable exceptions, of course) is available brand new for less than EUR 10,000, which is pretty reasonable, relatively speaking.
I’ve seen watches on Kickstarter with ETA-based movements that try to – and do – sell for the same or similar amount as some entry-level Rolex watches, which is simply ludicrous. Especially when you consider the pedigree and unrivalled manufacturing excellence of Rolex, not to mention the fact that most new models come with a 5-year warranty, which is longer than most of those Kickstarter brands will be in existence.
Look, if you want something fancy with a useless complication like a tourbillon or an equation of time, then clearly Rolex is not the brand for you. Ditto if you’re looking for an understated and elegant dress watch: There are several other legendary manufacturers who are better at that.
If, however, you want a robust, reliable, extremely well-made, good-looking, and highly recognizable luxury mechanical wristwatch, then Rolex is quite simply the best watch brand, pound for pound, period.