Is Rolex a Non-Profit?

By Nic King •  Updated: 08/08/22 •  5 min read

Rolex is the most well-known watch brand in the world. In 2020, it was estimated to be worth an estimated $7.9 billion. However, you may have heard that Rolex is a non-profit. Why would such a large company be structured as a non-profit? Let’s find out.

What We’ll Cover

What Is The Hans Wilsdorf Foundation?

It all starts with the founder of Rolex – Hans Wilsdorf. He founded Rolex in 1908 having thought of the name while riding on a horse-drawn double-decker bus in London.

Rolex started off focusing on pocket watches but later was one of the early adopters of wristwatches. Hans Wilsdorf led the company to success growing to over 40 employees by 1914.

In 1915 though, the British government imposed a heavy 33% duty on Rolex. This forced Hans to move Rolex Switzerland. Rolex had continued success from Geneva launching the first waterproof wristwatch, the Rolex Oyster, in 1927. It then created the first automatic wristwatch, the Rolex Perpetual, in 1931.

By 1945, Hans was wanting to give back, so he founded the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. The foundation focused on charitable giving in the area around Geneva, Switzerland where its headquarters is located.

When Hans Wilsdorf passed away in 1960, he left 100% of Rolex S.A. to the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. To this day, they still own and control 100% of Rolex. All of Rolex’s income passes through to the foundation.

Why is Rolex a non-profit?

Why Is Rolex a Non-Profit?

Well, the answer is simple because it is owned by The Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, Rolex S.A. is actually a private company. Being wholly owned by a charitable trust all of its income does pass through to that trust. Thus, Rolex is a non-profit. Or is it?

You see just because Rolex’s parent company is registered as a charitable foundation doesn’t mean that it cannot turn a profit. In Switzerland, the reporting requirements are relatively loose for foundations when compared to the rest of the world. It is also easier to maintain non-profit status in Switzerland than in many other countries around the world.

With that being said, Rolex does run several sub-entities to carry out charitable duties including the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Initiative, Rolex Perpetual, the Rolex Awards, Rolex Perpetual Environment, and more. We cover these more in-depth later in the article.

Does Rolex Pay Taxes?

Rolex is tax-exempt in Switzerland through the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. Meaning that Rolex S.A. does not pay any corporate taxes. It also doesn’t own any stores. All Rolex’s are sold through retailers meaning that it owns very little property outside of Switzerland and doesn’t sell anything directly to consumers.

This business-to-business model for Rolex helps them keep their tax bill low as they can avoid sales taxes in some countries as well as pay less VAT in European countries.

Overall, Rolex doesn’t pay much of any taxes, and for those it does pay, it seems to have strategically cut and reduce as much as possible.

Does Rolex Donate 90% of Their Profit?

There is no proof that Rolex donates 90 percent of its profit to charities. This is due to the relaxed non-profit reporting requirements in Switzerland. The Hans Wilsdorf Foundation does donate some of their income to various causes, but exactly where and how much of that income is donated is not public information.

This may come as a shock to many readers as reporting requirements for non-profits in the US make this information public. That is not the case in Switzerland. Rolex can be a non-profit without reporting any of its financials publicly.

Rolex Non-Profit Causes - Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative

Rolex’s Non-Profit Causes

Rolex does have a website dedicated to its charitable activities. There are various different pursuits mentioned there, however, here are some of the more notable ones.

Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative

The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative’s goal is to make contributions to culture on a global level. It pairs young, gifted artists from around the globe with master artists allowing for creative collaboration and one-on-one mentorship.

This program was founded in 2002 and has paired protégés with mentors in visual arts, film, music, dance, literature, theatre, architecture, and more. You can find more details about this program on Rolex’s Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative website.

Rolex Perpetual

Rolex Perpetual encompasses many of Rolex’s charitable pursuits including the Rolex Training Centre and Lititz Watch Technicum. Here, Rolex teaches the art of mechanical watchmaking to students. Many of which pay little to no tuition. This is a win-win as Rolex gets qualified watchmakers and those who go through the schools get marketable skills for life.

Rolex Awards for Enterprise

Rolex launched the Rolex Awards for Enterprise on the Rolex Oyster’s 50th anniversary. It aims to support exceptional people globally who have limited access to traditional funding. The Rolex Awards focus on major channels that are innovative and advance human knowledge and well-being. Overall, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise are yet another way that Rolex fulfills its philanthropic duties.

Rolex Perpetual Environment

The Rolex Perpetual Environment is how Rolex is giving back to the planet. There are tons of different initiatives around the world many of which are carried out through strategic partners such as Forbes, Mission Blue, National Geographic, and more.

Nic King

My watch journey started when my dad gave me a quartz watch customized with the company he worked for on the face. From there, it evolved into other quartz watches and eventually to the world of mechanical watches. My first luxury watch was a 1960s vintage Omega, and the collection has only expanded from there.

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