In Memory of Queen Elizabeth II, The Unlikely Watch Collector (1926-2022)
The passing of Queen Elizabeth II engenders both memories and celebration for a generation of global leadership and history. But, for this writer, it is not the dazzling tiaras and moments of royal tradition that are fondly recalled, but the watches.
To say that it is an end of era is understatement. As Great Britain’s longest-reigning monarch (she exceeded her great-grandmother Queen Victoria’s 63-year rule in 2015), Queen Elizabeth II served as a constant and reassuring global figure over her 70 years on the throne. She gave witness to 15 different U.K. Prime Ministers, 14 U.S. Presidents, and seven popes. Her life is one to surely be celebrated. And, as members of the watch community, we celebrate Her Majesty’s legacy of being one of the most photographed people on earth, by turning an eye to the royal wrist.
Over the years, she chose very particular wrist wear. Befitting her no-nonsense personality, sensible yet stylish were her watchwords: the watch should never overshadow or clash, even with the ceremonial Crown Jewels. If we trust the number of portraits in which Her Majesty wears a watch, we can easily deduce that she, too, was a great watch collector.
The War Time Princess
During the Second World War, women in England wanted to be a part of the war effort. And as a pioneer of women's equal rights, Princess Elizabeth embodied that spirit. So, when she turned 18, she decided to go against her father, King George VI, and royal privilege and tradition to actively serve during the war. You could find her with her hands on the engines of military trucks, supporting the troops.
On her coronation day, the queen-to-be famously wore a Jaeger-LeCoultre 101. With a movement that is still the smallest in the world, it was discreet and perfect for the occasion. And with the 101’s movement carefully “hidden” between two rows of diamonds, it did not take any attention away from the ceremonial jewelry worn during coronation ceremonies. The whereabouts of the watch are currently unknown. However, back in 2012, for the queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Jaeger-LeCoultre gifted a new version of the iconic 101 to celebrate the long-reigning monarch.
What’s even more impressive is, if you study her official portraits since 1943, you can spot a bracelet on her right wrist. Upon closer inspection of the bracelet, an avid horological eye will notice a small dial. It wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that Queen Elizabeth may have had a custom Jaeger-LeCoultre 101 for daily wear in white gold with no diamonds.
Judging by the number of times Her Majesty is pictured wearing the Jaeger-LeCoultre 101, it must mean the watch was very dear to her. Whether out with the her corgis or sitting for an official photograph, it was there, always on her wrist, year after year, decade after decade. A true heritage to pass on.
This is probably one of the most candid shots of the queen you can view, and her watch is on full display. Upon closer inspection, it seems that the queen is wearing an art deco Omega Ladymatic. This shot dates to 1992. Back in the day, the Ladymatic from Omega was quite big, but the queen, as a fine connoisseur, would not be bothered.
More recently, the queen seemed to be wearing a Jules Audemars watch from Audemars Piguet on a daily basis. The Jules Audemars is the most classic collection of the watchmaker. Perfect under a sleeve or above her signature white gloves, the queen definitely had a penchant for watches from La Vallee de Joux. The roman numerals, coupled with the gold bracelet, are the perfect complement for her daily engagements.
HRH’s Patek Philippe
Maybe it should go without saying, but Patek Philippe is royalty in the watch world. They are the most known, the most sought-after, and some pieces are rare to even lay eyes on. It seems natural, then, that the queen owned a couple of the famous watchmaker’s timepieces.
While on her way to open a recent Parliamentary session, the queen opted for a new Patek Philippe ref. 4975. It is a bit more precious and ladylike, but still discreet. Coupled with the Crown Jewels, including the Imperial State Crown, the queen adorned this Patek Philippe reference with pearls and diamonds for one of the most significant days in the political year. She then loaned the watch back to Patek Philippe for their traveling exhibition a couple of years ago.
Over her 96 years of life, Queen Elizabeth II must have owned many watches never worn in public. In fact, she is rumored to own over 14 fine timepieces, including a Cartier, more Patek Philippes, and a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso. It's even rumored that the Swiss government gifted her with a Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos during her first visit to Switzerland.
With her passing, we may get a better picture of the full extent of Her Majesty’s collection, but rest assured that any previously unknown models that come light will carry her signature understatement, elegance, and poise.