This is not an April Fools joke that snuck out early. Although this Rolex Day-Date’s lack of ability to display the day or date could give that claim some credence.
No, this is a real watch. Revealed at the glitzy Watches and Wonders event in Geneva this week, the emoji-packed timepiece was shown off alongside a range of other new models of Day-Date. But those, with their colourful dials and perfectly functional complications, can’t hold a candle to the attention the emoji model has received in the last 48 hours.
This feels like explaining how cars generally have four wheels, but it’s worth pointing out how watches that show the date usually do so in a window at the three o’clock position. And, more unusually but not uniquely, the Day-Date shows the day of the week in an arched window at 12 o’clock.
Not so, with the emoji watch. The date compilation instead rotates to show one of 31 emojis each day, including a panda, heart, peace sign and, of course, an emoji-fied Rolex logo. Meanwhile, the day complication spins through a set of seven words: Happy, Eternity, Gratitude, Peace, Faith, Love and Hope.
“Hey, what’s the date today?” someone asks you, a proud new owner of the Rolex emoji watch. “Why, it’s Faith, the panda emoji of, er, March?” you say with uncertainty.
I have to admit that using the two complications for something different is a fun move. But is it really a Rolex-y way of having fun? Swiss watch companies aren’t always known for their razor-sharp sense of humour, but there have been examples of them, even the biggest names, having a bit of well-organised fun.
There’s the Omega Speedmaster ‘Silver Snoopy Award’ which pays homage to NASA's somewhat unusual mascot. Omega also has the new Seamaster with a movement that powers a moving James Bond animation on the caseback, and of course, I don’t need to remind you of the Moonswatch.
Some models of Rolex have a Domino’s pizza logo on the dial, but this isn’t purely for fun. This just happens to be one of the corporate partnerships where Rolex still produces branded watches, which are then given away as employee bonuses. Another such partnership led to Rolexes with the Coca-Cola logo on their dial, but again, these were performance bonuses and retirement gifts, not fun for the general public to buy.
There’s also the ultra-valuable subcategory of Tiffany-dial Rolexes, but a jeweller’s name on the dial of a luxury watch is hardly in the same league as replacing the date with a bunch of emojis. Search Google for ‘fun Rolex’ and you’ll find lots of six-figure watches smothered in diamonds and other precious stones, but that’s about it. Sensible, predictable and reliable, Rolex generally doesn’t engage in Swatch levels of fun.
What fascinates me is the question of who Rolex expects to buy the emoji watch, and which celebrity will be seen wearing it first. Will it be a golfer winning the Masters next month? Tiger Woods will have to check his phone to see what day of the tournament it is.
Perhaps three-time F1 champion and long-standing Rolex ambassador Sir Jackie Stewart? The lack of a tartan dial and bagpipes emoji makes this unlikely. Nor would Roger Federer be seen wearing a Rolex without an emoji of the Swiss flag.
Joking aside, it’ll surely be a megastar on the scale of Beyoncé or fashionistas drawn to what is admittedly a striking timepiece. It’ll no doubt look fantastic at a beach club or on a yacht, drawing friendly glances from those who know and fascination from those who don’t.
Away from the dial, this is a 36mm watch available in white, yellow or rose gold and with a President bracelet. It’s right up there in the Premier League of Swiss watches, but just so happens to have a sense of humour unlike anything we’ve seen from Rolex before.
What's also telling is how I've got this far without even mentioning the madness of the dial, with its blue background and multi-coloured jigsaw design. This alone would make the watch stand out from any other Rolex, but to add in the wacky complications, plus the multi-coloured gems for hour markers? It's a lot.
Will it be a sign of change from Switzerland’s biggest watchmaker? The change might be more gradual than that, but change is undoubtedly what’s happening. Add this to the Datejust with multicoloured balloons on its dial, also new this week – then remember how Rolex has plans to significantly boost production in the coming few years – and we have a company setting itself up for a future where stalwarts like the Datejust, Submariner and Daytona will be joined by fun pieces like the emoji Day-Date.
The emoji Rolex will undoubtedly be criticised by some, but Rolex should be applauded for stepping out of its comfort zone and running the risk of alienating some of its fans in a bid to attract new ones. It’s just a bit of fun. Unusual and unexpected fun not dissimilar to your grandfather’s Christmas jumper, but fun nonetheless.