Origin & History
Rolex was founded in 1905, in London specializing in the distribution of timepieces, by Hans Wilsdorf. He was 24 when he founded the company. He had a dream of making a watch worn on the wrist. Hans Wilsdorf believed that the wristwatches could become elegant as well as reliable in the days when wristwatches were not very precise.
Hans Wilsdorf wanted his watches to bear a name that was short, easy to say and remember in any language and which looked good on watch movements and dials. He tried combining letters of alphabet in different ways but could not get a satisfactory name for his watches. He says, one morning, while riding on the upper deck of a horse-drawn omnibus along Cheapside in London, a genie whispered ‘Rolex’ in his ear.
Rolex focused on the quality of movements. Its quest for chronometric precision finally led to success when the Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne granted the Certificate of Chronometric Precision to Rolex in 1910. Key Observatory in Great Britain awarded a Class ‘A’ Precision Certificate to Rolex in 1914 which until that time had been given to only marine chronometers. Since then, Rolex became synonymous with precision.
Precision Certificates Received by Rolex
In 1920, Rolex moved to Geneva, renowned internationally for watchmaking which is its Headquarters now.
Creation of the first waterproof watch Oyster in 1926 was a major step by Rolex. The claim was proved in 1927 when the English swimmer named Mercedes Gleitze crossed the English Channel wearing a Rolex Oyster. The watch was in perfect condition even after 10 hours of swimming.
The year 1931 saw the birth of the world’s first self-winding mechanism with a perpetual rotor by Rolex. This indigenous system which is patented by Rolex has become the heart of every modern automatic watch today.
In 1945, creation by Rolex of the Datejust, the first self-winding wrist chronometer to indicate the date in a window on the dial marked a major step forward. A specifically created Jubilee bracelet and a fluted bezel made Datejust immediately recognizable as a Rolex.
In 1953, Rolex launched Submariner, the first divers’ watch waterproof to a depth of 100 meters (330 feet). The GMT-Master, which became the official watch of several airlines, was developed in 1955 to meet the specific needs of airline pilots. The two-wheel bezel which marked daytime from nighttime hours was the most distinguishing visual feature of this watch.
The GMT – Master
Available only in 18 ct gold or platinum, the Oyster Perpetual Day-Date made its debut in 1956. It was the first wristwatch to display the date and the day of the week spelt out full in a window on the dial.
The Day – Date
The Lady-Datejust, which was the first ladies version of the Rolex Datejust chronometer, was developed in 1957.
In 1971, Rolex presented the Oyster Perpetual Explorer II which featured a distinctive 24 hour hand. This was an invaluable aid around the poles and beneath the ground where you cannot tell night from day.
The Explorer II
Rolex Awards for Enterprise were launched in 1976 to celebrate 50th anniversary of the Oyster. In 2002, Rolex founded Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative to encourage talented individuals through a unique programme of one-to-one mentoring with a major figure in artistic discipline.
In 2005, Rolex created the blue Parachrome hairspring after five years of research. It is crafted from a paramagnetic alloy and it is unaffected by magnetic fields. It is 10 times resistant to shocks.
Blue Parachrom Hairspring
The Oyster Perpetual Rolex Deepsea Challenge is an experimental diving watch which is certified waterproof up to 12000 meters (39370 feet). It has set the record of the deepest diving watch in the world.
Oyster Perpetual Rolex Deepsea Challenge
Rolex entered into a long-term partnership with Formula 1® Racing as Official Timekeeper and Official Timepiece in 2013.
The three family brands of wristwatches called “Collections” are part of Rolex Brand Portfolio. Each of the collections has a subset of brands.
The Oyster Collection which targets affluent men and women has eight sub-brands differentiated by features and design including the “traditional” Rolex wristwatch.
The Oyster Professional Collection has seven sub-brands. Through its specific features and imagery, it targets specific athletic and adventurer user groups.
The Cellini Collection encompasses seven sub-brands and focuses on formal occasions through its elegant designs. The collection incorporates fashion and style features like colored leather brands and extensive use of diamonds.
Segmentation & Targeting
Geographic segmentation for Rolex is done based on the states/regions and market density with wealth. Developed countries are tapped first and then developing and semi-urban markets as fast emerging and profitable market segment.
Rolex offers separate schemes for different age and high income groups. It offers special outlets for premium customers and premium plans for business executives and professionals. For example: special collections on special events.
Rolex has positioned itself as a brand without any compromise in the quality of the services and sustained its growth by generating substantial profits. Rolex believes that the good quality and extraordinary look provide them competitive advantage. With its excellent channel of distribution, Rolex has been able to position itself in almost every part of the world. It has launched various exciting and beautiful advertisements and sales promotional activities for creating sales and enquiry.
Rolex is a very high quality luxury watch which helps to build its brand image. The differentiating feature of Rolex is its quality combined with its brand image. Rolex targets a smaller market which can pay a premium for a luxury watch. Rolex follows focused differentiation strategy. While other brands in the market focus toward a specific customer segment, Rolex’s strategy is concerned about the unique attributes of its watches. Higher value proposition created from these unique aspects allows for a higher price for the Rolex watches.
Rolex also uses “No to Second Life” strategy. There are several instances of counterfeiting goods and Rolex does not want to lose its reputation of making world class, reliable, quality watches. Rolex fears that selling of watches in second life would lead to duplications which might lead to customer confusion and dissatisfaction.
Rolex also used the scarcity marketing to build up its luxurious brand image. Limited number of distributors give customers a feel of distinctiveness and rarity.
Social Media Marketing
Rolex segmented its approach while jumping into social media instead of rolling out all of its assets at once. Social media journey for Rolex began with its YouTube launch in 2012. Rolex wisely resisted the temptation to bloat the page with product ads. Instead, Rolex used the platform to launch in-house documentaries about topics that matter to the brand and its devotees, like Himalayan expeditions and deep-sea missions to investigate the polar ice caps. Rolex practices extreme caution and strategy calculation while publishing any content on YouTube and its new Facebook hub. The brand meticulously selects what media tells the brand’s story best.
Rolex believes in active social listening. It looks for brand mentions on its own and other social networks to identify what consumers want to see from the Rolex on the social media. In July 2013, after mining Facebook comments, Rolex realized that people wanted to know about the distinctive features of Rolex watches. One of the commenters was curious about the quirky roman numerals on Rolexes. In response, Rolex launched ‘Did You Know’ series to explain why Rolex uses Clockmaker’s Four instead of IV. The post became a hit garnering more than 119,000 likes.
Hans Wilsdorf had identified the importance of marketing campaigns to illustrate technological achievements by Rolex to the whole market of potential buyers. In 1927, for example, Mercedes Gleitz became the first woman to swim the English Channel successfully while wearing one of the Rolex wristwatches. To trumpet this historic achievement and showcase its new watch, Rolex took out a front page ad in England’s Daily Mail. The “testimony concept” got introduced to the world through this ad. In the 1927 placement, the copy describes the qualities of the watch (waterproof), while the witness (Gleitze) provides testimony that Rolex’s claims of a waterproof watch are true. “More than ten hours of submersion under the most trying to conditions failed to harm its perfect timekeeping,” the ad proclaims. “…Perfect timekeeping under all conditions is at last a possibility.”
A 1927 print ad depicting Mercedes Gleitze’s momentous swim
Rolex watches have been a part of several historic events. In the 1950s, Rolex started capitalizing commercially on such events. For example, Rolex modeled a new watch, the Oyster Perpetual Explorer, to honor Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay when they became the first climbers to conquer the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.
Members of John Hunt’s expedition wore Oysters as they ascended Mount Everest
Jacques Picard used to wear Rolex while exploring the depths of the sea. These tests coupled with effective advertising campaigns demonstrated significant durability and quality of the brand. Because of the rational and emotional value linked with the brand, well respected pilots in the British Royal Air Force bought Rolex refusing standard government-issue watches, during World War II.
Only well known, top notch professionals in their relative fields promote Rolex keeping the luxury concept of Rolex to its heights. Only the undisputed winners from their respective fields endorse Rolex watches mirroring its legacy and distinguishing it from other brands. From equestrians, opera singers, yachtsmen, and Olympic skiers to the race car drivers, golfers and, most notably, Swiss — born star tennis player Roger Federer, all of them have achieved something monumental in their careers and they are not temporary heroes.
In TV ads, Rolex has reinforced the notion that its watches are iconic and witnesses to history, a tenet that has become central to its brand storytelling. The series of commercials with the tagline “It doesn’t just tell time; it tells history” became one of its best-received campaigns. Rolex produced several variations on the theme, including individual videos which highlight achievements of professionals like tennis player Roger Federer who has become the face of Rolex since 2006
And golf legends Tiger Woods
And Jack Niklaus
In the Tiger Woods commercial, the narrator cleverly describes the traits shared Woods and Rolex through the line “This watch has seen … uncanny precision and impossible physics, on golf’s most hallowed grounds”.
Rolex is the official timekeeper for the tennis tournaments “Australian Open” and “Wimbledon” and the golf tournaments “U.S Open” and “The Open Championships”. Rolex also sponsors “The senior Open Championship” and the “Women’s World Golf Rankings”. To convey its rich lineage linked to high-end sports, Rolex has created a series of short videos:
Environmental & Social Responsibility
Hans Wilsdorf Foundation: It supports the arts, culture, education helping build sports and educational facilities for schools, theatres, literature, architecture and others. The Foundation has also supported NGOs to secure and defend children’s rights in African countries such as Ethiopia and Senegal.
The Rolex Awards for Enterprise: It recognizes pioneering men and women around the world who work to improve life on our planet; and advancing human knowledge and well‐being in the areas of science, technology, exploration, the environment and cultural heritage. Since the Awards were initiated, 110 Rolex Awards have been presented to recipients in more than 60 countries.
Young Laureates Programme: Five young pioneers between 18 and 30 with ideas to solve tomorrow’s challenges in science and health, applied technology, exploration, the environment and cultural preservation are selected under this program and funding is provided to deploy their ideas.
The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative: Set up in 2002, this philanthropic program intends to make a contribution to global culture. It pairs extraordinary, rising artists with great masters for a year of creative collaboration and helps them achieve their full potential. Artists from various fields like dance, music, film, theatre and visual arts and literature are selected for this initiative.
Strategic Brand Management, 3/E, By Kelle