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 Ablogtowatch.com, 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.

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