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Rolex retools factories to focus on current bestsellers

Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona

Like all major watchmakers in the first quarter of this year, Rolex was re-configuring and retooling its factories to make the new models it would unveil at Baselworld.

In any normal year, the watches launched would start reaching authorized dealers by the summer.

When the Coronavirus pandemic hit, the world’s biggest luxury watchmaker faced a number of questions, particularly once Baselworld, set to have taken place at the end of April, was postponed then cancelled.

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When and how would new watches be launched? What is the most productive and profitable way to configure the business for this unprecedented year? Would customers choose novelties in 2020 over an increase in production for the hottest steel professional models? And do authorized dealers want to be pressed to buy new watches rather than work through existing stocks?

Insiders speaking to WatchPro this week suggest Rolex has taken the decision to delay launching new models, potentially until 2021. Or, the company will look to squeeze a full year’s activity into the final quarter of the year, with new watches launching and going on sale simultaneously in September.

The retooling of factories to manufacture 2020 models stopped when Rolex had to shut down in mid-March, sources report, and skeleton teams who were first to return to work have been reversing that retooling so that production would return as quickly to normal on bestselling models.

Patek Philippe made the same decision at the end of March, and will not launch any new watches this year.

In a typical year, other watchmakers have said that novelties make up around 15% of watch sales in any year, so postponing new models for Rolex would allow it to catch up on production for its best lines since the factories have been closed for two months.

Rolex’s only announcement regarding new watches for 2020 came on April 7 when it said its launch date was being postponed until further notice.

“Following the cancellation of Baselworld 2020 in March due to the Covid-19 situation, we had announced that we would unveil our new products at the end of April and scheduled a number of press briefings to showcase them. In view of the continuing extremely difficult context impacting the entire world, and in order to protect people by avoiding gatherings and one-to-one meetings, we have decided to postpone the announcements to a later date. We have presently not defined a new timing for our release; we will get back to you in due time with further information,” Rolex said.

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder