Quality time: The rise and rise of Rolex
Brian Duffy, CEO of watch and jewellery retailers Aurum, explains his enduring fondness for Rolex
My first luxury watch was a Rolex steel Datejust (pictured below). I used to guard it, as I thought it was very delicate and precious, but I soon realised it was virtually indestructible. There was nothing you couldn't do while wearing it. I literally never took it off, and wore it while showering, swimming, gardening. I still have it and wear it occasionally, and have a great deal of affection for it, and the brand in general.
Aurum Group, which includes Watches of Switzerland, Goldsmiths and Mappin & Webb, is the UK's biggest retailer of luxury watches, and we have relationships with pretty much all the best-known – and many less high-profile – quality watchmakers. Our reach gives us a considerable association with Rolex, who are the big global leader of luxury timepieces. The UK is a great market for luxury watches and our oldest partnership is with Rolex, as we have been selling their timepieces since 1919 – in fact we were the first ever retailer in the UK to do so. In that (near) century, our affiliation has grown to make us the largest retailer of Rolex in the UK. We've also recently announced our intention to open Watches of Switzerland boutiques in New York, where we will also represent Rolex.
There's so much to admire about the brand. I think it's a wonderful product, and the appreciation grows when you consider the history of the company and the way it operates. Its founder, Hans Wilsdorf, was a brave young man who arrived in London from Germany in 1905, at the age of 24, to import watches. London was then, as it is now, an exciting centre for enterprise and innovation. He dreamt of watches that were not only reliable in their timekeeping, but also elegant. In 1908 he started the Rolex company, and honed his vision for the future of wristwatches. A few years later, in Switzerland, the company developed two of the most significant and landmark innovations in watchmaking history: the first waterproof wristwatch – the Oyster – and the Perpetual rotor self-winding mechanism, the automatic watch.
Hans Wilsdorf was also a great marketeer, before it was even acknowledged as an essential part of a business. With his marketing vision he created a substantial brand, known for its quality and robustness. Everything he did was very modern, including the choice of company name, which can be pronounced in every language – except maybe by Jonathon Ross – with its symmetrical five letters sitting neatly on the dial. Similarly, he created the simple but instantly recognisable crown logo, with its five points – still so contemporary.
The legacy Hans Wilsdorf left ensures a level of consistency and quality in the execution of everything Rolex does, from the actual watches to shop fittings, training, marketing and after-sales services, which set standards for the whole industry. The brand constantly sets the bar higher.
Also admirable is the philanthropic initiatives the brand is involved in. Wilsdorf left behind clear directions about how the brand was to be continued, giving an unbeatable consistency. Its heritage of exploration, adventure and achievement is evident in everything it does. Patrick Heiniger, one of the CEOs after Wilsdorf, famously said the company wasn't in the watchmaking business as much as the luxury business. That was back in the 1960s, and today that vision has propelled it to be one of the world's most respected global brands.
I recently bought the Everose Yacht-Master (pictured above) – it's very eye-catching, beautifully indestructible and looks as good with a dinner suit as it does worn with casual clothes. It encapsulates everything that Rolex stands for: it confers status, is recognisable, is desirable. Whether it's to commemorate a special event or achievement in your life, or just because it's a satisfyingly handsome piece to wear, Rolex has a timepiece to suit everyone looking for a luxury wristwatch.
BRIAN DUFFY is CEO of Aurum Group, which specialises in luxury watches