CORDER’S COLUMN: How to bag unicorn watches from Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet

Rob Corder, managing editor, WatchPro and managing director of Promedia. (Photo by Ausra Osipaviciute/ITP Images)

I have started calling them unicorn watches. 

Steel versions of Patek Philippe’s steel Nautilus (and increasingly its Aquanaut); Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak and Rolex’s Daytona, Submariner, GMT Master II and — new to the list in recent months — its Explorer are in such demand that you are highly unlikely to see one in an authorized dealer’s cabinet.

These watches are so hard to find in the wild that brands have started advising in-store sales consultants on how not to laugh or roll their eyes if customers come in asking for them.


Retailers are so tight with brands and terrified of upsetting them that this phenomenon is rarely discussed. It was a surprise, therefore, in a financial trading update from The Watches of Switzerland Group today when they tackled the topic head-on.

“Certain luxury watches are subject to waiting lists that can last for years and in some cases are sold only to selected clients,” the company admits.

Not exactly a news flash, you might say.

If watch-loving customers are frustrated at these shortages, spare a thought for the retailers that could sell them 50 times over if they could only get their hands on them. That can amount to millions of dollars in unmet demand.

The question is, can anybody move the odds in their favor of snagging these unicorns, or is everybody simply powerless?

Watches of Switzerland CEO Brian Duffy gave WatchPro a rare insight in how allocations work from the top brands, hinting that the only way authorized dealers can improve their chances is by pouring money into new and enlarged stores.

“It continues to be an important subject for all retailers of Rolex, Patek and AP world-wide. What we need to keep doing is investing, expanding and elevating. As you do, you are more likely to get support from these brands. That is the only thing that we have found to be reliable. Overall, the brands are very fair in how they allocate stock,” he describes.

Believe it or not, the UK punches above its weight when it comes to unicorn watches, according to Mr Duffy. “The view in Switzerland is that the UK is a very good market — disciplined, growing well and consistently high quality of presentation. As a market overall, I think we are favored. Within the market, investing and expanding is the only reliable thing you can do to positively influence availability,” he concludes.

So, to give yourself a chance of herding up a few unicorns, take a leaf out of the playbook of Watches of Switzerland and embark on a spending splurge on prime location high end stores that the brands will support with allocations of extra stock.

In recent times, and the near future, this has included:

  • Mayors Miami International refurbishment (April 19)
  • Mayors Merrick Park, Miami relocation to new format Mayors showroom (June 19)
  • Watches of Switzerland Wynn Encore Boston (July 19)
  • Three new UK TAG Heuer mono-brand stores (Autumn 19)
  • Heathrow Terminal 3 expansion to include new Rolex room (Jan 20)
  • Gatwick North Terminal (August 19)
  • Watches of Switzerland Brighton relocation (August 19)
  • American Dream New Jersey (in 2020). Rolex anchor
  • Broadgate London (Summer 20) Rolex anchor
  • Battersea Power Station London (Autumn 20)
  • Conversion of Watches of Switzerland Glasgow to a Rolex mono-brand (Autumn 19 / Jan 20)

Whether you are an authorized partner of Rolex, Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet, or a mere mortal punter trying to track down one of their hottest watches, it seems that investing millions is the only way to improve your chances of lassoing a unicorn.

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