Why Are Rolex Watches So Expensive?

Extravagance, luxury, and class are the usual terms that people use when referring to Rolex watches. With their exquisite designs, reliable movements, and lavish builds, it is no wonder why Rolex watches are loved by high-profile individuals from around the world. Some of the famous names that have worn Rolex pieces include John F. Kennedy, Warren Buffett, Martin Luther King, Elvis Presley, Paul Newman, and many more. Indeed, given the steep price tags of Rolex watches, it makes sense why big earners tend to be the ones who own these classic timepieces.

However, many of us have often wondered just why Rolex timepieces are so expensive in the first place. Are their high price tags justifiable or are they just for show? In this article, we will be covering all the reasons why Rolex watches are so expensive, so you can decide for yourself just how valid these reasons are. 

7 Reasons Why Rolex Watches Are So Expensive

1. Designing Rolex watches costs a lot.

Rolex Green Sapphire Crystal (left)and Rolex Oysterflex Bracelet on Sky-Dweller Ref. 326238-0009 watch on its side (right)
Rolex Green Sapphire Crystal and Oysterflex Bracelet on Sky-Dweller Ref. 326238-0009

First of all, it should be noted that watchmaking is a meticulous and tiring process which requires a lot of money. Rolex watches are a prime example of that.

The prestigious brand has its very own research and development department. This is a highly professional facility that has all the latest groundbreaking tools and avant garde equipment. It uses these tools to craft highly-functional and aesthetically-pleasing timepieces. 

Not only that, but Rolex is also constantly innovating new manufacturing methods and techniques to stay ahead of the watchmaking game. Moreover, Rolex only hires highly experienced and trained scientists in their laboratories. They do this in order to maximize research on various lubricants and oils for their machines. As a result of all the aforementioned factors, the in-house development costs that go into the craftsmanship and design of Rolex watches and movements is said to be very high. 

One of the finest technological advancements the luxury Swiss label takes great pride in is its green sapphire crystal. First introduced in the revamped version of the 2007 Rolex Milgauss, it is a sturdy, scratch-proof, and fade-proof watch crystal with a light green outline. Providing great legibility, the green edges of the crystal gleam brightly in low-light conditions. As proof of Rolex’s passion for Swiss craftsmanship, it took them many years to develop and finally master the art of making this stunning proprietary crystal. Today, the green sapphire crystal still takes weeks to produce, and is only available on Milgauss models.

Another impressive innovation by Rolex is the Oysterflex band. The outer portion of this bracelet is made out of strong black elastomer, while its core is crafted from flexible titanium and nickel alloy blades that give the watch more shape and definition. With these two materials combined, the bracelet is not only durable but also very comfortable on the wrist. Giving wearers a break from classic straps made of stainless steel or other precious metals, the sophisticated Oysterflex band has a sporty and commanding appeal that men will surely appreciate. 

To make the Oysterflex strap more functional, the brand also created their patented Glidelock extension system. This allows wearers to adjust the strap’s fit by up to 20mm, without needing any extra tools. You can experience the wonders of this Oysterflex band via some members of the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, Rolex Yacht-Master, Rolex Sky-Dweller, and Rolex Air King collections. 

2.  The brand uses 904L stainless steel.

front view of Rolex Datejust Ref. 278240-0015 watch (left) and front view of Rolex Explorer Ref. 124273-0001 watch (right)
Rolex Datejust Ref. 278240-0015 and Rolex Explorer Ref. 124273-0001

One thing that gives Rolex watches the edge over its competitors is that the brand always uses premium materials. In particular, Rolex is famous for its use of 904L quality stainless steel, unlike other watch brands that use 316L stainless steel. 904L stainless steel is also referred to as the “corrosion-resistant superalloy” and “Oystersteel” in the Rolex realm. 

The use of this type of metal plays a big part in making Rolex offerings timeless, stylish, and extremely functional. Oystersteel is remarkably durable, with proven resistances to rust, magnetic fields, and any kind of corrosion. This is all thanks to its copper, nickel, and chromium components. It is also a lot shinier and stronger than the regular 316L stainless steel other watchmakers commonly use. 

Of course, this kind of strength and resistance does not come cheaply. Since it takes extra work and special skills to manufacture 904L stainless steel, it is no surprise why it is a lot pricier. This is also why other watch brands still favor the more accessible 316L stainless steel, better known as surgical grade steel. Aside from the fact that it is cheaper, 316L stainless steel is also reportedly easier to work with. 

Generally speaking, Rolex uses the 904L stainless steel in all of their collections. This ensures that all their timepieces are exquisite, tough, and long-lasting, and is a major factor why Rolex watches are all so expensive. 

A good example of a watch that utilizes 904L stainless steel is the Rolex Datejust Ref. 278240-0015. As one of the best beginner Rolex watches today, it has a 31mm Oystersteel case that sits nicely on slender wrists, paired with a link bracelet made of the same material. Its dark grey sunray dial serves as a great backdrop to the silver Roman numerals, crown logo at 12 o’clock, and baton hands. When it comes to performance, this watch’s COSC-certified 2236 automatic caliber exceeds expectations. It has a power reserve of 55 hours and an accuracy rating of -2/+2 seconds per day. Priced at around $7,000 USD, this Datejust model is also water-resistant up to depths of 100 meters.

If you are into colorful and extravagant Oystersteel timepieces, then the Rolex Explorer Ref. 124273-0001 is the ideal choice. Its 36mm case and link bracelet are made primarily out of Oystersteel. Rolex adds to the luxurious look of this watch with the use of an 18K yellow gold polished bezel, screw-down crown, and central links. When it comes to the dial, this piece boasts a stark black hue, with Arabic numeral markers, baton indices, and the brand’s signature Mercedes hands. Powered by the Calibrer 3230 automatic movement with 70 hours of power reserve, this expensive Rolex watch retails at around $11,420 USD.

3. Rolex watches can stand the test of time.

front view of Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch (left) and Rolex Explorer II watch (right)
Rolex Oyster Perpetual and Rolex Explorer II 

If you want a timepiece that can withstand any type of wear and tear, you will never find anything better than the Rolex. Extreme changes in humidity, movement, temperature, and altitude could severely damage other watches, especially low-quality ones. The same is not true of Rolex. This is in large part due to the reasons we have already discussed in the previous points: Rolex’s use of premium Oystersteel and constant innovation of new technology helps make its watches stronger and longer-lasting.

One example of this unparalleled recognition is Sir Edmund Hillary. Hillary was the first person to ascend Mount Everest, and he did so while wearing a Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch on his wrist. Then came Ed Viesturs, who in 1994 climbed the Earth’s highest mountain while wearing a Rolex Explorer II. Both these men’s Rolex watches survived their experiences in perfect working condition, which is a great testimonial to their durability and longevity. In fact, Viesturs still wears his Rolex Explorer II today to commemorate his incredible feat. 

The photo above shows off the modern versions of the Oyster Perpetual and the Explorer II. Both watches have large cases and bracelets made entirely out of Oystersteel. They also come with accessible winding screw-down crowns and high-quality sapphire crystals that protects their dial from any kinds of scratches. Much like many other Rolex models, the Oyster Perpetual and Explorer II are also water-resistant up to depths of 100 meters. This means that these watches are suitable not only for swimming, but can also be brought to your snorkelling and poolside diving adventures too. 

With their intricate construction and impressive capabilities, there is no doubt that all Rolex watches are made to last. When you buy a Rolex watch, you are investing in a timepiece that can accompany you for generations. As such, it is really no surprise why Rolex watches can be so expensive. 

4. The movements are assembled by hand.

Caliber 3135 movement of Rolex watches
Caliber 3135

Rolex does use some machines to produce their watches, but the tasks they perform are typically very simple ones. Some of these simple tasks include filing, sorting, and cataloging. 

The more complex jobs, like assembling bracelets and watch movements, are actually all done in-house and by hand. This gives the brand more freedom in designing their watch engines and developing their own standards. After the actual production is completed, each watch is then double-checked and tested by the craftsmen in charge. This ensures that the high quality of each Rolex piece is maintained. Such hard work and dedication is absolutely priceless when you think about it.

Looking at Rolex’s extensive catalog, you will notice that almost all of the movements that power its watches are certified by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres. Better known as the “COSC”, this independent non-profit organization aims to uphold the top-notch standards of the Swiss watchmaking industry. In particular, this organization is responsible for validating and testing the accuracy of watches made in Switzerland. The fact that almost all Rolex watches are COSC-certified proves that these timepieces are not only versatile and chic but also dependable and highly functional. 

Each of the label’s movements is significant and probably deserves more discussion than we have time for. However, if there is one Rolex movement worth emphasizing, it would probably be the Caliber 3235. Dubbed by many seasoned collectors as one of the best automatic calibers in the market today, it is made up of 201 components and has a total of 14 patents under its belt. 

front view of Rolex Yacht-Master 40 Everose Cerachrom Ref. 116655-0001 watch
Rolex Yacht-Master 40 Everose Cerachrom Ref. 116655-0001

Taking inspiration from its direct predecessor, the classic Caliber 3135 movement, the Caliber 3235 measures just 28.5mm in size. It is typically equipped with 31 jewels, a date component, and a central sweeping seconds feature. This movement also has a whopping 70 hours worth of power reserve, which is much higher than what the Caliber 3135 offered. 

One outstanding new innovation that was introduced in the Caliber 3235 is its paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring. This makes the caliber much more precise and resistant to shocks. With an accuracy rating of -2/+2 second per day and a frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour, this movement is an ode to Rolex’s outstanding workmanship and constant pursuit of excellence. You can find this caliber in many Datejust, Yacht-Master and Sea-Dweller models.

5: Rolex watches are exceptionally quality-driven.

Forget about complex movement assembly, Rolex is an incredible “control freak”, even when it comes to the smallest details. The brand has master craftsmen who ensure that every screw is intact and each gem and hour marker is set perfectly in place. In addition, the brand even dedicates a lot of effort to placing bezels on the watch cases, by hand, with extreme precision for smooth and accurate time tracking. 

Rolex also takes charge of melting down its own precious metals such as silver and gold, which are both used in the majority of their products. As you can see, every aspect of Rolex’s production process is quality controlled and maintained at consistently high standards, as one can expect from a quality-driven luxury label. 

6. The brand uses precious materials.

front view of Rolex Day-Date Ref. 228239-0007 watch (left); front view of  Rolex Sky-Dweller Ref. 326935-0005 watch (center); and front view of Rolex Submariner Date Ref. 126613LB-0002 (right)
Rolex Day-Date Ref. 228239-0007, Rolex Sky-Dweller Ref. 326935-0005 and Rolex Submariner Date Ref. 126613LB-0002

One thing you might not know about Rolex is that it is backed by an army of gemologists. These are professionals who specialize in testing and incorporating precious metals such as diamonds and gold into Rolex watches. Furthermore, the brand also employs conventional jewelers to help them handpick and hand-set diamonds and other precious stones precisely into their watches.

In addition, unlike many other watchmakers, Rolex is probably one of the few brands that produces timepieces made out of gold. Yes, genuine, solid gold instead of paint or gold plating! The brand takes care to specially refine 18K white, everose, and yellow gold for their timepieces. The use of real, solid gold explains why some Rolex gold models are so expensive. 

One example of a premium Rolex watch made out of white gold is the Day-Date Ref. 228239-0007, which has a refined build and polished finish. It measures 40mm in size and comes with a white gold President bracelet that sits nicely on any type of wrist. The medium-sized screw-down crown ensures the watch’s 100-meter water resistance rating. This is paired with a high-quality sapphire crystal that protects the dial from any scratches or impacts. This watch runs on a Caliber 3255 movement with 70 hours of power reserve and a +2/-2 seconds per day accuracy rating. You can cop this timepiece for around $42,370 USD. 

If you are looking for a fancy and fully-functional watch, then you should give the Sky-Dweller Ref. 326935-0005 a try. Perfect for jet-setters, it has a 42mm case and bracelet made out of the brand’s proprietary Everose gold. The dial boasts a clean white hue, and is decorated with baton hour markers and hands, a 24-hour display, and an annual calendar. The watch’s fluted bezel and screw-down crown are also made of Everose gold. This Sky-Dweller piece is powered by a 9001 perpetual automatic movement, with 72 hours worth of power reserve. Priced at around $61,160 USD, this is one of Rolex’s most expensive pieces

Last, but certainly not least, check out the Submariner Date Ref. 126613LB-0002, commonly referred to as the Modern Bluesy. This is the ideal choice for men who are into glamorous sports watches. It comes in a classic 41mm Oystersteel and yellow gold case, paired with a bracelet made of the same materials. Its royal blue dial has large geometric indices and a huge date aperture with a cyclops lens at 3 o’clock. Bearing a unidirectional blue bezel with lavish gold markings, it is powered by a Caliber 3235 automatic movement. This sporty and lavish Submariner piece costs $15,000 USD in retail.

7. Rolex watches have impressive water-resistance capacities.

front view of Rolex Submariner Ref. 124060-0001 watch (left) and front view of Rolex Deepsea Ref. 126660-0002 watch (right)
Rolex Submariner Ref. 124060-0001 and Rolex Deepsea Ref. 126660-0002

Another factor that contributes to the high price tags of Rolex watches is their water resistance ratings. Some models are even able to withstand water pressures of up to a whopping 300 meters. As part of the production process, all Rolex dive watches are first tested under pressurized tanks before being tested in actual watches. For instance, to test the Deepsea watches, Rolex uses high-pressure water tanks that are redeveloped by the Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises (“COMEX”). This is a French-based diving company that commissioned Rolex to craft precise and high-performing dive watches. 

One watch with a jaw-dropping water-resistance rating is the Rolex Submariner Ref. 124060-0001, which also boasts a sleek black and silver aesthetic. Priced at around $8,540 USD, it comes in a 41mm Oystersteel case and a three-link bracelet. As a luxury dive watch, this watch has a rotatable unidirectional bezel. The bezel is adorned with platinum Arabic numeral and baton markings, a Cerachrom insert in black, and a luminous triangle at the 12 o’clock position. Aside from housing an automatic movement with 70 hours of power, this Submariner watch is also water-resistant up to depths of 300 meters.

Another fan favorite is the Rolex Deepsea Ref. 126660-0002, also referred to as the Rolex Deepsea D-Blue, which is water-resistant up to incredible depths of 3,900 meters. This watch stands out with its 44mm Oystersteel case and band made out of the same material. As a dive watch, this Deepsea piece has a 60-minute graduated ceramic bezel in black. Its two-tone gradient dial serves as a great backdrop to the white hour markers, Mercedes hands, and date window at 3 o’clock. This watch runs on a COSC-certified Caliber 3235 automatic movement with an accuracy rating of -2/+2 second per day. This striking piece will set you back by around $13,600 USD.

Rolex Watches Were Not Always Expensive

This may come as a bit of a surprise, but when Rolex watches were first introduced in 1905, they were not anywhere near as expensive as they are today. But as time went on, the quality of these watches went up, and their prices increased at a commensurate pace. 

The great thing is that Rolex watches only continue to appreciate in price as the years go by. As such, if you are looking for a solid timepiece to invest in, Rolex watches are your best bet, even with their exorbitant prices. 

Final Thoughts

On the whole, there are countless reasons why Rolex timekeepers are extremely costly. Considering the brand’s legendary heritage, their use of top-notch materials, their timeless designs, and their innovative techniques, the hefty price tags of their fine and high-quality products are incredibly reasonable. Given that Rolex watches also take time and complete mastery to manufacture, it only makes sense that they are all considered valuable pieces.

Whatever it is that makes Rolex watches truly expensive, it is always a good idea to purchase and eventually add at least one of them in your growing collection. Aside from the fact that their value increases every year, they are also statement timepieces that carry an incredible history and will never go out of style.

All images from Rolex’s official website.

Can’t get enough of the Swiss brand and their amazing offerings? Make sure to check out our articles on the Rolex Kermit, Rolex Submariner Blue Date Ref. 126613, Rolex Deepsea D-Blue, Rolex Cellini Moonphase, and 15 Most Expensive Rolex Watches.

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