Welcome to Watches You Should Know, a column highlighting little-known watches with interesting backstories and unexpected influence. Today: branded Rolexes.
“You see this watch?” a smug, young and skinny Alec Baldwin asks during his “Always Be Closing” speech at the beginning of Glengarry Glen Ross. He waves his gold Rolex DayDate in front of Ed Harris’s face before setting it down on his desk. “That watch costs more than your car. I made $970,000 last year…that’s who I am.”
Of course Baldwin’s venomous “motivational” diatribe would include a gold Rolex. It’s perfect. A character who defines himself so much by his wealth would wear the one brand that is universally synonymous with status, power and success. Baldwin’s particular model of Rolex is nicknamed the “President,” for God’s sake.
I wonder how Baldwin’s character would feel about a Rolex Air-King — the 34mm dateless three-hander that, until being discontinued in 2014 (and subsequently revived at a large diameter), was Rolex’s entry-level watch — loudly branded with the familiar red-and-white logo of the world’s second-largest pizza chain. Look on any number of online vintage watch dealers and you’ll see them pop up from time to time: Domino’s Rolexes. So how did one of the world’s foremost watchmakers end up producing a watch for the official pizza of laser-tag parties?
Domino’s began incentivizing its franchisees with Rolex in 1977 when Domino’s Pizza founder and CEO Tom Monaghan gave a high-earning franchise owner the watch off his wrist. In his 1986 autobiography, Pizza Tiger, Monaghan wrote, “I wore a Bulova with our Domino’s logo on its face. A franchisee asked what he had to do to get that watch from me, and I told him, ‘Turn in a twenty-thousand-dollar sales week.’ He did it.”
After that, Managhan began giving away Seikos to top earners. Then he upped the ante with “hundreds of $800 Rolexes.” In the early days of what is now known as the Rolex Challenge, turning in $20,000 in sales one week at Domino’s would get you a Rolex. (Break $10,000 and you’d get an Hermés tie.) But as Rolex prices increased, so did the stakes. Domino’s continued to give out branded Rolexes, but a franchise needed to hit $25,000 in sales in a week — four weeks in a row. According to a Domino’s spokesperson, a franchise would pull in closer to $17,000 in sales a week, on average.
“As soon as I realized the challenges were attainable, I starting to work hard for them,” said Hannah Lantz, a Domino’s Franchisee. “I have won five times, including at the $45,000 and $50,000 level. Fifty thousand dollars is a lot of pizza per week. It required growing the staff and more preparation.”
As a means of motivation, Monaghan’s use of Rolexes as incentives seem incredibly more effective than the “fuck you, look at my watch” method employed in Glengarry Glen Ross. In his essay “The CEO as a Corporate Myth-Maker,” Wayne State Literature and Folklore Professor Richard Raspa suggests that Monaghan believed “everyone who worked at Domino’s was a potential replica of the founder.” That offering employees the same kind of luxury pens, ties and watches he owned — even the one off his own wrist — would bestow them with the same kind of entrepreneurial power Monaghan possessed to turn a Ypsilanti, Michigan pizza parlor into one of the biggest fast food franchises in the world.
As for the watches themselves, the ones that show up on the secondhand market have become oddball collectibles, selling at over what you’d normally expect to pay for a vintage Air-King. (They are more easily found than Rolexes branded by companies like Winn-Dixie and Coca-Cola, which gave their watches away for years of service rather than monetary goals.) Still, the Domino’s logo is a divisive feature. An image of one on our own Instagram page garnered over 60 comments ranging from “I LOVE branded Rolexes, un-sarcastically” to “Ugh, what a travesty.”
“That Rolex gets more attention in my window than any other Rolex, except maybe the vintage Submariner,” said Steve Kivel, president of Central Watch in Grand Central Station, where a Domino’s Air-King sat in the shop window with a $3,595 price tag. “I think it’s colorful and unusual, and that is rare for a Rolex vintage watch. Anytime you have something different from the normal black- or silver-dial Rolex, it draws a lot of interest, and usually will be more valuable.”
When asked how long the watch was on sale at Central Watch, Kivel admitted it sat for several months. “Sometimes being so unique is not for everybody,” he said.