Frequently watch aficionados and collectors tell me that a Rolex is not an exclusive time piece. Perhaps an equal number of times, I’ve been told that the same Rolex is an exclusive time piece. Some of the people who claim that a Rolex is not an exclusive time piece then go on to say that IWC is the perfect example of a company which produces exclusive time pieces.
Rolex has an annual production number of approximately 800,000 time pieces. IWC by contrast produces only around 80,000 (79822 in 2009) per annum.
Although IWC produces one tenth the total number of Rolex watches, I think it’s quite difficult to base exclusivity solely on the number of pieces produced. While it’s no doubt a more exclusive timepiece than Rolex, it still doesn’t take me long to spot an IWC time piece in the flesh as I walk around in my village on a Saturday morning.
Having said that, there are a number of things Rolex has in its favor. For one, they are very transparent when it comes to the way they manufacture their watches in Switzerland. A lot of IT driven technology has been embedded in their manufacturing process, leaving only the final quality control to be done by human hands (and eyes). Recently, Chronos magazine from Germany and their US spin-off Watch Time magazine were fortunate enough to visit the Rolex factory in Geneva. Amazed by the number of high tech production equipment operating with minimal human interference, it became very clear how Rolex was able to produce such high numbers while maintaining a very respectable quality level.
IWC on the other hand, shows the customers beautifully crafted thick hard cover bound brochures, which read like a novel. Their brochures tell a story about the true craftsmanship by master watch makers which is expressed in each of their time pieces. I love some of the IWC time pieces and I’ve had a few in my collection in the past, and still possess an IWC Ingenieur that I really adore. But I can’t believe the manufacturing process is very different from any other brand that produces 20,000 or more timepieces per year (and even a haute horlogerie brand like Audemars Piguet belongs to this category). I imagine that IWC also has their share of production sites with CNC equipment and other high-tech machinery to manufacture cases, bracelets, crowns etc.
So, to summarize things, I think that a discussion about exclusivity in terms of the aforementioned numbers is quite pointless. With regards of quality, price level and brand recognition, I think both are excellent brands to own.
If you are looking for and exclusive timepiece, seek out brands with really small production numbers: think limited editions, collector’s items and tailor-made pieces. Some examples are Linde Werdelin, Bremont, Sinn, or if you have some money to spend, a Grönefeld, Thomas Prescher or a BLU time piece for example. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong in sporting an iconic watch on your wrist even if the watch in question is one of a thousand.