Anyone who has recently been to an authorized retailer or Rolex boutique will have inevitably seen the “exhibition only” watches sitting inside the display cases. While their movements have been modified so that they cannot run or function - permanently locked at the aesthetically-pleasing time of 10:10 (and 31 seconds) - they are otherwise completely normal Rolex watches and feature identical cases and bracelets.
As these models are for display purposes only, you cannot purchase them; however, they do give you the opportunity to try on watches that would otherwise be completely sold out at every retailer and boutique around the globe. So, are exhibition-only Rolex watches actually a good thing, or are they just plain frustrating for prospective buyers?
An Answer to Empty Showcases
Many of Rolex’s most desirable models have been completely unavailable at a retail level for a number of years, but things reached a point of maximum parody several years ago when virtually every single Rolex display case around the world was completely empty.
I remember being asked to leave a Rolex boutique one night after a couple friends and I couldn’t control ourselves with laughter when we discovered that the entire store only had two watches inside (not surprisingly, both were diamond-set Lady-Datejust models). I tried to take a picture of the loneliest looking display case on the planet, and the security guard demanded that I delete the image from my phone before I would be permitted to leave the premises.
I happily obliged and deleted the photo, but I couldn’t resist asking the guard what assets he was exactly protecting, given that we had more Rolex watches on our wrists between the three of us than they had in their entire store. In many ways, he was there just as a formality and to protect Rolex's image, rather than to guard any physical assets inside the store. While this was certainly not my finest moment, I can’t imagine that my experience was an isolated incident, and it serves as a perfect example of why things absolutely needed to change.
The Value of Non-Working Watches
About a year ago, Rolex watches started turning up inside retailer display cases and buyers were initially excited to see many ultra-desirable models such as the stainless steel Daytona and GMT-Master II randomly appearing inside local dealer windows. However, excitement quickly turned to disappointment when it was discovered that not only were these “exhibition only” watches for display purposes only, but they were also not even functioning Rolex watches since their internal movements have been modified to not run.
The value of these exhibition-only Rolex watches is clear: they allow buyers to try on the various models that they are considering, enabling them to get a feel for their size, weight, and proportions. However, when the seconds hand is not ticking and you cannot actually experience how the watch functions, it can be difficult to fully get a sense for whether or not it will be a timepiece that will ultimately make you happy in the long run.
Most importantly, the introduction of exhibition-only Rolex watches solves the problem of empty display cases and staff members that have nothing to show their customers. Although they do absolutely nothing to actually improve the current global Rolex shortage, display-only models do give buyers something to look at when they visit the boutique, and they also prevent Rolex - one of the worlds’ most prestigious brands - from being a laughingstock every time someone walks into one of their boutiques and would otherwise find it completely empty.
Exhibition-Only Watches: Helpful or Infuriating?
So, are exhibition-only Rolex watches actually helpful, or are they just infuriating for buyers who get their hopes up whenever they see them in the store window? At the end of the day, it really just depends who you ask.
Since I already know the deal, I never assume that a store will have Rolex watches available for sale when I see examples on display in the window. Similarly, I can’t imagine that the average consumer will be any more upset to encounter display-only Rolex watches versus an entire store that doesn’t even have a single watch available for them to look at and try on their wrist.
At the end of the day, rarely is the exact car sitting atop the pedestal inside the dealership actually the one that you take home with you, and most people understand this when they are shopping for high-end items. However, it would be alarming to walk into a major car dealership and not see a single automobile available on display, regardless of whether or not you could actually purchase it on the spot that day. While I do understand people’s frustration with exhibition-only Rolex watches, the alternative of having completely empty stores is far less productive, and it will ultimately only upset a greater percentage of the population.
All images courtesy of Bob’s Watches