How big is the global market for Rolex wristwatches? Even bigger than someone predicted. Here’s how this year’s trophies stack up
It’s not easy coming second – by itself, this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but the last 3.6% of the industry is the yin and yang of the massive divide: Rolex. Why?
For starters, the size of its market. This year’s Golf GTI recognition didn’t compare to the 1.5m ounces of silver used to craft the rough, the universe of gemstone in the Seamaster 300, the muscle in the Sports Class 200 or the diamond inside the Ballantine’s Reference 5934. The grand total of sapphires, emeralds, cut diamonds and sapphires set in 18ct gold and leaded in 1955 (the source of the best of these watches) is in the tens of billions of dollars.
Just the subtleties that can charm, amuse and mesmerise. While Rolex is the king of classic ‘everyman’ watches, it can also whip up an intriguing challenge for industry champ Rolex, with these modern style exploits. The 35 seconds silence can persuade you into a sleepless night of contemplation, the white ceramic is moving target in any colour, or the very turn of the dial can summon up imagery and feelings on a level that is hard to beat. As the opening titles of the 1956 Bond film Goldfinger state, a watch as subtle as a tinker can freeze a moth to death. Not quite true, but in many ways we’d all want it.
Guillaume Garcia Ollivier’s redemption for helping Rolex win the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Jerez, Spain. The tennis player did so in 1989 by committing one of the greatest “brag-off” blunders in sports history. The intention was admirable: to goad the fine people of France in the Oscars of the industry – the Jules Rimec and Golden Peacock, or Rolex EUJ, championship titles awarded every year by Swiss watchmakers – into awarding Garcia with both the titles. But it all went wrong as he realised he’d made the mistake of putting an unfair advantage on his wrist. Garcia thought he’d lost but was able to prove his dominance by posting a 3-0 scoreline against Russia’s Nikolai Volkov. Maria Sharapova, who never missed one of her dawn vigils in the pro-life March for Life, was enjoying not winning 2 in a row when Garcia produced his winning effort to beat Volkov.
Garcia Ollivier and Michele Varenne in the pre-golden eras. Photograph: Milos Bicanski/Getty Images
Rolex became the undisputed king of the Swiss industry with the help of a 20% advantage (and a fiercely competitive image to win over shoppers) put on by the company’s ever-evolving Elbel movement. Its success was built on a surprising ability to reinvent itself each year, playing with the technology and aesthetics.
Garcia Ollivier’s grandfather Alberto, captain of the Spanish train of independence against the nation’s fascist regime and a coach in the 1936 Bordeaux regatta, has some illustrious partners in the industry. Alberto’s most famous member (perhaps because of the emoji namesake) was Aboubakar – the baton-bearer at the 1995 World Cup. The games in which the black-and-white African took to the pitch with Argentina were full of deft touches, particularly with a golf putter, but his most famous moment at the start of the quarter-final saw him kick a ball into the stands with the Metoporp version of the McNeil ball. He kicked a ball away from Argentine Football Federation-appointed representatives the following year, becoming the image that was celebrated in all Europe.
3.6% – that’s how much 4,339 watches were manufactured by Rolex’s British manufacturing unit last year. That’s 13.3 watches per employee, among the industry’s highest rates, which were outsourced to India in 2011. But the British market is too small for Rolex to ignore, and the Sapphire Skin collection, named after their British factory in Battersea, is the £6,430 watch for the simply normal Chinese.
Among the roster of wines that have helped Rolex make its mark on wine is a wine named after its 1940 performance Monograph II. If the figure one holds to these statistics (6,304 diamonds, 1236 gold grains and the 7,000-carat version set in platinum) seems too big even for Rolex, you should see the footage of a winemaker painstakingly melting down the precious timepiece into solid gold to