Monday, May 4, 2020

The flooded Rolex

A customer knocked on my door at 4pm on Friday. "Can you help? My Rolex is full of water!"

"Of course I can - but how did you find me? I am not authorised to repair Rolex watches and I have no access to Rolex parts. And why didn’t you take it to the Rolex service centre? "

"Because Rolex is closed and because I am desperate” she said.

And she was. The watch had flooded on Monday, and there were already signs of rust at the edge of the dial. We were running out of time- fast.

A couple of weeks ago, the Rolex service centre in Sydney shut their doors "until further notice" due to the pandemic crisis. Watch repair is not an essential service and no one can argue with their decision.  But in the case of the flooded Datejust, that decision meant that by the time service would be back up and running, the watch would be a complete write-off. I can't even guess how much a new mechanism would cost - perhaps $4,000 or even more. Throw in a new dial and hands- a cool $5,000.

Of course, I had to stay after hours on Friday, but the damage to the flooded Rolex was contained and minimised, and as I type this, it is ticking cheerfully. Repair cost: $1100+GST.

I am not expecting a thank you note from Rolex. 'Thank you for helping our customer out in a time when we could not. Thank you for servicing our product and keeping our business’ reputation. Thank you for saving thousands of dollars for our customers.'

"We will never again supply spare parts to Australian independent watchmakers" said Rolex eight years ago, and to their credit, they've kept their word.

Of course, I know what you are going to say: in a few weeks from now, things are going to be ‘back to normal’. What guarantee do you have as a Rolex owner that the Rolex service centre will ever reopen? At a time of recession, 20% unemployment, when millions of Australians depend on Government handouts? At a time when even the Rolex factory in Switzerland has been closed? When sports events worldwide have been cancelled and Swiss brands no longer spend money on advertising?

I don't think that Rolex will shut down their Australian operation, but it is quite possible that two service centres (Melbourne and Sydney) could combine into one. Or if sales drop significantly, that Hong Kong could take care of all Australian customers. Rolex production was severely cut in 2018 and this is now the third year of empty displays. It's not all rosy in the country of cheese and chocolate.

And Rolex is the strongest of all Swiss brands.

Make no mistake: I would love to see the return of the good old days when Rolex was manufacturing millions of watches per year; when there was no waiting list for any model, when independent watchmakers were an integral part of their business and had access to spare parts, and when the second hand market was overflowing with stock. A co-operation between brands, watchmakers, and watch owners based on mutual respect. Is it too much to ask?

Our new "8th anniversary" logo has been freshly redesigned. The fist of resistance holding the spanner pays tribute to all makers, and especially so to machinists. The escape wheel is the symbol of watchmaking.

And together, we stand: no mega-brand, or monopolist, or institution or even Government can take away our freedom to be creative, inventive, to design and make, to repair or service, to trade and advertise for the benefit of our own and that of our customers. 

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