Hong Kong’s Obsession with Rolex (and other Luxury Watches)

Did you know that Hong Kong, with merely 7 million people, is the largest watch importer in the world? It single-handedly consumes around 20% of all Swiss-made watches! In fact, Hong Kong has been the world’s largest luxury watch market for decades. This may not come off as a surprise, after all Hong Kong’s lavish status is well established. You can catch golden wrists, occasionally dazzling with diamonds almost everywhere. But have you ever thought about why Hong Kong loves high-end watches so much? And why specifically Rolex?

Well, an obvious answer is the social implications that an expensive watch makes. Historically, watches have always been a significant status symbol. In social contexts, people look at certain material possessions to make judgements about a person’s social class, education and wealth. Watches are often the first thing they notice. Hence, wearing a luxury watch is a way of showing wealth casually, in a materialistic society like Hong Kong.

Although often Hong Kongers wear such pieces to boost business. Some say: “you aren’t taken seriously in the business world if you don’t have a good mechanical watch”. This is because a luxury watch will not only reflect your financial success, but also your taste and how responsible you are with your money.

In the 1960s, the common status symbol among businessmen was “金勞” (Gold Rolex). At the time, credit systems haven’t been widely developed yet, so to be able to purchase a watch of such pricing by cash suggested affluence. The Gold Rolex is, to this day, the most popular watch choice in Hong Kong, partly due to superstition.

In Cantonese “Gold Rolex” is pronounced similarly to “襟撈”, which means to attract prosperity and never bend to difficulties. Thus, buying a Rolex is, in a way, wishing well for one’s career. In the local movie ‘Young and Dangerous’ (1996), the gangster gifts his friend a Rolex and wishes him good luck and prosperity in his new life fleeing to Taiwan.

For the same reason, white gold Rolex watches aren’t popular. As they are pronounced similarly to “working hard and getting no return”. Blue Rolex sounds like “difficulty gaining wealth”, so it is avoided as well. Hong Konger’s beliefs and wordplay also affect their purchase decisions.

New patterns are seen around the watch market in Hong Kong. Second-hand items are becoming increasingly popular due to their pricing. Although generally, the watch prices preserve quite well compared to other luxury items. Which is another reason for its popularity, it is sometimes viewed as an investment and can be swapped for cash quite easily. People are also branching out to other brands such as Piaget and Cartier.

So next time when you see a someone wearing a luxurious watch, you can know it might be deeper than just fashion!

(Note: 白勞 sounds like 白撈, 藍勞sounds like 難撈)

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