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Where have all the Rolex watches gone?

Worldwide shortage explained

Celine SimonDec 14, 2021

Not too long ago, walking by a Rolex boutique meant being faced with a window full of glistening luxury watches, enticing you to come in and try one on. Look inside those same glass boxes today, though, and you’ll see a sad state of mostly empty displays. If you’re lucky, you may find a few lonely watches desperately trying to fill out the beige space.

Empty displays outside a Rolex boutique. (Image provided by luxxee staff)

Inside the shop isn’t any better. Large glass cabinets that once held dozens of different Rolex models now resemble a mostly vacant parking lot with a smattering of cars left there for the night. This isn’t the aftermath of a big heist or during closing hours (when it’s customary for stores to lock up their valuable wares). This is happening right in the middle of the day, everywhere.

So where have all the Rolex watches gone? And just as importantly, will they ever come back?

Supply and demand

The simplest answer to explaining any shortage is that demand outpaces supply. Rolex watches are — and have been for a long time — highly coveted luxury goods. In some circles, wearing a Rolex signifies success and expresses personal style. In many parts of the world, a Rolex is as liquid as cash, which illustrates the power behind the Swiss watchmaking giant.

It's estimated that Rolex makes around a million watches a year. Since Rolex is a private company (owned by a charitable foundation, no less), manufacturing numbers are not made public. However, one million pieces a year isn’t enough to stock the brand’s network of authorized dealers around the world. Stainless steel sports Rolex watches (think Submariner, GMT-Master II, Daytona, Explorer, Yacht-Master, and so on) are the first to sell out but gold Rolex watches and classic Rolex timepieces aren’t far behind.

An empty display inside a Rolex boutique. (Image provided bu luxxee staff)

Although we no longer need to wear a watch since there are plenty of personal electronic devices that tell us the time, some of us still have the desire to strap one around our wrists. And when it comes to high-end watches, Rolex is without a doubt the most recognizable and popular of them all.

But are there really that many customers clearing out Rolex boutiques worldwide? It turns out that the answer isn’t that simple.

Secondary watch market boom

If we dig a little deeper into the Rolex shortage phenomenon, we soon discover that end-users aren’t the only ones buying the authorized dealer inventory. Middlemen are largely responsible for snapping up all the popular Rolex models, only to resell them in the secondary market at significant markups.

This means that end users, the customers buying watches for personal use and pleasure, are often losing out. They simply can’t find the watches they want at retail prices. The only options are to either wait a very long time to get the desired watch from a Rolex store (and waiting patiently certainly doesn’t guarantee getting the watch) or shell out more money to buy it from another source.

The secondary market was traditionally mostly home to used watches; however, that's no longer the case.

These other sources, including pre-owned watch dealers, grey-market dealers, discount retailers, auction sites, consignment outlets, and others, make up the secondary market. And the secondary market is establishing strong roots online thanks to the recent explosion of eCommerce websites specialized in high-end watches.

The secondary market was traditionally mostly home to used watches; however, that's no longer the case. There are now plenty of unworn Rolex watches in the secondary market, which are sometimes called New in Box or NIB for short. Yet, these watches are generally classified as “pre-owned” even though they’ve never been worn by another end-user. This is because you can only technically buy new from an authorized Rolex dealer. Once it has left that store and listed for sale elsewhere, it’s now pre-owned — regardless of whether another person had ever worn it or not.

If you know what you’re doing, flipping Rolex watches can be immensely profitable. If resellers can buy Rolex watches at retail prices (secondary market players have their ways with authorized retailers) and resell them as “pre-owned” at double or triple the cost, then the math makes sense. Plus, if buyers are willing to pay premiums to get their hands on Rolex watches that’ll earn them big bragging rights, it’s clear to see how the cycle keeps going.

More empty displays at a Rolex boutique. (Image provided by luxxee staff)

The lack of inventory at Rolex boutiques is further fueling an overheated secondary market. After all, scarcity is a major driving force behind the appeal of luxury goods. If shoppers discover that all the Rolexes are gone, it’s likely they’ll want the watches even more.

How can luxxee help?

luxxee is here to help navigate the murky waters of the secondary market. If the Rolex watch of your dreams is not available at an authorized dealer, then we can show you where it is available for sale.

Our powerful search engine will show you listings from the world’s top online watch sellers, complete with pricing, condition, and location information. This allows you to compare all the details before deciding on the right watch, without having to visit dozens of websites first.

By saving shoppers time and money, luxxee puts the power back into the hands of buyers.

Whether you’re willing to pay more for an unworn Rolex with a full set of box and papers or would be happy to pay less for a used watch without any original documentation, luxxee makes it simple to see all the available options. By saving shoppers time and money, luxxee puts the power back into the hands of buyers.

Search for Rolex’s most popular models, such as the steel and ceramic Daytona 116500LN, green bezel Submariner 126610LV, or Pepsi GMT-Master II 126710BLRO on searchluxxee.com and you’ll quickly see you have plenty of choices. No Rolex shortages here.

While luxxee can’t magically bring Rolex watches back to boutiques, we can offer the magic of convenient, stress-free shopping at your fingertips.

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