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CORDER’S COLUMN: Need answers from Rolex? Just ask!

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

Six weeks ago I expressed my view that Swiss watchmakers would benefit from being more transparent with consumers and the media.

In that column I argued that the industry is more precarious than it might appear.

Even excluding the impact of covid, there has been virtually no growth since 2015, with Swiss watch exports plateauing at around CHF 21 billion per year (global retail value of around $50 billion).

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Most businesses and industries that hit a plateau of that duration normally begin to decline, as McKinsey illustrates in this graphic.

The luxury mechanical watch business, with centuries of history, might not be as exposed to the creative destruction we see in the tech and media world, but it is not totally immune as Apple and Samsung are demonstrating.

Something needs to change, I argued, and being more transparent and less thin skinned is worth a shot in an era of social media and a general feeling that consumers expect to be heard, not dictated to.

I know Rolex executives read WATCHPRO (we track who opens our daily news alert e-mails), but I don’t delude myself they listen.

However, Rolex might have reached the same conclusion I did ahead of issuing a statement this week on the subject of extreme shortages for its most popular watches.

That statement was vanilla and shed little light on what, if anything, Rolex is doing to address the shortages, but it still gladdened me to hear from the company.

To paraphrase: the watchmaker is not to blame for shortages because it cannot significantly increase production without compromising quality, and extreme waiting lists are not its fault either because it is authorised dealers who manage allocation of watches for their customers (a point that is both true, and obfuscating at the same time).

HODINKEE amused itself by asking Rolex North America why its Swiss parent company had broken its silence, not to an august publication like the Wall Street Journal, but to the somewhat less venerable Yahoo! Finance.

“Because they asked,” Rolex North America replied.

So there you have it: two replies from Rolex in the same week.

Let’s hope this is the start of a fresh openness from one of the world’s most secretive companies.

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