Rolex and COVID-19
If there’s one thing that is absolutely certain about the pandemic currently sweeping across the globe, it is that it is indiscriminate.
Literally anyone can be affected, up to and including Prime Ministers and future kings of England.
In the world of horology, it doesn’t matter how big a brand you are, or how sacred your reputation, COVID-19 is the industry’s great equalizer.
Every manufacture has had to make colossal shifts in their working practices, moves that have filtered down unavoidably to the other branches of their operation.
Rolex is no exception, and below we explore just what steps the most successful watchmaker of them all is doing to cope with the Coronavirus outbreak.
How Rolex has Reacted
Out of all the major luxury watch players, Rolex was quickest to react to the spread of the disease. As early as the 16th March, CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour announced that, effective immediately, they were ordering a temporary shutdown of all production facilities across Geneva, Bienne and Crissier. The original dates were to be from 5.00pm on Tuesday 17th March, with the hope of reopening again 10 days later on March 27th.
In a letter to his employees, Dufour stated that that timescale was open to revision depending on the ‘evolution of the epidemic’. And, indeed, that is what has happened, with the scheduled reopening date been and gone and the company’s doors remaining firmly shut.
Less than a day after Rolex’s lead, Hublot confirmed they were also shutting down, and by the end of the week, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and MB&F had all followed suit.
At the same time, the Swiss government declared a state of emergency, ordering all non-essential businesses—shops, bars, restaurants, entertainment and leisure facilities—to close until April 19th at the earliest.
Border controls with neighboring Germany, Austria and France (where many Rolex employees live) were also tightened.
The drastic measures seem to have worked on the whole, with Switzerland far behind its adjoining countries in COVID-19 cases, currently standing at 26,588 reported and around 1,200 deaths. That is compared to Germany’s 138,000 cases and more than 4,000 fatalities and France’s 108,000 and a huge 18,000 losses.
What Has Been the Result of the Rolex Shutdown?
Any large business is a complex structure of different systems, each reliant on the other. If one goes under, the others are inevitably influenced in some way.
The Rolex closure has had all sorts of ramifications, the most obvious being its supply of product to their retail network.
As anyone who has wandered into an Authorized Dealer lately with the aim of buying one of the brand’s more popular models will know, the shelves aren’t exactly straining under the weight of Daytonas or GMT-Masters in the first place. The halt in production will likely make these rare beasts even more scarce than before, and will add to the length of the infamous waiting lists.
It would be somewhat out of character for Rolex to ramp up production once all this blows over to make up for the deficit, although you never know. But it could well be that even the relatively plentiful, less desirable models will be in short supply for a while.
All the same, Rolex still has to sell its watches to stay in business and, with all stores forced to close the world over, they have recently taken the unprecedented step of giving their retailers license to trade online for the first time. But it is going to be a very difficult few months for the dealers, with sales taking a severe hit.
And of course, there will be a much reduced servicing and maintenance facility for the foreseeable future. With all Rolex manufacturing stopped, there are no replacement parts being made, and most centers are being as sparing as possible with the stock they have remaining.
We are used to seeing the famous green and gold of Rolex’s branding at a host of the top global sporting events. In some places it is as familiar as the competition itself.
The Coronavirus has already wreaked havoc on many of the most important dates in the diary for this year, with even the Olympics cancelled until 2021. While that is Omega’s gig, Rolex sponsored meetings are also dropping out one by one.
The Wimbledon Tennis Championships, scheduled to start in June and for which Rolex has been official timekeeper since 1978, has been abandoned. So too has Indian Wells, the Monte-Carlo Masters and the majority of the WTA matches. Those marked to happen later in the year, like the French and U.S. Open, are still tentatively going ahead.
Similarly Formula 1, where the brand was made a Global Partner in 2013, faces massive upheaval. The season curtain-raiser in Australia, as well as the China and Bahrain races, have all been called off and more will probably follow.
Other motor racing events backed by Rolex—the Goodwood Revival, the FIA World Endurance Championship, the 24-Hours of Le Mans—are all due to take place in September and are still going ahead at time of writing. Time will tell, of course.
As for golf, the U.S. Open Championship and the British Open are gone, and the Rolex Series, eight world class tournaments scattered throughout the year, are in a state of flux, and are being called on a case by case basis. The Ryder Cup and the Masters are scheduled for the second half of 2020 so will be decided later.
With yachting, something Rolex has been involved with for decades now, the renowned Fastnet race, along with the TP52 World Championship, the highlight of the annual 52 Super Series, have had to be voided, and SailGP has suspended its season through to the end of June.
In all, the sporting calendar has been demolished by the Coronavirus, and will likely continue to be so. With Rolex sponsoring so many of the events, it is quite a blow for their marketing, but the watch buying public are unlikely to forget about them and hopefully we will see the coronet logo at at least a few major competitions some point this year.
New Releases and Trade Shows
What we will definitely not be seeing in 2020 is an unveiling of the brand’s newest models.
Rolex has long used the Baselworld Watch and Jewelry Show, the industry’s largest exhibition usually held in March, to showcase all their latest offerings. This year’s expo has been deferred until next January, but we won’t be seeing any new Rolexes there either. Along with a list of the watchmaking fraternity’s Who’s-Who (Patek Philippe, Chopard, Chanel and Tudor), the company has announced it is pulling out of Baselworld for good, ending a relationship that goes back to 1939.
We will go into the whys and wherefores of that decision in our next article, but the upshot is, anyone waiting on the hottest releases from Rolex this year is going to be disappointed.
In a press release issued April 6th, they said they will be suspending any launches until a ‘later date’, with no word of when that date is actually going to be. Rumors are it will be at the start of 2021 at the earliest.
While that is frustrating for fans, the Rolex dealer network is breathing a sigh of relief that they won’t have to invest in buying in the new watches following the sales mauling they have taken so far this year.
The Coronavirus pandemic has caused untold disruption to the horology landscape, and the fast-moving situation seems to throw up new challenges every day.
Hopefully, with all the quarantine regulations in place, it is something that will start to improve soon, but the long term results are still likely to be dire.
With its unrivalled status in the business, Rolex will probably fair better than most, but what the future will bring remains to be seen.
Here at Beckertime, we’ll be sure to keep you updated on all the latest developments.
— Featured Photo Credit: Pixabay (cc) & Public Domain Pictures Archive.