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#351 The Founder of Rolex: Hans Wilsdorf
June 4th, 2024 | E351

What I learned from reading about Hans Wilsdorf and the founding of Rolex.


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(0:01) At the age of twelve I was an orphan.

(1:00) My uncles made me become self-reliant very early in life. Looking back, I believe that it is to this, that much of my success is due.

(9:00) The idea of wearing a watch on one's wrist was thought to be contrary to the conception of masculinity.

(10:00) Prior to World War 1 wristwatches for men did not exist.

(11:00) Business is problems. The best companies are just effective problem solving machines.

(12:00) My personal opinion is that pocket watches will almost completely disappear and that wrist watches will replace them definitively! I am not mistaken in this opinion and you will see that I am right." —Hans Wilsdorf, 1914

(14:00) The highest order bit is belief: I had very early realized the manifold possibilities of the wristlet watch and, feeling sure that they would materialize in time, I resolutely went on my way. Rolex was thus able to get several years ahead of other watch manufacturers who persisted in clinging to the pocket watch as their chief product.

(16:00) Clearly, the companies for whom the economics of twenty-four-hour news would have made the most sense were the Big Three broadcasters. They already had most of what was needed— studios, bureaus, reporters, anchors almost everything but a belief in cable.   —  Ted Turner's Autobiography (Founders #327)

(20:00) Business Breakdowns #65 Rolex: Timeless Excellence

(27:00)   Rolex was effectively the first watch brand to have real marketing dollars put behind a watch. Rolex did this in a concentrated way and they've continued to do it in a way that is simply just unmatched by others in their industry.

(28:00) It's tempting during recession to cut back on consumer advertising. At the start of each of the last three recessions, the growth of spending on such advertising had slowed by an average of 27 percent. But consumer studies of those recessions had showed that companies that didn't cut their ads had, in the recovery, captured the most market share. So we didn't cut our ad budget. In fact, we raised it to gain brand recognition, which continued advertising sustains. — Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy by Isadore Sharp. (Founders #184)

(32:00) Social proof is a form of leverage. — Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charlie Munger. (Founders #329)

(34:00) What really matters is Hans understood the opportunity better than anybody else, and invested heavily in developing the technology to bring his ideas to fruition.

(35:00) On keeping the main thing the main thing for decades: In developing and extending my business, I have always had certain aims in mind, a course from which I never deviated.

(41:00) Rolex wanted to only be associated with the best. They ran an ad with the headline: Men who guide the destinies of the world, where Rolex watches.

(43:00) Opportunity creates more opportunites. The Oyster unlocked the opportunity for the Perpetual.

(44:00) The easier you make something for the customer, the larger the market gets: “My vision was to create the first fully packaged computer. We were no longer aiming for the handful of hobbyists who liked to assemble their own computers, who knew how to buy transformers and keyboards. For every one of them there were a thousand people who would want the machine to be ready to run.” — Steve Jobs

(48:00) More sources:

Rolex Jubilee: Vade Mecum by Hans Wilsdorf

Rolex Magazine: The Hans Wilsdorf Years 

Hodinkee: Inside the Manufacture. Going Where Few Have Gone Before -- Inside All Four Rolex Manufacturing Facilities 

Vintage Watchstraps Blog: Hans Wilsdorf and Rolex 

Business Breakdowns #65 Rolex: Timeless Excellence 

Luxury Strategy: Break the Rules of Marketing to Build Luxury Brands by Jean Noel Kapferer and Vincent Bastien 


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