Rolex is Earth’s favorite watch brand. Unsurprisingly, they make a lot of watches: production is estimated to be around 1,000,000 units per year. Even less surprising is the fact that they make a lot of money: revenue estimates hover around $10 billion per year. You may be asking yourself: why are these estimates and not figures? Aren’t huge companies like Rolex required by law to release their financials? The short answer is no; Rolex S.A. is owned by a non-profit organization called the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. The long answer is much more interesting, raising further questions that are harder to answer. Let’s dive into the confusing structure of Rolex: a brand that otherwise emphasizes simplicity.
The Non-Profit Structure of Rolex S.A.
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Hans Wilsdorf (pictured above) – the founder of Rolex – died in 1960. Upon his death, ownership of Rolex S.A. (S.A. indicating their status as a private company) transferred completely to the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation: a non-profit philanthropic organization started by Hans in 1944 to honor his late wife. Following this transfer of ownership, five trustees took control of Rolex, not as owners or shareholders, but as “custodians” of the brand, as described by multiple sources. Their job was (and still is) to maintain Rolex’s position within the foundation as a charitable organization. The current CEO – Jean-Frederic Dufour – reports to these trustees.
Rolex GMT-Master II on an Everest Curved End Rubber Strap
In other words, since the death of Hans Wilsdorf, Rolex has been operated by a board of trustees – all under the non-profit structure of the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. They allocate (some of, most of?) Rolex’s profits to various charitable causes. The exact percentage is a mystery. Due to their status as a non-profit, The Hans Wilsdorf Foundation (and subsequently Rolex) is not obligated to release their financials in any way. Therefore, we do not know how much they make, how much they pay in salaries, how much they allocate to charity, etc.
Where Does Rolex’s Revenue Go?
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Although we don’t know how much, a large chunk of Rolex’s profits go to charity. In the words of Rolex, “Our watches are built to last. So is our contribution to future generations”. This statement is not taken lightly: Rolex generously supports a number of noble causes around the world. From climate change research to human rights initiatives, Rolex finds and supports efforts that align with the greater good of humanity. This is what they refer to as “perpetual spirit”: a cheesy marketing term backed by not-so-cheesy undertakings such as developing new treatments for malaria, providing accessible healthcare to underserved Pakistani communities, helping paralyzed people walk via neurotech, etc.
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Of course, not all of Rolex’s profits go to charity. They have to pay the salaries of watchmakers, marketers, engineers, and every other employee that keeps Rolex running as intended. They have to pay for chronometer certification of every watch they make. They have to pay for their three new factories – temporary sites approaching the creation of a $1.1 billion factory in Bulle. Obviously, there are plenty of costs associated with running a massive brand like Rolex. Beyond those costs, it honestly seems like philanthropy is The Crown’s priority – just as Hans Wilsdorf intended. As a consumer, it’s nice to know your money is going toward quality causes, if only in part.
Does Rolex operate like most nonprofits? Absolutely not – it’s a multi-billion dollar corporation with retail storefronts. Is Rolex technically a non-profit organization? Yes – the structure of Rolex and its ownership would indicate that it is non-profit in nature.