Political Watches: why such powerful men chose Rolex

For decades, Rolex has adorned history’s most prominent figures with luxury watches worthy of their influential positions. Worn by both US presidents and civil rights icons alike, Rolex remains at the forefront of western politics, both contemporary and historical. Through time, Rolex has thus become synonymous with power, influence and status.

Our world was shaped by Rolex wearers. No doubt our future will be forged by them too.

Barack Obama - Rolex Cellini Time

Similarly to Bill Clinton (who has famously acquired a large Rolex collection since 2001), Obama lent into his own style upon the culmination of his final term in office. Whilst serving as President he opted for a more humble Jorg Gray, however he was recently seen wearing a Rolex Cellini Time at Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Still opting for the understated option, the Cellini represents delicacy and a sort of restraint. Existing in the shadow of larger collections such as the Submariner, Air-King and GMT-Master, the Cellini would appear a rather plain mid-range watch to those unaware of its 18ct white gold foundations. 

The same watch was included in Wiley’s official presidential portrait in Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. D'MARGE has suggested that ‘investing in a Cellini shows that you are focused on precision and quality rather than pomp and circumstance’ - considering this analysis, it seems easy to understand why Obama wanted to capture his Rolex in his portrait. 

JF Kennedy - Rolex Day Date

It may come as no surprise that the former president owned an extensive watch collection. Throughout both his presidency and his life, JFK refused to commit to any one watch brand or style, preferring to wear a range of different timepieces to different events.  

Although he acquired many as gifts from his wife, friends and family, his most famous watch - the Rolex Day Date - was gifted by Marilyn Monroe. The occasion was his 45th birthday and the watch bore a small inscription, ‘Jack, With love as always, from Marilyn May 29th 1962’, on the back. He received the gift subsequent to the famous ‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’ performance at a time when rumours of an affair between the two were rife. To deter further rumour, JFK is said to have asked his assistant to ‘get rid of it’. 

His Rolex Day Date has been affectionately referred to as ‘the President Rolex’ and achieved $120,000 at auction in 2005.

Winston Churchill - Rolex Datejust

Wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, also acquired a large collection of luxury timepieces. Most famously, he wore a 100,000th chronometer (personalised Rolex Datejust) complete with his coat of arms. The watch was produced in 18ct rose gold and came with a jubilee bracelet. He is said to have received the watch as a gift from Rolex founder, Hans Wilsdorf at the culmination of world war II. After receiving a request from Wilsdorf to give him the 100,000th chronometer, Churchill specified that he wanted his personal coat of arms engraved on the back.

In this way, Rolex weaved its way into this narrative of victory, freedom and strength by associating Churchill with the brand. A celebration of success and power, Rolex’s solid gold design attracted significant publicity whilst on the wrist of one of the world’s most powerful leaders.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr. - Rolex Datejust

Declaring Martin Luther King Jr. as one of history’s greatest ‘heros’, Rolex revealed in 2013 that he wore a Rolex Datejust during their campaign aimed at discovering their most famous watch wearers. Little is known about the story behind Luther King’s Datejust. Some sources claim that it was a gift from Rolex itself whereas others suggest it was presented to him by a fellow member of the civil rights movement who had an agenda to ensure that the world’s most powerful figures recognised Luther King. He wore the watch consistently - from the March Against Fear (June 1966) to the rallies in Chicago photographs show the Rolex permanently on his wrist.

Whilst it seems somewhat trivial to focus on what Luther King wore as opposed to the magnitude of things he said, his Datejust represents something fundamental about his politics: that society, just like time, must keep moving forward.

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