“Upon those who step into the same rivers flow other and yet other waters. All things . . . are in flux like a river.” – Heraclitus, 500 B.C.
In a recent consumer report, Rolex topped the list of reputable brand names and it’s not surprising. Psychologically speaking, there’s an almost instinctive recognition that the longer something is thought to exist, the better it is evaluated. Scientifically, we refer to this as: Existence bias; Social influence; Heuristics; and Status quo maintenance. Qualities which Rolex appear to be innately aware and whether by chance or determined corporate strategy, has tapped upon and evoked a level of desire and devotion rarely seen in another brand (perhaps Omega, but that’s another story for another time).
Understanding the Allure of Rolex
Change is an inevitable consequence of life and it is one which causes us constant consternation. Change is painful because growth is painful, like muscles worked at a gym, the tidal forces of daily living creates the kind of insecurity due to our psychological need to bring clarity into the unknown, we find comfort in what we know.
In addition to the uncertainties, our imagination and human propensity to imagine new frontiers and all the potential outcomes; for the idealist, the desired; for the realist, the worst possible conclusions – but the net result if always fear and trepidation.
As knowledge of the intricacies of watch culture continues to grow, furious debate over Rolex’s perceived worth has started to grow among the cognoscenti, a perception made worse for the impassive, almost reticent corporate response to inquiry of any kind. But yet, despite or in spite of the snobbish ambivalence, there’s new found appeal in the robust and unchanging collection of well-designed timepieces for one simple reason – it’s a bulwark of constancy in an environment rife with threats to our emotional and physical wellbeing.
Buying a Rolex to advertise your affluence is not the best reason but it’s one which happens to be popular. But for a growing and highly discerning group of fans, affection for the brand keeps building, as if in accordance with textbook hierarchy of Maslow’s needs, Rolex has grown beyond want and into a primal need for thanks to its immutability.
The then $300 Rolex Daytona is worth close to $200,000 today but on its debut, it was arguably one of the slowest moving, least popular models in Rolex’s retinue. Then devotion from one of Hollywood’s most unwavering celebrities opened our eyes to the one pleasure we could depend on, a chronograph as certain as the sun’s rise. Actor, director, entrepreneur, environmentalist, social activist, philanthropist and pro-racer, Paul Leonard Newman was the human epitome of what Rolex as a timepiece represented – good repute and unshakable stability. Stunning good looks paired with a portfolio of high profile career credentials made him the object of lust from a myriad of femme fatales but he was a man who never strayed, quipping, “Why go out for hamburger when you have steak at home?” It is this fidelity and faithful service as a timekeeping companion which engenders hitherto more loyalty to the Crown.
Yet, to be immutable does not mean that Rolex has rested laurels when it comes to innovation. A cursory check of held patents have unveiled that in the last 5 years, Rolex has applied for and received 65 patents ranging from “device for controlling functions and/or time indications” to the mind-blowingly esoteric, “wristwatch with atomic oscillator” equipped with a system for detecting beat frequencies obtained by the Raman effect. In this instance, we can infer that Rolex is endeavouring to use the more stable scattering of a photon while anticipating potentially disruptive frequencies from incident photons – in laymen terms, as of its 13 September 2012 patent filing, Wilsdorf’s firm has ideas for heretofore unseen wristworn atomic clock!
That said, there are many Rolex innovations and firsts which go un-announced to the public eye. In 1997, Nicholas Déhon, a watchmaker for Rolex birthed Basel 2013’s much lauded Constant-Force escapement. Project E.L.F., by which it was known, was an abbreviation of Échappement (escapement), Lame (blade) and Flambage (buckle) – it was a project which was nursed and developed at Rolex while it waited for the perfect material technology to arrive – silicon.
It needs to be said, Rolex isn’t resistant to change but rather it is corporate philosophy for perfection before implementing specific changes which bequeaths each timepiece its unparalleled reliability. When Nivarox blades didn’t work because the buckled-blade weren’t collinearly attached to the spring frame, Rolex shelved the idea and Déhon restarted the project at Girard Perregaux in 2004 when silicon technology made a collinear one piece blade and frame possible.
Thus, in this scenario, Rolex is for all intents and purposes, one of the most humble of watchmakers where others might have been content to crow over the most perfunctory of new “inventions”. In this aspect, Rolex is reminiscent of the monk in a Zen garden, once the sand is perfectly raked, he starts again anew.
Today, the brand’s iconic stalwarts like the Rolex Submariner and other offerings may appear aesthetically similar to their original predecessors but you can be sure that materially, the timepiece has evolved. In October of 2012, Rolex filed for a gold alloy free of nickel and copper, it was the invention of a new white gold alloy which compensated for gold’s vulnerability to nicks and dents together with a means for preparing said alloy, in fact, there’s barely a year which goes by where Rolex has not filed for at least 3 patents even if it relates to the most minute aspect of watch manufacture.
At this level of dedication, Rolex e is definitively representative of fine watchmaking by any standard- there are no perceptible flaws in their calibres, period. To some watch idiot savants, Rolex might be perceived as overpriced, but if you were to free yourself from the bias, the most cursory of research will show not just the subtle evolution of their timepieces but its overtly inherent timelessness of design. Exposed to the year on year new releases from many watch maisons, Rolex is assuring comfort that some things never change and when they do, it’s imperceptible to all but the most knowledgeable.
Rolex is the essence of things civilized, of unadulterated hope that even when everything around you changes, your Rolex is that one bit of security and a faithful companion on your wrist. If you want prestige, Rolex is but one amongst others; if you want dependability – there’s only Rolex.