There has been a lot of confusion and debate around Rolex’s ownership. Perhaps the lack of proper information has stirred a lot of criticism towards the brand. To clear the air, we have put together all the details pertaining to Rolex’s ownership and history.
History of Rolex – The Swiss luxury watch brand
Founded in 1905, Rolex was previously known as Wilsdorf and Davis, named after founders Hands Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis. It was in 1919, when the company rebranded its name to what’s now known as Rolex.
The company was founded in London, but is currently headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. CEO, Jean Frederic Dufour has been overseeing the company and its operations since 2015. In 2021, Rolex earned an estimated revenue of $13 billion, with an operating income of $0.
Now you might be wondering about the company’s operating income of $0. To help you understand this, let’s take a look at the parent company and its background.
Who owns Rolex?
Rolex is operated under the ownership of Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. As the name suggests this non-profit organization was established by the founder of Rolex. Wilsdorf and Florence Frances May, his first wife, had no children. They had dedicated their lives to helping people and had decided to start a charitable organization of their own.
It was sadly after Florence’s passing in 1944, Wilsdorf decided to start this foundation as a tribute to her principles. The foundation was established in 1945 to fulfill her dream of helping people in need. 15 years after its establishment Wilsdorf decided to hand over 100% of Rolex’s ownership to the foundation.
Since 1960 this luxury watch brand has been owned and operated by Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, with most of Rolex’s income being donated for charitable purposes.
Criticism towards Rolex
Unlike any other watch manufacturer, Rolex operates differently. You may have not heard of a luxury brand that is owned by a non-profit organization, quite the contrary here. However, the lack of proper information has brought in a lot of criticism towards the company.
One of the most common remarks the company had to face, is non-payment of tax. Since Rolex’s parent company is a non-profit, the organization does need not disclose its charitable donations or income under the law. Hence, no corporate taxes are levied on Rolex since it is owned by the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation.
‘Rolex is a charity’ – What do you think?
Our verdict is no! Although the company is owned by a non-profit organization, the intention of Rolex is to earn a profit. In 2020, Rolex was estimated at an approximate net worth of $7.9 billion. The company has grown exponentially since its inception and continues to show big numbers in revenue.
Perhaps, the actual financial statements are not made available, as we have learnt it’s not mandatory to disclose as per the law. But, analysts who have studied Rolex’s business have praised its growth.
Rolex is not a charitable organization but is owned by one. Considering the bigger picture in hand, it is a luxury brand that has stayed true to its roots, and has always upheld its principles. The company has contributed large donations to several institutes in Geneva, Switzerland, and across Europe.
Notable work by Hans Wilsdorf Foundation
One of the most prominent philanthropic institutions in the world, the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation is highly recognized for its charitable contributions.
“Hans Wilsdorf’s legacy goes on – perpetually. Just like his self-winding watches, he has made sure that the proceeds from Rolex would be used as a continuing investment in the future.”
Taking into consideration the social actions of the foundation. The organization has supported the activities carried out by social institutions in the Canton of Geneva. Rolex has contributed towards the financial assistance for people of the Swiss region.
When it comes to educational contributions, the foundation has provided several grants and scholarships to students. It has also focused on helping people return to employment by promoting access to employment campaigns.
Since its inception the foundation has strongly believed in upholding cultural practices with regards to music, visual arts and theater. Therefore, supporting institutions in Switzerland that are based on promoting cultural heritage.
Some of the other notable work by the Hans Wilsdorf foundation include;
- Salvaging Geneva’s football team, Servette FC from a bankruptcy in 2015.
- Funding the design, development and execution of the Arve River bridge in Geneva.
- Donation of 100 million CHF towards the development of a new campus for Geneva applied arts school, HEAD.
- Acquiring historic buildings and theaters in Switzerland to protect it from demolition and to retain its heritage.
These were some of the works by the foundation that had attracted media attention. Perhaps, most of Rolex’s charitable work through the foundation has gone unnoticed due to minimal publicity. Therefore, Rolex does not seem to be a non-profit organization but is owned and managed by one.