Andy Round calls time on Rolex and discovers that the vintage market for the famous brand is stronger than ever.
Rolex doesn’t wear that jaunty-looking crown for nothing you know. It produces at least 700,000 pieces a year, sponsors the world’s most prestigious sporting events and stirs horological passions like no other brand. You only have to log on to any Rolex discussion website and watch those forums crackle with serial number detail and auction result obsession.
And the market for vintage Rolexes is thriving like never before. The gloomy economy has not credit crunched up desire for this über brand. “In these times I think people are only interested in buying classic items with longevity,” says David Silver of London’s Vintage Watch Company. “They don’t want a watch that is a whim, something that is out of fashion in six months.”
Silver’s company has been selling vintage Rolex for almost 20 years. Today the London store features more than 750 different pieces from between 1910 and 1970. So why is Rolex so popular? “It’s a top brand worldwide up there with the likes of Coca-Cola,” says Silver. “It’s a watch brand through and through, not a jewellery company that makes watches.”
Rolex is also a man’s watch or, more accurately, an Alpha male watch. Sean Connery’s James Bond wore a Submariner, Steve McQueen favoured an Explorer and Paul Newman sported a Daytona. Real life action heroes also tended to be followers of the crowned icon.
Malcolm Campbell timed himself using one while setting the land speed record in 1935; many Second World War prisoners who broke out of Stalag Luft III and immortalised in The Great Escape wore Rolex; Sir Edmund Hillary would have been lost on Everest without his Oyster in 1953 and Jacques Piccard used a specially created Rolex when he plunged into the Mariana Trench in 1960.
“Am happy to confirm that even at 11,000 metres your watch is as precise as on the surface,” the explorer wrote to the Swiss company after his adventure.
Unsurprisingly, professional divers tended to use the Rolex Sea Dweller and the British Royal Navy adopted the Submariner. The Rolex GMT Master II was originally created following requests from Pan Am Airways pilots. It’s no wonder the slogan, ‘Rolex watches are not styled. They are designed for purpose’ resonated so strongly with customers.
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