The Watch World’s Billion Dollar Babies

In the past, analysts trying to determine Rolex’s annual production relied on figures reported by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres, known as COSC, a nonprofit organization that certifies Swiss timepieces for precision. That strategy worked because nearly all of Rolex’s production is chronometer-certified. Earlier this year, however, COSC stopped including brand names in its annual reports, reportedly under pressure from stakeholders.

In 2015, the last year for which figures are available, Rolex received 795,716 certificates from the group. “That tells us they’re producing about 800,000 watches per year,” Mr. Altieri said. “Multiply that by the average retail value — I think it’s around $10,000 — and you get $8 billion at retail.”

While the value of Rolex sales remains a matter of intense speculation and some dispute, there is virtually complete agreement on one thing: The brand is “mass produced with excellence,” said Paul Boutros, head of the Americas watch division at Phillips, whose Oct. 26 sale of a vintage Rolex Daytona once owned by Paul Newman earned $17.8 million. Auction house officials said it was the highest price ever paid for a wristwatch at auction.

Rolex is “the watch you want on your wrist when you’re in a Third World country and revolution breaks out and there’s only one seat on the plane and there’s a guy standing there with a machine gun,” said Alexander Linz, editorial director of the Swiss-based website Watch Advisor. “You give him a Rolex and he will give you the seat. It’s kind of its own currency.”


An Omega store in Toyko.

Ko Sasaki for The New York Times


Founded in 1848 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the cradle of Swiss watchmaking, Omega — like Rolex, its No. 1 competitor — positions itself as a master of precision in the sports watch category, with estimated sales of…

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