The watch community did a double-take in September of 2020 when Rolex presented five new dial colors for its brand new Oyster Perpetual models. The series was suddenly ablaze in colorful, nearly flamboyant dials that, upon first glance, seem out of place by Rolex standards. However, a quick look back at the 1970s reveals the bright and colorful world of Rolex Stella dials. Back then, Rolex released Day-Date and Datejust models in a total of eleven different dial colors. The only problem was that customers were expecting more conservative tones, and so the campaign flopped. However, this is 2020, and our multicolored world is connected like never before. Across the planet, a young, often well-to-do segment of millennials are discovering luxury watches. Are these Oyster Perpetuals going to help Rolex get a foot in the door with them?
Rolex Stella Dials: A Look Back at the 1970s
Green, turquoise, pink, yellow, and purple. As exotic as these dial colors sound, Rolex was going out on an even further limb in the 1970s, offering timepieces with dials in shades of oxblood, salmon, peach, red, orange, and blue. A total of eleven Day-Date colors were available, and just a few less for the Datejust references. The “Stella dial” has since become the stuff of lore, with the origin of the name unclear to this day. Certain, however, is that Rolex used it in its official marketing campaigns and in-company communication. The Stella enamel dials feature several hand-applied lacquer layers.
Sure, the 70s were colorful in all sorts of ways, but it’s worth remembering that this was a while before the invention of the Swatch. Back then, colorful timepieces were still unusual. Rolex primarily produced these dials for its markets in the Middle East and Asia, only to see them sit gathering dust in dealer display cases. Rolex discontinued production, and there are even stories of them destroying the dials they already had on hand. This is one of the reasons why they’re so rare and sought-after by collectors today.
Sweet Colors for a Younger, Cosmopolitan Generation
Millennials, some of the earliest “digital natives,” are typically defined as young people born between 1981 and 1996. While the watch industry previously neglected this target group, this generation has shown a growing interest in luxury goods over the past few years, and this has caught Rolex’s eye. One reason why brands are finally taking notice is the demographic’s growing collective buying power. This is most notably the case in China, whose population is 24% millennials. (By comparison, 22% of Americans belong to this generation.)
Millennials also developed a taste for fashion, travel, and luxury watches early on in life, making them a well-informed, hotly-contested target group. Luxury watchmakers wanting to capture wide swaths of this market will have to deliver excellent quality, world-class branding, and the right unique selling points. Rolex might very well be on the money by taking their traditionally conservative watches and releasing them with a completely new burst of color.
Oyster Perpetual 2020: Into the future
Rolex truly went out on a limb with its release of colorful Oyster Perpetual models in late 2020. But compared to the 70s, it might not be the stretch some people imagine. Today, market analysis and target group research are much further along than they were over 40 years ago. The powers that be at Rolex certainly knew what they were doing when they rolled out candy pink and coral red alongside the colors green, yellow, and turquoise blue for their Oyster Perpetual models.
These watches feature fresh new colors on the outside and new in-house calibers on the inside. Since 2020, the 3230 movement has been ticking away inside the 41 and 36-mm models, with the 2232 caliber powering the 28 and 34-mm models. Both movements feature Rolex’s proprietary Syloxi silicon hairspring and Paraflex anti-shock system. Rolex has also redesigned the dials, the most notable feature of which are the double bar indices at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock.
Hard-to-get Swatches for the well-to-do?
When Rolex introduced the new models on social media in September, the overall reaction was (as expected) more on the lukewarm side. Those that liked them were happy to see an array of fresh colors; those that didn’t were those who generally expect a more conservative Rolex look. These were the folks who thought the colors looked a bit on the cheap side, making the timepieces seem like nothing more than overpriced Swatches. However, these are mere opinions and not an indicator of how these watches will perform in the coming months and years.
What’s clearer are the opinions about availability. Rolex watches in general (including the new Oyster Perpetual) are nearly impossible to get your hands on at brick-and-mortar dealers. As we’ve now known for a while, the high demand for Rolex results in long waitlists. But Rolex lovers want their watches now! This situation, and the fact that aftermarket Rolex prices are in some cases double their list prices, lead to widespread frustration, casting Rolex in the light of being a watch industry “snob.” There’s more than one potential customer who’s come to realize that “there’s plenty of other fish in the sea” and turned their attention (and wallets) to brands like Tudor or Omega.
What do Chrono24’s numbers tell us?
Let’s take a glance at our 2020 sales figures: The most-frequently sold Oyster Perpetual model from the current collection was by far the 41-mm ref. 124300. In second place was the 36-mm ref. 126000, with the ref. 277200 (31 mm) and the 34-mm ref. 124200 model in third and fourth places, respectively. So percentage-wise, the new models made up 13% of all Oyster Perpetual sales in 2020. Not too shabby for a stretch of only three months. By the way, the reference numbers on the 2020 Oyster Perpetuals are based on their case sizes only, leaving us a bit in the dark about which specific colors are leading the sales pack (these numbers also include the black and silver-dialed models).
Three months simply isn’t enough time to say how well these new colorful Rolexes are going to sell. And although the Perpetuals have always been more on the flashy side, it really has been decades since their tones have been this loud. If you ask me, these colors are a fantastic addition to the Rolex portfolio. They’re a breath of fresh air that I think a lot of people are going to like, most notably among millennials in East Asia, Russia, and the Middle East. Whether they’ll be available there at brick-and-mortar dealers is another topic. In any case, the question for Chrono24 and us in the coming years will be: What color concepts are Rolex designing for Generation Z, the next wave of potential Rolex lovers with deep pockets?