Record Profits For Rolex in 2013, And Other Intriguing Tidbits From An Interview With Its Chairman

Swiss newspaper Le Temps published an intriguing and rare interview with Bertrand Gros, the chairman of Rolex, lifting the veil every so slightly and shedding a tiny bit of light on Rolex, the world's largest luxury watch brand.
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Chairman of the Board of Directors at Rolex, Bertrand Gros recently granted Swiss daily Le Temps a rare interview, the first one ever in fact, that was published over the weekend. Though little of it was revelatory, some intriguing information emerged, including the fact that in Rolex enjoyed its best year ever – reaching an all time high in revenue – in 2013.

Interestingly, Gros said that the 4.6 billion Swiss francs (about US$5.1 billion) in annual revenue estimated by Swiss bank Vontobel was “fairly accurate”, but that it only counted sales from headquarters to Rolex’s foreign subsidiaries, and not subsequent sales on to end users or retailers. Similarly, an operating margin of 30% mooted by the interviewer was “plausible” according to Gros.

By way of comparison, the entire Swatch Group had sales of 8.8 billion francs in 2013, with an operating margin of 27.4%.

And he attributed the secretive nature of the company to the fact that it is owned by the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation (Rolex founder Wilsdorf left his shares to a foundation), making Rolex only accountable to one shareholder, unlike its rivals which are publicly listed entities. He also added that this corporate culture was unlikely to change.

Gros also explained that Rolex started its vertical integration and industrial expansion twenty years ago at the behest of former CEO Patrick Heiniger. While it was Heiniger’s father, Andre, who advocated maintaining mechanical watch production, despite the quartz crisis.

Jean-Frederic Dufour

Gros then touched on the the appointment of Jean-Frederic Dufour as the next CEO of Rolex, saying that though Rolex prefers to promote from the inside, as an outsider, Dufour will “bring new ideas” but “not alter or disrupt the culture and philosophy [of Rolex]”. He also added Dufour would come on board at the beginning of the Fall, and officially start in the role at a yet unknown date.

The full interview, in French, is available from Le Temps.


 

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Introducing the Louis Vuitton Escale Worldtime, With the World in Hand-Painted Colour (with live photos and price)

As Louis Vuitton shifts its watchmaking efforts into high gear with its new factory, it promises a slew of new and unusual complications, the first of which is the Escale Worldtime, a clever and colourful implementation of the traditional travel watch.
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Unveiled at Baselworld 2014, the Escale Worldtime is a visually striking, mechanically innovative, and also pricey, timepiece with a world time display. Featuring a hand-painted dial, the Escale Worldtime has a wandering hours display for the hours and minutes, and an easily adjustable world time function.

Developed by La Fabrique du Temps, a noted complications specialist led by talented watchmakers Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini, the Escale Worldtime is set via the crown, with the ability to go backwards or forwards. The first stop on the crown sets the cities disc, and the second stop sets the time.

Michel Navas with the Escale Worldtime

The dial is incredibly lively and detailed – not something for the faint of heart. Though the dial is loud, it is not immediately identifiable as a Louis Vuitton product, offering some level of discretion. Each dial is painted by hand with 30 colours before being fired in an oven. The entire process takes 50 hours and is done in-house.

On the wrist of Michel Navas

Because the dial is so close to the crystal, literally sitting a hair’s breadth below the sapphire glass, it appears that the dial and glass are one. The dial is comprised of three discs, the outermost for the cities, and then the hours and minutes. A yellow arrow at the top of the pyramid indicates the time.

The crystal practically touches the dial

The back reveals the mystery rotor, which spins on the periphery of the sapphire back; the centre is a silk screened Louis Vuitton logo. Inside is an outsourced base movement (likely ETA), with the world time module created in-house by La Fabrique du Temps.

The white gold case is 41 mm, with a polished bezel and lugs, and brushed flanks. Though it’s a simple form, the case is well finished with engaging details, like the lugs that echo the riveted brass corners of Louis Vuitton trunks and the octagonal crown.

With a retail of €50,000, the Escale Worldtime is limited to 50 pieces. The price is as rich as the dial is colourful, but this is a clever and uniquely conceived timepiece, and more importantly this is a Louis Vuitton product, so it will sell briskly.

And it must be noted this is merely the start of a well funded push into high horology by the world’s biggest luxury brand. Louis Vuitton has been putting considerable resources into building a meaningful competence in high horology, starting with its purchase of La Fabrique du Temps in 2011, bringing on board the talented team that brought us the lovely movements of Laurent Ferrier.

Later this year Louis Vuitton will open its new manufacture in Geneva, with which it will certify all its complications with the Geneva Seal. Though it’s easy to ridicule Louis Vuitton as a serious watch brand, the trunk maker will likely prove its critics wrong.

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