Why you can’t buy a Rolex – and it’s not because of the price

Reading this, you are probably thinking that there is something faintly ridiculous about begging a brand to let you purchase their very expensive product. And yet anyone who has woken up at dawn to nab tickets to a concert or to buy a must-have piece from a high street collaboration understands the powerful relationship between scarcity and desirability. And for the luxury industry in particular, the best way of creating exclusivity has always been by placing limits on who can buy what.

How much of this Rolex drought has been engineered by the brand, and how much of it is due to factors beyond their control is something you can’t help wondering. The answer seems to be a bit of both. “I honestly don’t think Rolex is trying to increase scarcity, but equally they aren’t making any strenuous efforts to stop the scarcity,” says James Gurney, the editor of watch magazine QP. “As a prospective buyer you’ve certainly got a fairly strange experience. Walk into the biggest Rolex store in the country, yes, and the chances of you walking out with a watch is low. That’s because they have to allocate. A store might get three particular models in and their phones will go mad because there will be about 70 people clamoring for each one.”

Industry sources say that companies like Rolex will have to choose who to sell them to, and that’s when they decide if you’re “the right type of person”, which usually comes down to whether you’re already spending money on their less desirable models.

The most obvious question to ask at this point is why Rolex doesn’t just produce more of the products people want to buy. The official answer seems to be that they already make about a million models a year and don’t have the capacity, but it’s not quite as simple as that.

Rolex didn’t respond to The Telegraph’s request for a comment on this story, but when Yahoo Finance covered the shortage, the brand replied saying all Rolex watches are assembled by hand at one of four locations in Switzerland, a process that “naturally restricts our production capacities.” It also takes months for all the various components of a Rolex to be made so changing direction quickly to produce more of one model and less of another is akin to moving a steamliner out of the way of an approaching iceberg (ie very difficult).

Rolex has also been caught out by the recent surge in popularity for their products. Instagram is where people go to show off – and this has made certain users far more interested in buying easy-to-identify status symbols. Add to that the fact that the watch industry did particularly well out of the pandemic when people had nowhere else to spend their money.


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