04/27/2021
 6 minutes

Buying a Rolex: Rational or Emotional?

By Tom Mulraney
Rolex Emotion

Buying a Rolex: Rational or Emotional?

Rolex is one of the planet’s most successful luxury watch brands. It’s also the most contentious, at least if you ask the passionate watch community we like to dabble in a bit (or a lot). You don’t have to look far to find people debating the merits and pitfalls of owning a Rolex. Unlike other brands that insert themselves into the conversation going on about them, or at the very least stoke the flames of it, Rolex doesn’t seem the least bit interested in engaging in this kind of dialogue or controversy. In fact, the brand outwardly appears to pay little to no attention to the sometimes fanatical discourse its products inspire, which of course, only infuriates its detractors even further. Rolex is the master of the long game, steadfastly and only minorly tweaking a model for years, if not decades, in their never-ending quest for perfection. Popular opinion or “what the market thinks” they should do never seems to throw them off course. Could this perhaps be one of the things helping them stay at the top for so long?  

Is it OK to like Rolex?
Is it OK to like Rolex?

This is all par for the course for seasoned watch lovers. They’ve been spiritedly debating Rolex watches since, well, Rolexes have been around. But what about the newcomers who gape at the sheer volume of information and (mostly online) discussions? All the questions popping up here have head-spinning potential. Is it OK to like Rolex? What does it say about you if you buy one? What does the community really think about the brand? Are they worth the money? The list goes on. The reality, though, is more nuanced. The decision to buy a Rolex is as much an emotional one as it is rational. (We’re speaking relatively here. Spending thousands on outdated technology that provides significantly less functionality than your average smartphone is an issue for another article.) That’s why we’ve put together a for-and-against list of the arguments you might come across when deciding to buy your first Rolex. 

Status and Prestige (a.k.a. Bragging Rights)

Stop someone on the street the next time you get a chance, and ask them to name the best luxury watch brand in the world. There’s a very good chance they’ll say Rolex. This doesn’t necessarily make it true, but the reality is that everyone knows Rolex. In terms of brand recognition, it’s up there with the likes of Apple, Coca-Cola, and Nike. Depending on your take on the issue, this can be viewed as a massive pro or con. There’s plenty of individuals out there who love the idea of wearing a watch that people will recognize just about anywhere as an expensive object of desire. You wear a Rolex because you’re successful – at least, that’s what the ad on TV always said. Others, meanwhile, balk at the idea of this kind of unwanted attention. For them, a Rolex on their wrist would be tantamount to putting a “mug me” sign on their back. This is entirely a personal, nuanced decision. Although wearing a Rolex doesn’t automatically make you a status-hungry, self-important snob, keep in mind that some folks may, in fact, choose to view you that way regardless. 

A Rolex on the wrist tells a tale of success.
A Rolex on the wrist tells a tale of success.

Innovation 

Rolex’s reputation for being the best isn’t all smoke and mirrors. The brand legitimately works to constantly evolve and improve its products, even if those changes aren’t always the most popular. For example, Rolex made a minor but sensational tweak to its professional Sea-Dweller diving watch several years ago by adding a Cyclops lens. Forget Rolex having invented the Cyclops back in the early 1950s and having used it on many of its watches since then; adding this small protruding swathe of magnifying crystal over the Sea-Dweller’s date window was seen by many as heresy. Until 2017, the Cyclops lens was noticeably absent on the Sea-Dweller, which is exactly how most people liked it. So why, after 50 years, did Rolex make this change? Well, with this model, they had finally developed a way to have a Cyclops lens on the dial that would still allow the Sea-Dweller to maintain its insane water resistance rating of 1,220 m (approx. 4,000 ft). Now the timepiece additionally featured a magnified date, delivering an even better wearing experience. So from this perspective, the issue goes from being less about trying to be popular, shifting instead to making the absolute best possible version of a watch.    

Quality and Precision

If you’ve ever put a modern Rolex on your wrist, you know they feel great. Solid, well-built, beautifully finished, and perfectly balanced. The internal mechanisms of a Rolex are, of course, beyond remarkable (not that you’ll likely ever see them given the brand’s unofficial policy of solid case backs only). Speaking of world-class manufacturing, the Oyster bracelet is, for me, one of the best on the market. With that satisfying “click” on the Oysterlock safety clasp, together with the ingenuity of the Glidelock system for fine adjustment, it’s beautifully constructed hardware. With a Rolex, you’re buying a product from a vertically integrated manufacturer that designs and produces everything in-house, backing the quality of every one of its products and the hundreds of individual components they are built from. Sure, other brands have caught up in this regard (Omega comes to mind), but Rolex will forever be a pioneer and leader of quality and precision.   

Rolex guarantees quality and precision.
Rolex guarantees quality and precision.

Versatility

We’d all love to have the deep pockets needed for a big collection of high-end watches. However, for most of us, the reality is that we’re likely only ever going to own one or two really nice watches at a time. This makes it important to choose a model you can wear just about anywhere for any occasion. Models like the Rolex Datejust and Oyster Perpetual are fantastic choices here. An ideal blend of style and professionalism, they’re well-crafted, instantly recognizable on the wrist, and look great at the office, relaxing on the beach, or enjoying time with friends at your favorite bar. To be sure, not every Rolex delivers this versatility. The Sky-Dweller takes up some serious real estate on your wrist; no one would ever call it a “subtle” watch. It has also been designed to be dressed up or down to some degree, particularly with the introduction of the brand’s popular and sporty Oysterflex bracelet. 

Price and Availability

No discussion about Rolex is complete without at least touching on the brand’s two sore spots of price and availability. Rolex watches are expensive. A new Submariner costs considerably more than a new Omega Seamaster 300, despite both models having similar specifications. You could make the argument (as many do) that a Submariner holds its value significantly better than a Seamaster (or any other comparative model, for that matter), making it a better investment. Now, in a world where both models were equally available, this line of thinking would make sense. But the reality is Rolex has an availability problem. It’s virtually impossible to walk into an authorized Rolex dealer and buy any of the brand’s popular tool watches, to say nothing of its steel models.  

This scarcity contributes to value retention while, at the same time, aggravating watch lovers beyond belief. What’s the use, they argue, of creating a desirable product if no one can buy it new at retail? But isn’t that just the thing? If the purchase decision were a purely rational one, people would leave it at that and choose something else. That, however, is not the case, which is why Rolex is such a strong performer on the secondary market. The reasons for this would take up another article. Here it will suffice to say that plenty of people are willing to pay above retail to secure the Rolex of their dreams. Whether you choose to be one of them or not is entirely up to you, ultimately making it no longer about right or wrong. Like everything on this list, it all comes down to your personal preference. 

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About the Author

Tom Mulraney

Growing up in Australia in the 1980s and 90s, there wasn’t much of a watch scene. There was only one authorized retailer of high-end watches in the city I lived in …

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