“It’s the million dollar elephant in the room,” says Eric Ku, the world-renowned watch expert and dealer. “Why can nobody get anything now?” He’s referring to the extraordinary difficulty facing the average punter hoping to buy a new steel Rolex without paying way over the recommended retail price on the grey market.
In the watch community, this has become a common lament. For the average buyer, sourcing a steel Rolex at the recommended retail price can increasingly feel like mission impossible. Whereas five years ago, the “Batman” blue and black bezel GMT-Master II was the hard-to-get model, and then the Daytona became the next must-have, the drought has now spread to all steel models, Professional range or not.
The extent of the Rolex scarcity was summed up a month or so ago when the respected auction house Phillips sold a selection of models from the Rolex Oyster Perpetual collection that only came out in August last year. This tells you everything you need to know about the insane demand for new Rolex stock. Auction houses, after all, specialise in trading the most rare and valuable goods that cannot be bought through standard retail channels. In listing this Oyster Perpetual family, Phillips are acknowledging that new, stainless-steel Rolex watches are similarly unattainable.
Scroll down on any post on Rolex’s Instagram page and you’ll find a barrage of negativity on the challenge of getting hold of a watch. The grievances invariably focus on the same old things – endless waiting lists, unscrupulous dealers and the fact that so many new models are instantly flipped onto the grey market where they’re sold for eye-popping prices. Beneath Rolex’s Insta post for the new Submariner Date, @marcopiper’s remark sums up the general mood. “I’ve been on the ‘waiting list’ since the day it came out,” he writes. “I’m sure I’ll get that AD call in 2047.” (That watch, incidentally, is widely available on Chrono24, if you’re willing to pay over $30,000 – more that double the $13,400 RRP).
Admittedly, Rolex’s Instagram has some 11 million followers and who knows whether all these commentators are genuinely keen to buy a new watch. But even accounting for the inevitable trolls, the weight of criticism is undeniable and raises certain questions for the world’s most powerful watch brand. Have we reached a tipping point where the Rolex famine is starting to create a backlash? Is dangling these elusive pieces before the eyes of frustrated collectors a deliberate marketing strategy? And does any of this really matter to Rolex, or is the insatiable thirst for product just further proof of the mega-brand’s mind-blowing success?
Those are the questions Time+Tide ponders in an in-depth feature in the new issue of NOW, our watch buying guide. We asked a series of industry experts why they thought steel Rolex watches had become so difficult for the average watch buyer to source through the brand’s official retail channels. These included Eric Ku (owner of the Vintage Rolex Forum and the online retailer 10pastTEN), Markus Kramer (a Swiss brand strategist who specialises in luxury brands), and Bani McSpedden, the highly respected watch editor for The Australian Financial Review. Together they share some fascinating insights that delve into some of the driving forces of the biggest watch brand in the world.
What’s the reason behind the Rolex scarcity? Find out by ordering your copy of the new issue of NOW here.