Rolex and Asia

If there is a kingdom of watches somewhere in the Swiss Alps, would its King be Rolex? I think not because the Europeans are not particularly partial to Rolex. However, if there is a kingdom of watches in Asia (near Hong Kong, Japan or Malaysia), its King will certainly be Rolex. This is because Asians are extremely fond of Rolex watches.

In fact, the Chinese have nicknames for certain models of Rolex watches and this privilege is not extended to other brands. A “Rolex Star” is a half-gold Rolex Datejust. A “Rolex King” refers to a solid gold Rolex, usually the Day-Date or President.

To the Asian towkay (“towkay” means “boss”), to have arrived means a Mercedes-Benz (or occasionally a Bee-Em) and the inevitable Rolex, preferably solid gold or at least half-gold. Every succe ssful or wannabe successful businessman is wearing one – from the contractor to the CEO.

For a glimpse of the various models of Rolex watches without looking at a catalogue, just look around in a Chinese restaurant where these towkays yamseng (to wine Chinese style) and dine. Alternatively, take a drive up to our country’s only casino (Genting) and hang around the baccarat or roulette tables. Time there seems to be told only by Rolex watches.

Rolex is of course Swiss in origin but I personally think they make watches specially for the Chinese. To start with, the model numbers

of the more expensive Rolex watches favoured by the Chinese towkays are not offensive at all. The Chinese are very superstitious about certain numbers, particularly the number 4 which signifies death but they like 8 which connotes prosperity and 3 which is linked to long life.

The model number of the half-gold Datejust is 16233 which loosely translated into Chinese would mean “all the way easy long life”. This model is much sought after by up-and-coming towkays. The model number of the solid gold Day-Date is 18238 which agai n loosely translated into Chinese would mean “prosper easily, long life and prosperity”. This model is favoured by the arrived towkays. Alfa Romeo can learn a lesson here from Rolex. Imagine calling a car a “164” which means “all the way die” to the Chinese.
Rolex watches are designed to be extremely ostentatious so that you can spot one on a wrist a mile away. This is how the Asian businessman wants it, the perfect reflection of his wealth and the respect he should be accorded. It is known to work wonders in Chinese restaurants worldwide. Flash a Rolex on your wrist and you are assured of a better table and clockwork service.

The founder of Rolex was Hans Wilsdorf and if he had been a conformist, this article is being written about Wilsdorf watches instead. It has been the tradition among Swiss watchmakers to name their products after themselves. For example, Audemars Piquet is the name combination of Jules Audemars and Edouard Piquet. Patek Philippe combines Antoni Patek and Jean Adrien Philippe. Piaget is named after Yves Piaget while Vacheron Constantin is Francois Constantin & Jacques Vacheron.

However, Hans Wilsdorf wanted a name that was short and easy to pronounce. He did’nt like the sound of a “Wilsdorf” watch and for reasons best known to himself, he came up with the name “Rolex”. Unknown to Hans at that time ( I am sure he had no idea as to the immense appeal of his watches to Asians), this word is actually very difficult for the Asian to pronounce. So therefore in this part of the world, everybody calls a Rolex a “Lolex”. This proves that a rose by any other name is just as sweet.

With other brands of fine watches (Patek, Vacheron, Jaeger etc) it is possible to choose a model to suit the wearer’s character and style. But not so with Rolex. The minute you put a Rolex on your wrist, you are at once transformed into a rich man by the unique flashiness of a Rolex timepiece. Some kind of instant richness. Very comforting feeling for the Asian towkay.

Out of Asia, do you know that James Bond (Roger Moore) wore a Rolex Submariner in “Live and Let Die”? Or that Sir Edmund Hillary wore a Rolex Explorer when he conquered Everest? So did Sir Malcolm Campbell when he broke the landspeed record in Bluebird. One famous golfer wears it too but I wonder how he can have a good swing with the heavy watch strapped to his wrist.

In the West, one of the more popular models of Rolex watches is the Cosmograph which is more popularly known as the Daytona. The ones signed by Paul Newman are very rare and are collectors’ items. And it has been rumoured that the Daytona is the trade mark of the Mafia as well as the Japanese Yakuza. I personally get very worried when I am approached by men wearing Daytonas and sunglasses.

Imitation is the best form of flattery and Rolex has been flattered to no end. When you decide to buy your first Rolex, be very careful of imitations. Some fake Rolexes are so real it would take an expert eye to tell them apart. Beware of stolen ones too.

The above article is written by Kayes and was first published in the “Asian Auto”, Malaysia’s foremost motor magazine. It was part of a series of articles on watch collecting in the Far East.

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