Friday, November 12, 2021

The Complete History Of Rolex Part 2: The André Heiniger Years

Note from Jake: I just completed a huge update to this amazing story, and I am certain you will love it. As I write this I am preparing to publish another epic story on Rolex Leadership which will boggle your mind!!! I don't have an exact date in mind, but plan to publish it sometime during the upcoming holiday season. In the meantime enjoy!

...Second Director of Rolex...

The André Heiniger Story

"Second Ghost In The Machine"


Rolex is an amazing company with an incredible history, coupled with an awe-inspiring legacy of success and achievement. In The Complete History Of Rolex Leadership Series on Jake's Rolex World, I have been exploring the history of Rolex's internal leadership, beginning with the founder of Rolex, Hans Wilsdorf.

Only six men have officially run Rolex in its illustrious history over the past 116 years. André Heiniger became the third Director General of Rolex in 1964, four years after founder, Hans Wilsdorf, passed away at age 78. André-Jean Heiniger's dedicated career with Rolex spanned 50 years from 1948 to 1998!!!

André-Jean Heiniger was born 
in La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland on September 12, 1921, and was married to Odette Montandon. He earned a B.A. degree in Business Administration at Basel at the Mayenfels Institute in Pratteln, and also went to school in England. Heiniger spoke many languages fluently including French, German (German-Swiss dialect) Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and English, and has been described at a soft-spoken man. 

The photo below of André-Jean Heiniger was taken just after he took over as the official Managing Director of Rolex in 1964 when he was 43 years old. 

André Heiniger 1963

After college André went to work for a watch company in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland where he worked for 6 years specializing in manufacturing, and business administration. In 1948 he met Rolex Founder, Hans Wilsdorf who offered him an opportunity to develop the Argentinian market in South America, where he lived and worked for the next 6 years in Buenos Aires, Argentina while building out the South American market for Rolex.

While living in Beunos Aires, André and his wife Odette welcomed their only child in to the world when Patrick Heiniger was born on August 26, 1950. André-Jean moved has family back to Geneva and was appointed Director of Watches on January 11, 1955.

The photo below shows Rolex founder, Hans Wilsdorf attending his 75th Birthday Party in 1956. In this photo we see André-Jean Heiniger on Wilsdorf's left looking down at a Camera in his hand. This is the only photo I have ever seen that shows Heiniger with Wilsdorf.

The best scholarship to date suggests Rolex Founder, Hans Wilsdorf was so impressed with André-Jean Heiniger he chose him as his successor to run Rolex shortly before his death in 1960. The strange thing is Heiniger was not officially appointed Director General of Rolex until 1964. This appears to suggest Rolex was leaderless for the four years between 1960 to 1964.

The challenge is when a profound leader like Wilsdorf dies it can leave a huge void unfilled with 'big shoes to fill.' There is a previously undocumented flip side to the official narrative, which I learned from a source whom wishes to remain anonymous that suggests there was perhaps some infighting amongst the top Rolex leadership, and after significant wrangling Andre Heiniger prevailed—which would explain why he wasn’t officially appointed Director General for 4 years after Hans Wilsdorf’s death in 1960 until 1964. “  

The video interview below features Rolex Founder, Hans Wilsdorf right around the time he chose to pass the baton to Heiniger to succeed him as the leader of Rolex. To the best of my knowledge this is the ONLY video footage of Wilsdorf to ever be seen by the public.

Rolex was originally headquartered in London, England, but in 1928 Hans Wilsdorf decided to move Rolex Headquarters to Geneva in Switzerland. Rolex Headquarters remained at the humble location in the center of Geneva (as pictured below on the top floors) from 1928 to 1964. It is interesting to consider that Rolex successfully commercialized the waterproof Oyster case, from this building, as well as launching the Perpetual movement, along with the Datejust, Day-Date, Submariner, GMT-Master, and Explorer.

Rolex Headquarters in Downtown Geneva opened in 1928 and moved in 1965

It is fascinating to note that in the photo above there are zero cars parked along the sidewalk, but many bicycles, and of course we see the trolley tracks...

In the photo below we see Hans Wilsdorf in his Genevan Headquarters office in late 1953 reviewing watches with J. Farren-Price who was Australia's original Rolex agent.

"First we shape our dwellings, then our dwellings shape us." 

–Sir Winston Churchill

In 1964, after becoming Director General of Rolex Heiniger made a bold move and chose by moving Rolex's International Headquarters from downtown Geneva to the outskirts of Geneva where he erected a radical new state of the art Rolex Campus that was designed to stand the test of time.

André-Jean Heiniger built Rolex's bold new state-of-the-art International Headquarters in 1965 (pictured below) and in many ways it was designed and built like a Rolex—including its Bauhaus influenced late art-deco timeless design language. 

Ironically, Rolex today makes more Rolex watches per year—exclusively in Switzerland—than the made during their first half-century when the photo above was taken in 1965!?!! This is due in large part to intelligent long-term investments André-Jean Heiniger made in continuously improving Rolex's infrastructure.

The following two Rolex ads appear courtesy of the Concannon Collection and they offer insight into how proud Rolex was of the development and design of their new World Headquarters in Geneva. 

I highly recommend clicking on the magazine graphic above and reading the whole thing, which is absolutely fascinating. In particular, I am most fascinated with the last two paragraphs which say:

"The Rolex watches of today have reached such heights of precision, accuracy, and ruggedness that it is difficult to predict what the watches of tomorrow will be like.

Whether they will be in cases of titanium or solid synthetic diamond. Whether they will be powered by atomic energy or by sun. But one thing is certain. The finest watches of tomorrow will be built by the men at Rolex."

As Rolex kept growing and expanding André-Jean Heiniger kept modernizing and improving Rolex's headquarters. Years later he added a glass elevator well on the front facade that offers breathtaking views of Lake Geneva.

The following documents which appear courtesy of The Souham / S3C Private Collection offer valuable insight into André-Jean Heiniger's amazing career achievements which come forth from a biographical review from St. John's University which granted him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree which he was very proud of. 

Document above and below appears courtesy of Souham / S3C private collection 

In 1986 André-Jean Heiniger was the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Rolex as well as remaining the Managing Director of Mountres Rolex S.A. In modern nomenclature Managing Director would be the same as Chief Executive Officer (CEO). 

The Quartz Crisis

How André-Jean Heiniger Protected Rolex

A Swiss consortium named Beta 21 worked on developing Quartz technology which included many famous Swiss brands like Patek Philippe, Omega and Rolex. In 1967 they developed a the first Quartz based functional proof-of-concept prototype named the CEH 1020 which was built by François Niklès and Jean Hermann in July of 1967. 

Long story short, the Swiss could not figure out what to do with the Quartz technology as they were rightfully worried it might obsolete their core manufacturing prowess with mechanical movements. The Japanese saw this as an opportunity and took advantage by flooding the international marketplace with cheap quartz watches. André-Heiniger took decisive action by moving Rolex upscale and converting it from a company that made 'Good Watches' to a Luxury Goods company. Ironically Rolex had invested a tremendous amount of resources into developing super innovative Rolex prototypes that to this day have never seen the light of day.

One really great question in my mind has always been if Hans Wilsdorf had lived 20 years longer, how would he have reacted to quartz technology. Would Wilsdorf have embraced Quartz, or would he have rejected it? At this point the question is purely academic, but one thing we know to be a fact is André Heiniger took advantage of the "Quartz Crisis" opportunity by consolidating Rolex's position in manufacturing and in the marketplace.  

As an insurance policy, Rolex introduced a number of Oyster Quartz models that were innovative, but Heiniger strategically positioned them as an inferior option by keeping their retail prices lower than the comparative mechanical models. This strategy went on for a quarter century, until Rolex in 2004 completely discontinued all quartz watches under Patrick Heiniger's leadership.

1971 Rolex Explorer II
Reference 1655

Rolex introduced the Explorer II in 1971 under André Heiniger's leadership and it had an orange hand to keep track of the time of day and night time. The current orange hand Rolex Explorer II  is based upon this cool retro-design.

Rolex Day-Date Ad
January 1973

This fascinating Rolex advertisement was published in a magazine in January of 1973, and it says: "There's a private corridor outside the Managing Director's office in our Geneva headquarters which is lined with the signed portraits of most of the world's leading Heads of State." Obviously this is André Heiniger's office.

If Only These Walls Could Talk

Below is a higher-resolution photo of the executive offices at Rolex Headquarters in Geneva in 1973. It is clear, that at least back in 1973, Rolex was very proud and interested in their history. What I want to know, is where are all those photos today? I want to see them and learn more about the amazing history of Rolex. I imagine André Heiniger's office is the one at the end of the corridor?

1976 Rolex Awards For Enterprise Founded

In 1976 André Heiniger founded the Rolex Awards for Enterprise to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the waterproof Rolex Oyster watch. Originally they were named "Spirit of Enterprise Awards", but were changed to "Rolex Awards for Enterprise."

In the photo below we see André Heiniger in 1976 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Oyster where Rolex announced the Spirit of Enterprise Awards. In this photo we see (from left to right) racing legend, Sir Jackie Stewart, Odette Heiniger, André Heiniger, Her Imperial Highness, Princess Napoléon, and legendary Olympic Skier, Jean-Claud Killy. Photo appears courtesy of S3C Private Collection.

Photo appears courtesy of Souham / S3C private collection 

The photo below shows the judges for the original Rolex awards. From left to right we see Luis Marden (whose real name was Annibale Luigi Paragallo). Luis Marden was a famous American photographer for National Geographic, as well as being a diver and filmmaker. Next up we see Professor, Oliver Reverdin who was a scientist, journalist and politician, then Professor Derek Jackson who was a spectroscopist and atomic physicist. Next we see André Heiniger with Professor Jacques Piccard on the end. Photo appears courtesy of S3C Private Collection.

Photo appears courtesy of Souham / S3C private collection 

Luis Marden who is pictured above on the far left is featured below in the 1976 Rolex Submariner ad.

Below is a photo from the 1978 Rolex Awards for Enterprise and we see Andre Heiniger (second from left) standing next to legendary Swiss explorer, Jacques Piccard.  On the far left we see Kenneth Marten, who was a 1978 Rolex Laureate along with Bill Lasley who has a mustache along with Francine Patterson who has long blond hair.

Photo appears courtesy of Souham / S3C private collection 

1978 Rolex Awards Ad

The next two images below were published in 1978 by Rolex in magazines. The first image is fascinating because it appears to be a wrist shot of sorts, but if you examine it closer, you might notice the remarkable similarity to the Rolex crown logo.

In the photo below from 1980 we see André Heiniger with legendary tennis star, Bjorn Borg on June 11 0n the evening of Men's singles finals at Wimbledon. The 1980 Wimbledon Men's final match was between Björn Borg and John McEnroe was a dramatic struggle which went on for a long time with Borg prevailing. 

Photos appear courtesy of Souham / S3C private collection 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I always found the body language in the photo below to be ironic as Björn Borg had just slayed McEnroe in the Men's Wimbledon Finals and in the moment that photo was taken was King of the World, yet he has his arms crossed in a defensive posture. Couple this with André-Jean's body language which is the complete antithesis of Borg, in the sense he looks like he just won Wimbledon :-)

In the photo below taken back in the early 1980s, we see Björn Borg and John McEnroe and they are both wearing Rolex Datejust watches.

André-Jean Heiniger's Rolls Royce pictured on the cover of a Rolex DAY-DATE Booklet

There is a famous story where a friend of André Heiniger asked him "How's the watch business doing?" to which André Heiniger responded "I have no idea." His friend laughed, not realizing that André was being serious. André continued "Rolex is not in the watch business. We are a luxury business."

This next photo is of somewhat profound significance as it was taken at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in Porto Cervo, Sardinia and shows André Heiniger and his wife Odette in 1995 with then President of Rolex Italy, Gian Riccardo Marini who went on to become the CEO of Rolex in May of 2011

André and Odette Heiniger are pictured below with His Highness, The Aga Khan at the same event.

André Heiniger's son Patrick Heiniger became the Managing Director of Rolex in 1992 when the Rolex Board of Directors appointed him to replace his father. Patrick Heiniger stepped down as CEO of Rolex on December 17, 2008.

André Heiniger is pictured below with his son Patrick Heiniger who became the CEO of Rolex after him. Golf legend, Arnold Palmer is pictured on the left wearing a tuxedo jacket.

Arnold Palmer, André Heiniger and Patrick Heiniger pictured above

André Heiniger stayed on as the Chairman of Rolex until he retired from that role in 1998, and then became Chairman emeritus until he passed away three years later On January 3, 2000 at the age of 79. Over the 34 years André Heiniger ran Rolex he assisted in turning it into the ultra-succesful company it is today. I am looking forward to shedding much more light on this illustrious Rolex historical figure.

The reason the sub-title of this part of this story is "The Second Ghost In The Machine" is because so little has ever been published about André Heiniger. André Heiniger was a very private man who maintained a very low-key public presence.

To date, André Heiniger has remained an enigmatic figure, and one could argue that history–like with Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex before I wrote Part 1 of this Rolex Leadership Series–almost seems to have forgotten him. I intend to change that in 2012 by walking you through his amazing career achievements and exploring what made him tick.

André Heiniger is pictured below with his wife, Odette Heiniger, Colonel Gerard Leigh and Price Charles of Wales at the Guards Polo Club in Windsor, U.K.

Photo appears courtesy of Souham / S3C private collection 

In this next photo, we see Gérard Souham, André Heiniger, Jan Nelson and Prince Charles.

Photo appears courtesy of Souham / S3C private collection 

Photo appears courtesy of Souham / S3C private collection 

In the next image we see André Heiniger with HIH The Princess Napoleon at a Polo match.