How Ethical Is Rolex? All You Need to Know

How Ethical Is Rolex? All You Need to Know

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Dennis Kamprad

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Rolex is a pioneering leader in the luxury watch industry, accounting for 25% of the global Swiss watch market. From their exceptional quality timepieces to their prestigious philanthropic initiatives. Rolex is one of the most reputable companies out there. So we had to ask: How ethical is Rolex?

Rolex can be considered unethical as they do not disclose any information on their ethical practices or any details on their gold and diamond supply chains. But, the company has made a significant commitment to giving back to the community. And remains on top of corporate social responsibility.

When it comes to watches and jewelry, no one really asks how ethical it is. This is what we found with Rolex too. While they have an excellent reputation and the highest quality of watches, information on their ethics was almost impossible to find. Keep reading to learn if Rolex’s good reputation equates to good ethics. And you can tell us what you think.

Rolex: Carving the Path for Timepieces

Contrary to popular belief, Rolex was founded in London, United Kingdom, in 1905. And not in Switzerland. Founded by two brothers-in-law, Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis, it was then known as “Wilsdorf and Davis”. They chanced upon the name “Rolex” in hopes of creating a name that was memorable and recognizable in any language – and they did the job.

  • Rolex paved the way for timepieces by being the first brand to receive the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision in 1910. Rolex has gone on to patent hundreds of iconic and luxury wristwatches. Including the world’s very first waterproof wristwatch.
  • In 1960, Hans Wildorf transferred 100% of Rolex’s shares to a non-profit organization called the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. Rolex remains privately owned by this foundation.
  • The foundation is known to sponsor philanthropic projects and communities indeed. However, exact details of Wilsdorf Foundation’s income and expenditure have remained mostly under the radar. 

Rolex timepieces are “Made in Switzerland”. Expert watchmakers assemble these watches across Rolex’s four factories based in Geneva and Bienne in Switzerland. Headquartered in Geneva, Rolex has a network of Official Rolex Retailers and Service Centers in over 100 countries worldwide. 

How Ethical Does Rolex Say They Are

Which Ethical Information Does Rolex Present to Us Consumers: On Rolex’s main official website, you’re instantly greeted with a collection upon collection of luxury watches. We could not find any dedicated ethics page. However, we did find a link to the secondary website of Rolex, rolex.org, dedicated to their “long-standing commitment” to the environment, science, and art.

The website is filled with multiple well-written and well-thought-out articles on their numerous philanthropic contributions and collaborative projects. You’ll see the word “perpetual” scattered across different pages and articles. A name of one of their watches but also means to “share human knowledge to build a better world”.

Which Ethical Practices Does Rolex Have in Place: Rolex is known for its astounding Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) rankings which could be all thanks to their Rolex Awards. More than 170 awards have been given to exceptional entrepreneurs across the world. Rolex shares that they aim to support individuals on original projects that would benefit mankind. 

Which Organizations Has Rolex Joined to Prove Their Ethics

Third-party organizations do a great job at holding brands and companies accountable for their ethical practices, as well as verifying them. Unfortunately, even though Rolex is one of the oldest and reputable watchmaking companies globally, they have no known affiliation with ethical organizations.

We have to say, it is generally not expected for watchmaking and jewelry companies to join ethical organizations or prove their transparency. They are in the grey zone of fashion, and the focus is usually placed on the ethics of fast fashion clothing brands. 

Rolex: World’s Most Reputable Company

Reputation does not exactly mean ethics, but we could consider Rolex’s customer service and reputation as ethics to their consumers.

According to the Global RepTrak Ratings, Rolex ranks on top for reputation. Over the past four years (2016-2019), Rolex was the #1 most reputable company globally. In 2021, they came #2 on the list, losing their spot to the toy company Lego.

These ratings are researched and organized by The Reputation Institute (TRI). They assess and rank thousands of companies to give them specific benchmarks for their business and customers. 

Rolex holds a reputation score of 79.6 (Good), 0.4 points away from “Excellent”. This score means that Rolex has a good reputation regarding their performance with stakeholders, media, products, and more. TRI credits Rolex’s consistent scores for their quality products and customers’ longstanding trust in the brand. 

What the Media Has to Say About Rolex

This luxury watch company has been living up to their name as the most reputable company. Online, you’ll mostly find articles on their excellent CSR and long-standing philanthropic initiatives. But what about their ethics, policies and practices?

With the help of the Business and Human Rights Centre, we managed to dig a little deeper to find some truths. According to this non-profit, Rolex has a response rate of 50% to questions raised on their ethics.

Rolex’s Response to the Human Rights Watch

Studies and news on the possible risks and human rights issues involved in the gold supply chain began to catch wind in 2017. So much so that the Swiss government commissioned a study to evaluate the Swiss gold sector and possible human rights issues. Refining almost up to two-thirds of the world’s gold, Switzerland is by far one of the world’s largest gold refiners. 

In 2018, The Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on the neglected human rights issues and child labor in the gold and diamond supply chain. They assessed the governance and transparency of 13 of the world’s largest jewelry and watch companies, such as Pandora, Tiffany & Co, Cartier, and Rolex. 

HRW reached out to these companies, and 9 out of 13 companies responded and complied with the study. HRW ranked these brands from “Excellent” to “Very Weak” for their responsible sourcing practices and policies. Rolex was not assessed as they did not directly respond or disclose any information on their practices to HRW.

HRW shares that there is virtually no information available regarding Rolex’s policies and sourcing. Neither does Rolex publish annual reports or have third-party verification such as the Responsible Jewellery Council. 

Surprisingly, Rolex responded that while they did not disclose any information on their supply chains to HRW, that doesn’t mean that it is far from untraceable. We find that this response has led to even more suspicion and uncertainty in the community.

If you claim that your supply chains are traceable, why not publicize them? 

How Ethical Is the Business Model of Rolex

Your One in a Million Rolex

We know Rolex watches are not watches you can easily and readily buy. They are often a symbol of wealth and achievement. Your average Rolex watch will set you back at least a good $5,000. But how can you justify the price of one watch?

According to Rolex, one watch takes almost a year to assemble and be ready to sell. And every year, only about 800,000 pieces are made. Each piece is unique to you and contains a serial number. Rolex prides in their quality and expert watchmaking team, readily sharing each stage of the watchmaking process. Ensuring each watch undergoes rigorous quality checks. 

Rolex watches are not simply things you use for a year and throw away. Rolex ensures that they are built to last and will be with you for a lifetime or more. On top of that, Rolex watches can be repaired and serviced at any of their centers worldwide. So, maybe it is worth the money? You tell me.

Rolex’s Gold and Diamonds: Where Do They Come From?

As we’ve learned earlier on, all Rolex watches are “Made in Switzerland” in Rolex’s four manufacturing factories. While they openly publicize and document the assembling of the timepieces, one thing we could not find was where they obtained the materials to do so. 

Rolex shares that they have their very own in-house gold foundry. Where they have been creating 18k gold from 24k gold since the early 2000s. Having their own foundry could mean that they have better control of their standards and policies. However, Rolex offers no confirmation of this or transparency of how and where they obtain their raw gold. 

Every Rolex watch contains at least a few shiny gemstones. Gemstones which Rolex are very particular with quality and setting. Yet, while they share the rigorous process of gem-setting, they do not mention where they obtain these beautifully cut pure diamonds and gems.

The world is beginning to acknowledge the dangerous and inhumane conditions that gold and diamond miners are put under. This is the best time for major jewelry and watch companies to be more accountable and transparent with their supply chains. 

How Sustainable Is Rolex

While sustainability and ethics are two separate entities, they do come hand in hand. After all, sustainability has a social and ecological impact on the earth.  

Rolex has a dedicated page to the environment. The page contains stories of their numerous projects and collaborative initiatives on protecting our planet. Their most recent and notable partnership is with the National Geographic Society. Their collaboration aims to study the effects of climate change by collecting data on an expedition to Mount Everest – which Rolex is, of course, sponsoring.

What about Rolex’s Environmental Transparency?

The extraction of raw materials, such as gold and gemstones, creates substantial environmental and social impacts. In 2018, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Switzerland released an Environmental and Transparency Report of the watch and jewelry sector. WWF ranked 15 of the biggest Swiss watch companies, including Rolex, Swatch, Tissot, and Omega.

Rolex was one of the 8 companies that were not assigned an environmental ranking. This is because no data could be found on their contribution to social and environmental responsibility. 

WWF highlights that Rolex is one of the 3 major companies that dominate the watchmaking market. Their supply chain remains a “black box” with no details of the origin of their raw materials and the process and people involved. At the end of the day, we have no information on whether Rolex’s methods are sustainable or ethical for our planet.

Is Rolex Involved in Any Charities?

Owned by a non-profit themselves, Rolex has two well-known programs. They aim to sponsor and help talented individuals prosper in their dreams and projects. In hopes of creating a world rich in culture and knowledge.

As mentioned before, Rolex established the Rolex Awards for Entrepreneurs. Shortly after, they also created a mentor program for artists and professionals. The Rolex Mentor and ProtĂ©gĂ© Arts Initiative is a program that aims to support the global cultural heritage. 

Each protĂ©gĂ© will be assigned an experienced mentor and can receive funding for their projects or work. In the end, Rolex will also help them publicize and share their work. 

The Arts Initiative is highly exclusive, and not just anyone can enter. But, Rolex plays a part in promoting and enriching cultural heritage and knowledge in the future generation.

What Do the Reviews Reveal About Rolex

With a remarkable reputation and world-renowned timepieces, we had to look at what Rolex’s customers had to say.

According to Trustpilot reviews, Rolex holds an overall rating of 3.3 stars. The customer feedback was pretty mixed. Half of the customers expressed their love for the quality of the watch and the “top-notch” service they received. 

Yet, the 41%, “Bad” and “Poor”, reviews say otherwise. Customers shared how they felt they have been ripped off by the Rolex Service Center. With steep repair and service fees, often amounting to more than half of the watch price. 

These mixed reviews on Rolex Service Centers can be found on other sites such as yelp. However, there is an overwhelming consensus that most customers’ experiences are positive and helpful. And the high service fees are justified as “you get what you pay for”.

Final Thoughts

Rolex has undoubtedly made a name for itself and continues to produce exceptional watches. While the brand claims to care for the environment and its people through its well-thought-out initiatives, they fail to be accountable for their own practices and policies. 

As a leading brand, we find Rolex still has a long way to go to attain the bare minimum of transparency and liability for the production of watches. 

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