The Rolex waiting list, a myth that must be explained.

Every now and then people talk about the weather or the Rolex waiting list. It seems like it is a standard of the business. There has been so much buzz around “The Rolex waiting List” and “The Call” to fuel tons of articles by better writers than Yours, truly.

Well, my friends readers, let me tell something to you fair and square. Something that will sound like a complete surprise.

The waiting list does not exist

Or at the very least, it is not what you think it is. In the good old days – and I mean, some thirty years ago, Rolex watches were good, even if expensive, watches made for leisure.

They were available in shops, people went there and bought them at list price, getting them immediately, sometimes obtaining fair deals and discounts by the shop owners.

People routinely bought and sold second-hand and vintage Rolex models at a discount over the list price – because this is what usually happens in the world. Used things cost less than new ones.

The, something happened. The fashion of the Eighties faltered, and with it, the bimetallic watches. People started to demand plain steel watches. And for some inexplicable reasons, the attention turned to the Rolex Professional line (its name should tell us something about what kind of timepieces populate it).

In short, the demand for steel watches of this kind started to rise. Dramatically.

But the company did not follow the demand. Rolex slowly raised the production, but did not alter the composition of the supply. With the end result that people started asking to buy watches that weren’t in the shops. And this behavior, which more or less started in the early 1990s, was the prodrome of the current situation. As you can see in the chart, courtesy, the prices started to soar from then onwards.

The dawning of the “waiting list”

As shops could not really keep up with the requests, they started to tell people that they had to wait to get their steel Submariner. And day after day, the wait became longer and longer, because the company did not deliver enough watches to satisfy everyone.

So, the myth of the “waiting list” started to swell. And in time, people came to the conclusion that the waiting list was part of the game from the start. A feature, and not a bug in the system. Something that was controlled centrally – with people getting in a huge database and getting their watch once that it was ready through their preferred official dealer. Like it happens with cars, right?

Except for the fact that it doesn’t.

While the single shop might have a list of people waiting for that model, it is usually true that every official dealer has a few models ready for the picking in its safes. If he wanted, he could get in the rear and come out with a brand new steel Submariner for you. But he does not, and for very good reasons.

Why you have to wait to get your Sub

We have stated that some specific models are limited, right?

Let’s pretend that the shop has sold its last steel Sub: now it cannot order new ones for some time. Rolex does not sell its watches singularly. It does so in “packs”. If you order a steel Sub, you need to buy a bimetal Datejust and a gold Cellini. And pay hard cash to get them. So, your margin on the Sub gets burned by having to order other watches that people would not buy as readily as the Sub.

Now, it happens that a random celebrity walks right into your store, and after exchanging smiles and pleasantries, asks to buy that steel Sub. What would you do? Would you put him or her in a “waiting list”?
“Oh, Mr. Celebrity, I have no steel Submariners right now, but I can sell you a wonderful gold Cellini!”
Do you really think this would work? Not in my book, is you ask me. It is much better to keep a couple Submariners in stock, just in case.
Maybe your buddy Buck drops by one day. Buck has bought lots of watches from you in the last ten years. He’s a good customer. He’s almost a friend. And now he wants a steel Submariner. So, you get to the back, grab a box, and give the damn’ thing to Buck, presto.

Rolex shops are independent companies

People usually think that the fancy boutiques they get into are totally owned by the companies that have their name outside the door. While this happens in some cases, the majority of times it does not.

The shop is wholly independent and has chosen to be affiliated with that particular brand. And the business aims of Rolex and Mr. Owner’s might diverge a lot.

If he chooses so, one day he could decide to dump the company of the crown and switch to – say – Omega. Obviously, it is not that simple – check this other article to understand why – but you get the idea.

When you are inside a shop, the only thing that counts is the relationship that you manage to establish with the owner and the staff. Nothing else matters.

You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual. It is a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual

Finding the best first mechanical watch is almost an art

I want to buy a men’s mechanical watch, but I don’t know which brand to buy. Do you have any recommendation?

Well, if I had one cent for every time I heard that question, I could buy myself Patek Philippe. Not one watch – the effing company. But as it does not happen, my advice depends on your budget and your needs.

And its is much better to start by making a bit of planning before pulling the trigger.

A mechanical watch is much more than a device to tell you the time. It is a way to express your character as a person. You might love to wear a very modern and industrial-looking watch, or a retro-looking yellow gold two-hander on a crocodile strap designed for formal occasions.

As you can readily see, these two watches are made for for two very different occasions.

The three-watch collection

A common setup of any watch aficionado is to own at least three different watches:

  1. A “daily beater”
  2. The watch that you use regularly
  3. The watch for special occasions

The first one is the watch that you can wear on every circumstance, and not worry much about. It is usually of low value, so if it breaks, well, you buy another.

The second one is the watch that accompanies you through your “regular” routine: leisure, work, and some formal meetings. It is a sporty yet elegant watch, and it will make you look smart enough during your daily life.

The third is reserved for important meetings and social occasions where you have to look your best. It is usually a precious watch, that is, made in gold, and looks elegant and generally, a bit understated.

Now, these are general rules, and you know, rules are there to be broken.

But if I had to start somewhere between these three, I would shoot straight for #2, as it is the watch that is going to accompany you through most of your life. More, it is flexible: you can wear it (judiciously) during leisure/sports activities, but is smart enough to be worn on a social occasion.

The magic trick to change a watch’s character

Just remember that there is a clever way so that you could change the character of your watch: that is, replacing its wristband/bracelet. A watch can assume a completely different character with another strap, exactly as you look very different when you wear a pair of jeans or a suit and tie. While not as easy as 1–2–3, changing straps is not overly complicated – and any jeweler would do it for you for free or a menial charge, if needed. Just remember that normally, a leather wristband is more elegant than a metal bracelet (which is generally more sporty), and a silicone strap or a NATO strap are definitely sporty-looking.

So, let’s go checking some good alternatives for your watch buying. I will focus on new watches – that is, watches that you can readily find online. If you buy second-wrist watches, you usually save some money, but you are never certain of what you are going to get (so, when you are new at horology, better avoid).

A guide to choosing your perfect first watch

As we have several possiblities, we will examine several typical choices, so to find the one which is most suited to you and your needs.

Your budget is low?

You still have some good choices to find the perfect mechanical watch that will serve you faithfully for a long time.

And they are called Seiko and Orient.

These are Japanese brands that give an excellent value for the price you pay for your watch, and offer mechanical timepieces powered by proprietary calibers that rival the costs of quartz-based movements.

You should examine two lineups, precisely the Seiko 5 and the Orient Bambino, and you are going to pay from USD 100 to 200 for the privilege of wearing either of them.

While they are not state-of-the-art in features and mechanical precision, they are almost unbeatable if you consider their price, value, and presence on the wrist, which rivals much costlier timepieces.

You want to buy a good-looking, affordable Swiss watch?

A very good bet would be Tissot. Tissot is the entry-level brand of the Swatch group, and it makes some great watches at budget prices.

I am particularly fond of their Heritage models, which propose old designs that have been updated with new technology (remember that when you see the world “Heritage” it means just that).

So, I suggest you to consider the Tissot Heritage Visodate. It is a great starter watch, and looks much more important than its list price, which starts from around USD 350 for the mechanical version.

You want to step up your game a little bit?

Well, if you have somewhat more to splurge on your timepiece, you should consider getting something better, from both worlds (that is, Japanese and Swiss).

There are other product lines that you should consider, like the beautiful Seiko Presage. The Seiko Presage line is called by aficionados “baby Grand Seiko”. While this is not really true, these are watches that look far better than their list price.

Their most striking feature is usually the dial. This is lovely, but there are others which are even more impressive. A Seiko Presage starts from around USD 500, upwards.

Another great choice comes again from the Swatch group, and is called Mido. Mido makes excellent watches with a great value proposition. A model I could suggest you is the gorgeous Mido Baroncelli.

The Baroncelli is a great catch. Its fluted case is very elegant, and the watch has a great character and quality. It will make you look definitely smart. The Baroncelli starts from around USD 700, but it’s worth every penny.

You want a well-known Swiss brand?

Then you should resort to one of the best-known brands in horology, which is Longines. Though today the Maison is not on the level that it was back then, it is still an excellent company manufacturing quality watches, and has a great reputation in horology and in the mindset of people. Everybody would have heard about Longines in their life!

The Longines Conquest is a historic model of the company. I love both the newer version, which is more sporty, and the Heritage version, which is more elegant.

You can get either of them at around USD 1,000.

These are just a small selection of examples. You could find lots of other options, especially for complicated watches – that is, watches which mount other interesting functions apart from the simple timekeeping, like chronographers or annual calendars.

But to start your path in mechanical horology, a watch like the ones I have suggested would be enough.

You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual, a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual