Saturday, February 22, 2020

Rolex in Japan: An Example to Follow

Rolex in Japan

An Example to Follow?

Two thousand nineteen marked an important anniversary in horology, and this one has nothing to do with the Moon. 

Fifty years ago last month, on Dec. 25, 1969, Japanese watchmaker Seiko unveiled the Astron, the world's first quartz watch, unwittingly starting what is dubbed today as the Quartz Crisis because it forced many traditional Swiss watchmakers out of business.

Half a century later, however, in one of the greatest turnarounds in the industry, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said exports to Japan have never been stronger, logging the biggest increase year-over-year for any country. 

Austin Daniels/YouTube

Swiss watch exports to Japan are up a stunning 21%, while in Hong Kong, still the biggest market in the world, it dropped 10%. 

The year 2019 was not an outlier in the Land of the Rising Sun: If we look at the past two years, Swiss watch exports to Japan increased by a mind-boggling 33%. Exports to Japan have surpassed exports to the UK and are catching up with exports to China.

So it's no surprise that watch publication HODINKEE picked Japan as its first international edition. Two months ago, it went live with, providing a mix of translated articles published on and original pieces written by Japanese watch journalists.

Fifty years after the quartz revolution nearly wiped out the Swiss watch industry with cheap quartz models, the popularity of Rolex in Japan has never been stronger even spawning new policies for buying Rolex watches.

The new policy, which started in November, restricts the number of Rolex professional models that can be purchased by one customer.

The policy was not instigated by Rolex Japan but was suggested by 20 companies that run official stores in that country. Rolex signed off on the new policy. 

The policy restricts clients to one popular professional model per year—Daytona, GMT-Master II, Submariner, Sea-Dweller, Deepsea, Explorer and Explorer II—and one reference per five years. For example, you can buy a GMT-Master II BLRO ("Pepsi") one year and a GMT-Master II CHNR ("Root beer") the next. If you want to buy two BLROs, however, you'll have to wait five years between the two.

Of course, the main purpose of this policy is to prevent buying for the purpose of watch flipping, as most Rolex professional models command a price on the grey market that is above the recommended retail price in Japan.

The new policy aims to protect the watch enthusiasts who want a Rolex in their collections and is conducted at 67 stores in Japan which share a database of purchases. Customers will have to present a photo ID when purchasing. 

An American businessman in Japan who goes by M. Bu told me recently: "I’m glad such rule exists even though I’m here for work," he said. "I hope such rule is coming to the USA."

Austin Daniels, an American who has lived in Japan for nearly 15 years, is the host of a popular channel on YouTube about Rolex and the Japanese culture. Austin told me that [before the rule] there was a sense of unfairness on the part of potential Japanese Rolex customers. And he felt a rule that limits the amount of desirable pieces a single person can buy addresses that. "It seems to be aimed at maximizing fairness," he said. "I commend Rolex for their aim." 

Should a similar rule be implanted in other countries? Let me know via Twitter or Instagram.