Global demand for Rolex is so strong that authorised dealers (ADs) in the United States are holding back what little stock they get of the most popular models so that their best customers have a chance of buying one this side of Christmas.
Rolex sales in the UK are up by more than 25% this year, building on back-to-back record sales in 2016 and 2017.
Retail analyst NPD says the situation in the United States is desperate as ADs try in vain to keep watches in their cabinets.
Rolex has even started supplying cabinet trays with fewer cavities so that displays do not look so empty, according to the analyst.
“It is like nothing we have seen in the history of wristwatches. We can go back decades never see another time like it in history when you have this sort of demand and shortages in the market. The same is true for Patek Philippe sports models,” says Reginald Brack, executive director, industry analyst — watches and luxury — for NPD.
“I am in Rolex ADs across the country all the time and it is the same story everywhere: the wall displays are empty. I was in two yesterday and, outside the New York area, the displays are empty. Rolex has been shipping trays with fewer cavities in them so that they can display less product,” Mr Brack adds.
Rolex retailers are having to train staff on how to deal with customers frustrated by the shortages. “I know of a gentleman who went into a Rolex AD looking for a steel Daytona, and he was told it would be about 50 years before he would get one. Rolex is having to train people to deal with customers who are being told that there are 90 people ahead of them on a waiting list for a Batman or a Hulk. They are being trained on how to not roll their eyes or chuckle,” Mr Brack describes.
“As a customer going into the holiday season, unless you have that long term relationship with a dealer, you are going to have a hard time buying a sport Rolex,” he adds.
Patek Philippe sports watches are always scarce, but the situation now is on a new level, despite the brand increasing prices for its hottest models by 20% in March.
Luxury watch sales do not spike quite so high in the holiday season as other product categories, because they are less frequently bought as gifts, but demand will rise, and Rolex ADs are taking drastic action.
“Many of the Rolex ADs have been hoarding inventory since summer in preparation for the holiday season. They have been hoarding the sports watches, not putting them on display, because they want their best customers to be able to buy the watches they want,” Mr Brack reveals.