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Oyster by Rolex: Decoding an Object Essay

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Updated: Apr 17th, 2020

When it comes down to discussing what attracts people to a particular material object that they would like to own, it is important to understand what they consider the object’s perceptual value.

In its turn, this specific type of value cannot be discussed outside of what constitutes the desired object’s discursive significance.

In my paper, I will aim to explore the validity of this thesis at length, in regards to probably the most famous timepiece of all times – Oyster by Rolex, and in regards to Rolex wristwatches, in general.

Nowadays, it would prove rather challengeable to find even a single individual who would be not aspiring to own a Rolex watch, as something that is being capable of strengthening the acuteness of his or her sense of self-worth.

The reason for this is quite apparent – those who own Rolex wristwatches are assumed socially successful individuals, as the price for even the most ‘affordable’ of these watches is rarely lesser than $20.000.

At the same time, however, it is specifically the iconic status of Rolex wrist watches (especially Oyster), which contributes to these watches’ high monetary value more than anything else does.

What it means is that, for us to be able to define the actual essence of the phenomenon of Rolex watches’ popularity, we would have to make an inquiry into what accounts for the objective preconditions for this particular watch-brand to be considered legendary.

The reading of Bannister’s (2000) article will come in particularly handy, in this respect, because it reveals the fact that there are indeed several good reasons to consider Rolex, a pioneer of modern wristwatch-making.

According to the author, “In 1926 Rolex developed the product for which it is best known, the Oyster wristwatch, widely seen as the first truly waterproof watch. This was combined in 1931 with another Rolex invention, the self-winding watch, to produce the Oyster Perpetual” (p. A3).

In other words, one of the reasons why Rolex Oyster appeals to people so much is that the ownership of this watch implies the concerned individuals being a part of history.

And, as psychologists are well aware of, the sensation of historicity, on one’s part, is well capable of lessening the acuteness of his or her fear of death. Therefore, it may well be suggested that people’s desire to acquire Rolex Oyster reflects their subliminal strive to extend their existence into posterity.

Another reason why Rolex Oyster is considered a highly desirable timekeeping piece is that those who wear it are being commonly looked upon as financially secure individuals that can afford to buy luxury items, which in turn implies the Rolex owners’ existential superiority over non-owners.

The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated in regards to the fact that biologically speaking, the representatives of Homo Sapiens species are nothing but primates, which never cease being preoccupied with two primary pursuits – ensuring their access to the limited natural resources and imposing their dominance upon others.

What it means is that, on an unconscious level, individuals subtly perceive the significance of one’s ownership of Rolex Oyster in evolutionary terms – those who own it are considered worthy of passing their genes to the representatives of a next generation.

This points out to another discursive aspect of Rolex Oyster’s popularity, which can be discussed within the context of what accounts for the essence of currently predominant socio-political ideologies in Western countries.

After all, it does not represent much of a secret that, as of today, people in Western countries are being indoctrinated to believe in the validity of several different egalitarian concepts.

For example, it now represents a commonplace practice among Western politicians and educators to promote the idea that all people are equal, regardless of what happened to be the specifics of their ethnocultural affiliation and their association with a particular social strata.

Even though citizens do accept the soundness of this idea consciously, they simultaneously reject it on an instinctual level.

This simply could not be otherwise, because the idea of egalitarianism contradicts the most basic laws of nature, to which people are being subjected to the same extent, as it happened to be the case with plants and animals.

Therefore, people’s fascination with Rolex watches may be discussed as such that reflects their mental opposition to the earlier mentioned idea. The presence of Rolex Oyster on one’s wrist conveys the subtle message, ‘I am superior to those who cannot afford to buy the same watch.’

Nevertheless, it would not be quite appropriate to suggest that the Oyster’s perceptional value is being solely concerned with this wristwatch’s high monetary price.

This is because, apart from being considered particularly accurate timepieces, Rolex watches are being commonly regarded as an epitome of the so-called ‘Faustian’ values.

In their turn, these values derive out of the assumption that, “Individual’s willpower must never cease combating obstacles, that the catastrophes of existence come as an inevitable culmination of past choices and experiences, and that the conflict is the essence of existence” (Greenwood, 2009, p. 53).

As compared to what it is the case with the representatives of non-Western ‘holistic’ cultures, who strive to blend with the surrounding environment, Westerners have always been known for their tendency to seek means to control it.

However, for people to be able to do it, they must be capable of acting as the agents of the environment’s continual transformation.

In its turn, this can only be achieved by the mean of people subjectivizing themselves within the environment mentally, which consequently causes them to become particularly sensitive to the flow of time.

This is exactly the reason why; whereas, holistically minded individuals that were born and raised in non-Western societies tend to lead an essentially ‘timeless’ existence (which is why Third World countries are being traditionally associated with the absence of societal progress), Westerners appear to lead extremely time-conscious lifestyles.

This explains the reason why the watch-making philosophy, in general, and Rolex wristwatches, in particular, are being strongly associated with Switzerland – a country located in the middle of Europe.

This also explains why Rolex Oyster is being featured in James Bond movies. Given the fact that these movies are being concerned with the celebration of the earlier mentioned ‘Faustian’ values; it does make a logical sense that these movies’ main character prefers wearing a Rolex Oyster.

Allegorically speaking, it symbolizes the fact that, just as it happened to be the case with this waterproof wristwatch, which performs well at a depth of 500 meters, Bond is being thoroughly capable of operating amid a particularly hostile social environment, without sustaining any damage (Holbrook, 2001).

Therefore, it is rather natural for those who have been exposed to James Bond films to try to mimic the agent 007’s act – even if this mimicking, on their part, is being concerned with the process of purchasing Rolex Oysters and displaying them proudly on their wrists.

The earlier expressed idea partially explains why, throughout recent decades, Rolex watches were becoming especially popular with Asians.

As Chadha & Husband (2006) noted, “It is normal for Hong Kong people, whether wealthy tycoons or your average Joe, to own several expensive Swiss watches, such as Rolex” (p. 2).

Deep inside these people do realize the fact that their current financial/economic well-being may not be thoroughly justified, because despite having proven themselves extremely efficient copy-makers, they nevertheless lack the sense of ‘Faustian’ creativeness – the main precondition of people’s ability to push forward cultural and scientific progress.

Therefore, it may be speculated that by having Rolex watches on their wrists, Asians can attain the surrogate sensation of being integral parts of Western civilization.

The fact that there is an undeniable aura of ‘westerness’ to Rolex watches, which accounts for much of the Oyster’s perceptual worth, can also be illustrated in regards to the company watchmakers’ practice of accentuating the mechanical complexity of this particular wristwatch.

This is being done by the mean of having wristwatches’ backs made out of sapphire crystals so that owners can always enjoy seeing mechanisms at work.

The potential owners of Rolex Oysters have assumed sophisticate individuals, capable of deriving an aesthetic pleasure out of being exposed to the mechanical perfection of wristwatches’ functioning (Lee, Christensen & DeRosia, 2008).

This again implies that it is specifically individuals that emotionally relate to the ‘Faustian’ existential values, which may appreciate Rolex watches to their fullest.

This is because the faultless functioning of Rolex wristwatch-mechanisms symbolizes the victory of the Western genius over the blind forces of energetic entropy – something that can only be appreciated by euro-centrically minded individuals, or by those who despite their non-Western cultural backgrounds, are nevertheless being fascinated by Western civilization.

The discursive subtleties of Rolex watches’ perceptual appeal can also be discussed in regards to the material, out of which they are being made – gold. It is understood, of course, that this fact alone contributes rather immensely to the de facto value, these watches represent.

After all, gold has traditionally been considered one of the most sought-after and rare precious metals. There is, however, even more to it – gold has several unique chemical characteristics, which set it apart from other precious metals.

For example, “Gold is the most malleable and ductile of all metals; a single gram can be beaten into a sheet of one square meter, or an ounce into 300 square feet” (HIG, 2012, para. 4). Gold is also a supreme electricity-conductor that never corrodes.

Nevertheless, it is only when gold remains pure, in the chemical sense of this word, that it can exhibit these characteristics.

If some other metals are being fused with gold, it is not only that this precious metal significantly drops in value, but it also results in gold’s purity being undermined forever, as it often proves an impossible challenge to restore the tainted gold’s chemical integrity.

This is why there has always been a strong connotation of ‘nobleness’ to gold.

Therefore, people who can afford to buy Rolex Oyster, made out of gold, unconsciously strive to attest to themselves and others that their riches are far from being incidental because by wearing this watch, the concerned individuals do exhibit their unconsciously felt affiliation with the notion of ‘purity.’

In its turn, this helps them to maintain the integrity of their self-identities and to confirm the validity of their rather non-egalitarian worldviews.

Thus, there is indeed a perfect logical rationale to the fact that Rolex’s logo features a royal crown – this is meant to emphasize the true existential status of this brand’s watch-owning affiliates.

There are, of course, several more conventional undertones to the discursive significance of Rolex watches, in general, and Rolex Oyster, in particular.

For example, because Rolex automatic watches are being traditionally deemed thoroughly accurate, people who wear them expect to be referred to as completely reliable individuals, who know how to appreciate the time.

Also, Rolex watches especially appeal to those people who tend to establish dialectical links between the spirit of prestigiousness, emanated by a particular brand name, and the actual quality of brand-name-products in question.

As Vigneron and Johnson (1999) pointed out, “The reassurance consumers derive from prestige brands (e.g., of tradition, of authenticity) enhances the value they derive from the use of the product” (p. 8).

The fact that, despite the outrageously high price of Rolex timepieces, there has never been the shortage of buyers, confirms the legitimacy of this statement.

These paper’s argumentative points, as to what should be considered the integral elements of Rolex wristwatches’ discursive appeal, can be summarized as follows:

  1. Historicity – by owning Rolex wristwatches, people can personally relate to the most significant breakthroughs in the history of Western watch-making.
  2. Darwinian fitness – since the overwhelming majority of Rolex owners consist of socially successful individuals, their ownership of this particular brand’s timepieces signifies a high degree of their existential competitiveness.
  3. Perceptual elitism – the mere fact that people wear Rolex watches exactly to emphasize the integrity of their sense of self-worth suggests that, on an unconscious level, they oppose the ideals of social egalitarianism.
  4. Subliminal opposition to the doctrine of political correctness – because Rolex wristwatches emanate a strong spirit of euro-centrism, there is a good reason to consider those who wear them is not particularly enthusiastic about the ‘celebration of diversity’ policy.
  5. Manliness – because Rolex watches (specifically, Rolex Oyster) are being commonly associated with the character of James Bond, there can be few doubts as to the fact that Rolex owners are innately predisposed to tackle life-challenges in an unemotional and rationale-driven manner – just as this movie character does.
  6. Celebration of purity – the material, out of which Rolex watches are being made (gold), implies their owners’ emotional affiliation with the notion of purity.

I believe that the provided earlier line of analytical argumentation, in regards to the discussed subject matter, is being fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis.

Rolex wristwatches are not only is meant to serve as time-measuring devices but also as the tools of identity-enhancing. This is the reason why these wristwatches have such a strongly defined iconic status.


Bannister, N. (2000). Brand values: Rolex: A short history of the timepiece. The Guardian, p. A3.

Chadha, R. & Husband, P. (2006). Cult of the luxury brand: Inside Asia’s love affair with luxury. Yarmouth: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Greenwood, S. (2009). Anthropology of magic. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

Holbrook, M. (2001). The millennial consumer in the texts of our times: Exhibitionism. Journal of Macromarketing, 21 (1), 81-95.

Lee, T., Christensen, G. & DeRosia, E. (2008). Trademarks, consumer psychology, and the sophisticated consumer. Emory Law Journal, 57 (3), 575-650.

The characteristics of gold. (2012). HIG. Web.

Vigneron, F. & and Johnson, L. (1999). A review and a conceptual framework of prestige-seeking consumer behavior. Academy of Marketing Science Review, 9 (1), 1-23.

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