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Swiss Watches and Swedish Appliances
Sometimes we need to laugh.
Every week I highlight three newsletters. Normally they’re serious. But this has been . . . a week. So I wanted to give you some lighter stuff.
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1. Kabuki Politics
Jeff Jackson is a freshman representative from North Carolina and last week he went slightly viral for a short video he did saying that even 100 days into his new job, it’s clear to him that a lot of politics is like pro-wrestling.
It turns out that Jackson also has a Substack. And he posted the text of his anti-rant on it, here.
But what really sold me on Jackson wasn’t his monologue. It was the welcome email he sends out to people who sign up for his Substack. Here’s what he says:
I want to make this worth your time, so here’s what you can expect:
Only one email a week.
Totally free. No paid/premium version.
I won’t send you anything I wouldn’t want to read myself.
Bless him. If you want to get in on this low-commitment relationship with a pol who seems like a normal guy, subscribe here.
2. We Are Laughing
Don’t know about you, but I needed a laugh this week. And Holly Berkeley Fletcher obliged with a piece about something called an Asko:
A very long time ago, in an apartment a few miles away, I had a Swedish appliance. Her name was The Asko. . . .
Kevin and I were newlyweds looking for our first real apartment together. We had been living huddled in his bachelor pad, my personal effects still in boxes stacked against walls, for months. We wanted to move into the city to be with all the other young nerds who wanted to feel cool. We looked and looked and finally found the perfect place. It had everything we needed, including a washer and dryer, an older, stacked model that was perfectly suitable for our needs.
But our landlady thought we deserved more. Better.
"Don't worry," she told us, as she showed us around the place. "This is gonna be replaced with a brand new appliance. It's cutting edge. It's European!"
That should have been a massive, blinking light, like Hitler invading the Sudetenland, a clear warning signal to run like the wind out of there and never look back. But we were young and foolish and still impressed by European things. . . .
We moved in, and a few days later, a delivery man showed up with what looked to be a 1980's boom box.
"What is that?" I asked, while mentally scanning my possessions to see if I still owned any cassette tapes.
"That's your new washer-dryer," he said.
"Um, well, first of all, it's only one thing, so it must either be a washer or a dryer. Second of all, it is clearly for a Barbie," I said.
"It's a combination unit," he said.
"Like it combines with something else to become an actual appliance for full-sized Americans?"
"Look, I just deliver things. Here's the manual, sign here, good luck." And then he left me alone with The Asko. . . .
I tentatively reached for the manual and began reading. I learned that The Asko came from Sweden to show us how to conserve water, electricity, and space and also build a stronger social safety net with universal healthcare. The Asko claimed to wash and dry clothes in succession in a single tiny compartment. That did sound impressive. Also Sweden did have universal healthcare. I was intrigued.
The problem is, The Asko never did do that. Not even once in 2 years.
Also, Sweden probably has universal healthcare because they forego other things, like full-sized appliances that work.
Read the whole thing and subscribe. You’ll smile the whole way.
Btw, may recognize Holly from the comments here. She’s a talented writer, but holy crap is she funny. She did this parody of The Next Level recently and it is dead-on.
I really do have the best readers. Thanks Holly. And thanks to the rest of you guys, too.
3. Watch Talk
“What makes Rolex Rolex?”
That’s the question tackled by a newsletter called the Sleepwell Strategy.
I’d never heard of this newsletter before—it seems to be about investing? But I know a fair amount about Rolex and more than I should about watches. So I was curious.
Rolex is counterintuitively one of the best known brands in the world, and also one of the least known businesses. A lot has been written about luxury businesses, especially LVMH, but Rolex is extremely secretive and its business remains mostly a mystery. It's not a public company, quite the opposite in fact: it's owned by a foundation which operates as a non-profit. . . .
Rolex uses only the best materials in the world. Not only that, but they went as far as building their own foundry. Here they make their own patented metal alloys and precious metals, including three types of gold and their famous 904L stainless steel, which is aerospace grade level of durability. They have a laboratory filled with world-class experts in materials engineering, friction, lubrication, wear, chemistry and physics. Oh, and Rolex employs two Nobel Prize winners in their team.
Rolex quality control goes to an extreme. They are fully vertically integrated, making all their components in-house and put to the highest standards. Their waterproof test places watches into pressurized tanks that simulate the guaranteed depth rating of every model with an additional 10% margin for regular watches and 25% for dive watches. The 24-hour accuracy test photographs watches and exactly 24 hours later it’s photographed again, if the images are not microscopically aligned, they’re sent back for revision. They invented a machine that opens and closes the bracelet clasp 1000 times per minute. The finishing phase, which includes polishing of the case, is done 100% by hand. They have a proprietary machine that tests diamonds and stones to make sure they’re up to their standard and aren’t fake. They also have machines to test their own machines. . . .
Rolex consistently pushes the boundaries of innovation. . . .
Status in luxury is typically associated with money. But buying a Rolex (or any watch for that matter) isn’t necessarily about the “flex” of showing it off. There are many legitimate reasons why one would buy a Rolex: to celebrate the birth of your newborn, a fascination with the craft of watchmaking, the design aesthetics, the history it represents, a potential investment. Maybe you’re into scuba-diving so you want a Submariner. Or you love racecars so you want a Daytona. These pieces carry a lot of sentimental value for people, and to many it’s more like a piece of fine art.
You can read the whole thing, if you want. Most of it’s fine, so far as it goes. But I have a couple of quibbles.
The biggest is the contention that Rolex is innovative.
Watchmaking has had two major innovations over my lifetime. The first was George Daniels’ invention of the co-axial escapement. Omega was the first brand to successfully mass-produce co-axial watches. The second is the Spring Drive movement, which incorporates the mechanical aspect of watches with the accuracy of quartz—this was pioneered by Seiko.
(A third achievement is Citizen’s Caliber 0100, which thermo-compensates a quartz movement to the accuracy of 1 second per year.)
The whole point of Rolex is that they don’t innovate. They take tried-and-true, and then refine to infinity.
My second quibble is that I’m pretty sure that for most people, a Rolex is a pure flex.
Not for everyone! I have many friends who love watches and who own a Rolex because they treasure them as examples of exceptional watchmaking.
But your median Rolex buyer? I suspect that guy has one watch and it’s his Rolex and he wears it as proof to his peers that he’s made it.
But here’s where Sleepwell is on point: The key to Rolex is their obsession with quality control.
No Rolex ever leaves the studio without being perfect.
And the ability to perform this level of QC is directly tied to Rolex’s decision to only make about a million watches per year.
Watchmaking is a labor-intensive process. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that it is an intensive skilled labor process. There simply aren’t enough artisans in Switzerland (or the world) for Rolex to be able to manufacture much more than 1 million pieces annually.
And Rolex long ago decided that it would uphold its production standards rather than sell more watches. It’s entire marketing strategy is built around this decision; not vice versa.
Every watch lover goes through the Three Stages of Rolex.
Stage 1: Idolatry. When you fall in love with watches, you fall in love with Rolex and view it as the apex of the form.
Stage 2: Disillusionment. As you learn more about watches and discover the wider world you see pieces like Seiko’s Credor Eichi II or the Hermés Arceau L’Heure De La Lune and you understand what real artistry looks like.
Then you look around and see middle-aged middle-managers rocking a Datejust because they got a promotion. And you turn your nose up at these overpriced status symbols.
Stage 3: Appreciation. And once you know a lot about watches, you come to appreciate Rolex for what it is.
They aren’t the best-made or most beautiful watches. They don’t have the best heritage. But they’re very nicely made and the precision of both finishing and engineering that goes into making a million watches to that high a standard every year is impressive.
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