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The great Rolex shortage

There are shortages around the globe these days — from cars to the microchips that go into them, to coffee beans, and even toilet paper. The pandemic supply crunch fueled much of this, and this goes even for high-end wristwatches.

While sales of these wristwatches dipped during the height of the pandemic in 2020, purchases have recently jumped higher. According to the FHS, a Swiss watch industry research group, Swiss watch sales were up 7.6% in July compared to the pre-pandemic baseline of 2019. Sales growth jumped a whopping 48.5% in the U.S. in July compared to 2019 levels, and even 75% in China.

Now overall Swiss watch sales are up, but for privately-held Rolex the situation is more complex. Paul Altieri, CEO of online watch retailer Bob’s Watches, says the story for Rolex in particular has been many years in the making, even before factory shutdowns that crimped supply. 

“Supply to some extent due to COVID, where the factory was closed down for several months, that exacerbated the problem, but the [supply] problem had already existed before,” Altieri said in an interview.

“Global demand has steadily increased the last five years, and supply has kind of stayed constant, it’s a classic supply-demand situation going on,” he said, and this puts an “upward pressure on prices.”

Altieri doesn't think Rolex is purposefully suppressing supply; it’s just that demand is so strong for a luxury item like Rolex watches, he said.


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