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07/19/2023
 4 minutes

The Craziest Watch Ads Ever

By René Herold

The luxury watch market is highly competitive, which means brands have to come up with some pretty creative ways to generate as much attention as they can for their timepieces. Let’s take a look at some of the industry’s finer promotional stunts to date.

Rolex

When Hans Wilsdorf founded Rolex in 1905, he quickly realized that high-quality craftsmanship, innovative technology, and fair prices alone wouldn’t quite cut it to carve a niche in the well-established watch market. Thus, Rolex made use of some creative advertising tactics from the start to get their name out there.

In October 1927, for example, the brand attracted widespread attention when they equipped 26-year-old swimmer Mercedes Gleitze with a Rolex Oyster as she attempted a record-setting crossing of the English Channel. Rolex had introduced the Oyster watch a year prior. Its unique case construction made it the world’s first waterproof wristwatch, and Gleitze’s swim aptly demonstrated how robust the Oyster really was. Although Gleitze had to cut her attempt short due to inclement weather, the watch managed to withstand more than eight hours in the freezing Atlantic unscathed. Some time later, Wilsdorf placed full-page newspaper ads with the eye-catching slogan, “The wonder watch that defies the elements.”

Vintage Rolex Oyster Ref. 2081
Vintage Rolex Oyster ref. 2081

Rolex came up with another clever way to demonstrate the water resistance of its watches: In the mid-1920s, the Genevan watch manufacturer gave its authorized dealers small aquariums for their shop windows, complete with real goldfish. The watches were placed inside, much to the delight of passersby. This tactic must have been quite successful, seeing as Rolex continued using aquariums in various adverts up until the 1960s.

Hublot, Victorinox, Breitling, and Zenith

Hublot is next-level when it comes to marketing. The brand counts top athletes like Kylian Mbappé, Usain Bolt, and Novak Djokovic, as well as artists like Depeche Mode and Lang Lang to its list of ambassadors. The brand is also the official timekeeper for all major FIFA and UEFA tournaments; the substitution boards are even shaped like a Hublot Big Bang – genius!

But Bernie Ecclestone’s story really showcases the imagination of Hublot’s marketing department. The former Formula 1 boss was mugged and robbed on November 25, 2010, in London. The culprits got away with watches and jewelry worth more than $250,000, including Ecclestone’s Hublot King Power F1. He used the unfortunate circumstances to his advantage and forwarded police photos of himself to Hublot, showing the 80-year-old with a black eye and split lip. The image later appeared in a Hublot ad with the slogan, “See what people will do for a Hublot.”

Hublot King Power F1
Hublot King Power F1

Zenith prefers to appeal to the thrill-seeker rather than the macabre. The Swiss brand was one of several sponsors for daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s Red Bull Stratos mission. In 2012, the Austrian ascended into the stratosphere on a helium balloon before parachuting off. During his 22-mile free fall, he reached speeds over 840 mph and broke the sound barrier. On his wrist was none other than a Zenith El Primero Stratos Flyback Striking 10th. The chronograph was supposedly a normal production model, and it survived the trip without fail, ticking away perfectly back on solid ground.

Zenith El Primero Stratos Flyback
Zenith El Primero Stratos Flyback

Go big or go home – that’s Breitling‘s motto when it comes to ads. The Swiss brand is famous for its pilot’s watches, so it’s fitting that they’ve sponsored their own aerobatic display team, the Breitling Jet Team, for many years. The Grenchen-based watch manufacturer is also responsible for the upkeep of the last functioning Lockheed Super Constellation, a triple-tailed long-haul passenger aircraft from the 1950s. And in 1999, Breitling sponsored Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard as they successfully completed the first uninterrupted circumnavigation of the globe in a balloon, the Breitling Orbiter 3.

Breitling Chronomat 44 Jet Team 44 Steel Black
Breitling Chronomat 44 Jet Team Steel Black

Swiss watch company Victorinox came up with a novel idea to celebrate its 130th anniversary: 130 tests to showcase just how robust their I.N.O.X. toolwatch really is. The challenges posed included being run over by a firetruck, washed in a washing machine, tossed into boiling water, frozen, and sandblasted. Lo and behold, the I.N.O.X. passed with flying colors. It’s not that surprising, considering the amount of time and energy that went into developing the watch. According to Victorinox, there were some 421 prototypes built during the design process, half of which weren’t able to withstand the litany of tests.

Victorinox Swiss Army I.N.O.X. – für alle Lebenslagen getestet
Victorinox Swiss Army I.N.O.X. – designed to withstand all of life’s challenges

Omega

The industry’s biggest marketing coup, however, was no doubt achieved by Omega – even if it was a bit unintentional. While the Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch is one of the best-known watch models today, it was just one of many racing chronographs on the market prior to the Moon landing. I can’t imagine Omega anticipated what it would mean when NASA chose the Speedmaster as their official watch for astronauts in the 1960s. It was probably a somewhat typical order for the Biel-based watchmaker. After all, Omega had previously fulfilled orders for the British Royal Air Force and the US military. At the time, there were already several other watches that had made it to space.

The Speedmaster only attained cult status when Buzz Aldrin became the first man to set foot on the Moon with an Omega on his wrist. To this day, the watch remains the brand’s top performer, and is duly celebrated with countless special editions. The Moonwatch is unlikely to lose its prominence any time soon – at least not until man sets foot on Mars.

Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch 311.30.42.30.01.006
Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch 311.30.42.30.01.006

In Short

When it comes to promoting their watches, manufacturers are absolutely ingenious. You honestly wouldn’t expect some of these tactics from an industry that can come across as stuffy. Only time will tell what Rolex, Breitling, and more have in store for us!

You may also be interested in reading Five Things You Need to Know About the Rolex Explorer Before Buying One


About the Author

René Herold

My name is René Herold, and I first discovered Chrono24 in a job listing. Admittedly, I didn't really care about watches before coming to Chrono24. However, after a few …

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