5 More Remarkable Rolex Ads From The Past
Rolex has a rich history of advertising built for decades. The brand has produced some of the most remarkable ads ever created by a watch brand. In this recurring series, we take a look at the most iconic ads Rolex has created over the years.
One of the most exciting and fun things to do when diving into the history of a watch brand is to look at their advertising. Rolex has always been a brand that has created some of the most remarkable ads in the industry, not least because they are connected to outstanding achievements and famous people. Some of the advertisements are stylish, some of them are thought-provoking, and some are blessed with an excellent sense of humor. All of them represent a certain time, and all of them have this typically self-assured Rolex tone of voice. For this follow-up to our first Rolex ads article, we have selected a list of five more Rolex ads that stand out for several different reasons.
1. Rolex Day-Date, The Presidents’ Watch?
Let’s start the list off with an iconic Rolex ad. This ad uses the famous red phone to indicate that the subject of this image is a president, who happens to be wearing the Rolex Day-Date “President.” Well, “a” president can only mean either the American or Russian president because the red phone represents the Moscow-Washington hotline. The ad is from 1966, so it’s quite simple to figure out that Rolex is referencing American President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was known to wear a gold Rolex Day-Date “President” along with several other fine watches during his time in office. His Russian counterpart at the time was Leonid Brezhnev and he was known to wear Russian Raketa watches. This is why it’s only logical that Rolex is referencing President Johnson in the ad.
The red phone was not actually a direct phone line and red phones were never used in both offices.
The ad is relatively simple and that gives it its high iconic value. However, it doesn’t particularly ooze the Rolex class we’re used to from the brand’s ads. Fun fact is that the red phone was not a direct phone line and red phones were never used in both offices. The first implementation used Teletype equipment which was replaced by fax machines in 1986 and since 2008 the hotline has been a secure computer link that exchanges messages by e-mail. So the red phone is a powerful marketing tool that never really existed, but it helps Rolex bring more power to the Day-Date President.
The ad seems completely okay, but there is one thing I want to point out, and that’s the hand of the president holding the phone. It’s certainly not a representation of the hand of President Johnson as he was 57 years old when the hotline was established. And the hand does not look like the hand of a man that age. It seems more like the well-groomed hand of a hand model aged somewhere between 30 -40 years old, which makes it a bit more unbelievable as the hand of an actual president overall. It’s a small but significant detail in an otherwise iconic ad.
2. Rolex, For A Lack Of Style?
My first reaction to this ad was ‘Why would you do this?’. There is a lot to take in when you start looking closer at this monster Rolex created in 1964. The overall style of the ad is horrible. A big black rectangle feels like a black hole or even a misprint. The watch is squeezed in between two pieces of text which is entirely unnecessary. They could have easily decided to place the Submariner above the text and create a better layout without losing anything of the impact Rolex was aiming for with the message.
Why would Rolex as a luxury brand reference cheaper underwater watches?
A message that surprises me, to be honest. Why would Rolex as a luxury brand reference cheaper underwater watches? It always looks a bit weird that a luxury brand would not use its power in an add but feels the need to reference a more affordable alternative. An alternative that is five times cheaper than the Submariner. Put this in today’s context, and Rolex is stating you have the option of buying a 1.875 Euro diver’s watch or the 7,500 Euro Rolex Submariner. We all know that’s a weird comparison in today’s age, but I guess that the message was not quite as strang back in 1964.
The text around the Submariner explains the incredible features and achievements of the watch. It would have made a lot more sense to use imagery to back up all the claims Rolex is making to make the argument a lot stronger actually to buy the Rolex instead of the cheaper alternative. And it would have created something better to look at because, in my opinion, this is probably the worst Rolex ad I have seen to this day.
3. Rolex Chronology In One Ad Without A Watch
This is actually one of the most iconic ads that Rolex ever made. The image of the sturdy seaman and invites you to read the story underneath to understand why Rolex has featured the man prominently in their ad. Although this ad is very iconic, it’s also remarkable for the simple fact that it is one of the few Rolex ads in history that doesn’t feature a watch prominently in the ad. The ad is from 1966 and refers back to 1926 when Rolex made the first waterproof wrist chronometer. The image relates to the ‘seagoing man’ that might have thought that Rolex invented the watch just for him.
When you start reading the text, you soon find out that Rolex is referencing the past because it has been the basis for developing a new watch for seagoing men. It is a bit confusing because the text is speaking about multiple Rolex inventions from different moments in time, so I had to read twice to understand what they were after when creating this ad.
A watch built for seagoing men…
After reading it a couple of times, it became clear to me. The central theme is ‘accuracy’ and what Rolex inventions have contributed to this goal. To achieve the highest level of accuracy, Rolex first created the Oyster case in 1926. After that, in 1931 Rolex invented the first automatic movement with the creation of the Perpetual rotor. Lastly, Rolex improved the oyster case until it was able to be taken to a depth of 660 feet and the Geneva watchmakers integrated a rotating bezel to keep track of elapsed time when diving. The ‘new’ watch the brand is referring to in the ad is the legendary Rolex Submariner; a watch built for seagoing men.
Overall I think the text is a bit confusing if you’re not up to speed on all things Rolex. This could have easily been avoided if the years were mentioned when the inventions were introduced. Secondly, we all know that the Submariner was introduced as a diver’s watch so referring to skippers, helmsmen, and navigators of the America Cup reads like a completely different story. Not a bad one, but a different one nonetheless. What we end up with is one of the most iconic Rolex ads out there, without showing a Rolex and telling an alternate story of the Rolex Submariner. A real gem in all its weirdness, if you ask me.
4. Rolex Publishing Releases The Swiss Inquisition
Another famous Rolex ad or should we say a chapter of a book? The one-page ad from 1970 reads like a proper story like many of the Rolex ads at that time. I like it a lot but let’s be honest; it’s quite the task to go ahead and read the whole thing when you are flipping through a magazine. This is not just a simple ad anymore. And when you start reading, you realize that the story is connected to the title and the picture, and is attempting to explain how Rolex watches are tested to become Chronometer certified. The fun thing is that Rolex chose to have the story written like a spy novel to describe the level of rigorous testing every Rolex watch has to endure.
That is, until halfway through the story when the testing transitions into describing the production process. From there on the text is all over the place. The production process gets followed up by the letter of a Rolex customer. Then Rolex decides to take a left turn and mention famous firefighter Red Adair and brags about all the world leaders hanging on the wall at the Geneva headquarters to end things with the tagline “Each Rolex earns the recognition it enjoys.” A motto that gets repeated underneath with the addition of, “You know the feeling,” and, to be honest, I’m not sure what that is supposed to mean. Does it refer to Rolex owners? Does it refer to readers in general? It’s not clear to me.
It makes me wonder if the man was cast for the ad or was an actual employee of the Official Swiss Institute For Chronometer Tests.
Lastly, we have to mention the man in the photo who has become the face of the Swiss Inquisition. He does not look like the kind of guy that would hand out a chronometer certification if it wasn’t rightfully earned. He looks grumpy, strict, and like someone who takes his job very seriously. And I can only applaud that because precision is vital for mechanical watches. It makes me wonder if he was cast for the ad or was an actual employee of the Official Swiss Institute For Chronometer Tests. And if he had to live with the infamous title as head of the Swiss Inquisition… I guess we’ll never know.
5. When A Rolex Model Becomes A Bond Girl
The reason this ad attracted my attention is because of the image of the Lady-Datejust with the rose behind it. I’m wondering what Rolex had in mind when they placed the rose behind the watch? Of course not. The center focus of the ad is the beautiful woman rising out of the water like Ursula Andress in the Bond movie Dr. No. The famous scene from Dr. No could have easily inspired the ad, and it looks stunning. The guys at Jake’s Rolex World posted about the ad as well and uncovered that the girl in the picture is actually Jill Saint John, who went on to become a Bond Girl in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever.
So the truth could be that Rolex wanted to create a Bond-inspired ad and Albert R. Broccoli was so impressed by Jill Saint John’s beauty that he hired her as a Bond Girl. But it’s not where the story ends because in 1974, after Saint John had become famous, Rolex ran a two-page full-color version of the same ad but with a more elaborate text about the Lady-Datejust that really is well written and has some genuine appeal to women.
Back in 1970 times were different…
And that’s the big question with this ad above. With a strong focus on Jill Saint John, this should be an ad targeted to women, but you could debate whether Rolex has done that successfully. Another thing that popped up in my head is, “What if we changed the situation around and made it an ad about dinner and mentioning scuba diving.” It would not have the impact this ad has had over the decades. You could question whether an ad like this would be possible today but back in 1970 times were different, and because of that, we have this iconic ad to enjoy.
Which brings us to the end of our second list of remarkable Rolex ads. We hope you enjoy reading about the ads as much as we like to find the strange and extraordinary details in them. Part 3 is on its way next week, and part 4 is already in the works.
More information about Rolex on their official website.
*Most images were taken from Jake’s Rolex World. Others were grabbed via Pinterest.