Rolex really isn’t like any other watch brand. In fact, the privately held, independently run entity isn’t like most other companies. I can say this now with a lot more clarity than most people because I was there.
Rolex rarely allows anyone into its hallowed halls, but I was invited to visit their four manufacture locations in Switzerland and experience first-hand how Rolex makes their famous watches.
Rolex is a universe of its own: respected; admired; valued; and known across the globe. Sometimes I sit back and think about all that Rolex is and does and find it hard to believe that at the end of the day, they just make watches.
Rolex does just make watches and their timepieces have taken on a role beyond that of mere timekeeper. Having said that, the reason a “Rolex is a Rolex” is because they are good watches and tell pretty good time. It’s taken me over a decade to fully appreciate the brand, and it will probably take longer before I learn everything I’d like to know about them.
The purpose of this article isn’t to give you a totally inside look at Rolex. That isn’t possible because as of now there is a strict “no photography” policy at Rolex. There is a very real mystique behind the manufacture because they are relatively closed and their operations aren’t public. The brand takes the concept of Swiss discreetness to a new level, and in a lot of ways that is good for them. So since we can’t show you what we saw, I’d like to share with you some interesting facts that every Rolex and watch lover should know.
It Takes About A Year To Make One Rolex Watch
An advertisement for Rolex long ago claimed that it takes about a year to make a single Rolex watch. As suspicious as that sounds, it is true even today. Rolex produces almost a million watches a year, but surprisingly, no shortcuts are taken in the manufacturing process from what I could observe (and I’ve been to a lot of watch manufactures). Rolex is however interested in quality and efficiency. Basically, the entire company seems focused on producing the best watches, and continually seeing how they can make them better.
If you look at Rolex watches over time, they are more about evolution rather than revolution. This idea of always improving versus changing goes right into their manufacturing process as well. They are constantly learning how to improve quality through better processes and techniques. The move from aluminum to ceramic bezel inserts is a perfect example. Nevertheless, from starting to shape the parts of the case to testing a completed watch for accuracy, the process takes around one year.
Of course Rolex could speed this up for certain models if necessary, but each watch requires so many parts and virtually everything is made from base materials in-house. Once all the parts for a Rolex watch are completed, they are then mostly hand-assembled and individually tested. The testing and quality assurance process is rather intense.
A good example is how Rolex makes each of their watch dials. All of the dial are made in-house, and one of the most impressive facts is that all of the applied hour markers are set individually by hand. Often times at other brands, machines perform this process, but Rolex learned that a human eye is better trained to spot problems. So individual hour markers are applied and riveted by hand. Dials are dropped from 20cm up in the air to ensure that none of the hour markers fall out. This is a careful and time consuming process, and it is among the many elements of making watches at Rolex that is done by a skilled human being. Taken together, because of Rolex’s rather fanatical dedication to quality across their huge production, watches take on average, about a year to produce.