The Unlikely Watch Collectors: Rolex Edition
Despite watch connoisseurs around the world primarily viewing Rolex as a professional tool watch, the brand with the crown is now seen by the wider public as a symbol of power and achievement. Some of Rolex’s most famous customers appear to be a total contradiction of who should own and wear such a luxury timepiece.
The 20th century has been a period of major changes and cultural shifts. From ideologies to scientific knowledge, humanity has faced extreme evolutions. However, in the face of an ever-changing world, something has endured: wearing a Rolex.
Leonid Brezhnev: ‘Bling’ Communism
As the fifth leader of the Soviet Union and General Secretary of the Communist Party from 1964 to 1982, Leonid Brezhnev led the party during the heart of the Cold War and came to personify the scheming and relentless Communist “devil.” Still, it was a surprise to discover that the Russian leader was, in fact, fond of wearing a yellow gold Rolex Datejust on a Jubilee bracelet.
I have tried to find a possible correlation in Karl Marx’s Das Kapital to explain how a party born from the concept of proletarian leadership, shared work, and collective benefit could be compatible with owning such an expensive timepiece. Maybe I wasn’t thorough enough in my research, but I cannot find any correlation between owning such a watch and Marx’s communist ideology.
Fidel Castro and Che Guevara: The Oyster Revolutionaries
Another communist, made famous during the Cuban Revolution – Fidel Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Who fought to overthrow the US-backed military dictator of Cuba, Fulgencio Batista. However, if they wanted to convert the hearts and minds of the country to comply with the concepts of socialism, Fidel Castro was not the ideal candidate for leading by example. Castro’s intense interest in Rolex timepieces was not at all in line with the decades of sacrifices he asked the Cuban people to make under the socialist regime.
El Lider Maximo was not just a simple Rolex customer. In the end, Castro proved to be an authentic collector. At the very least, he owned: a Submariner ref. 6536, two GMT-Masters (ref. 6542 & 1675), and a Datejust, which was mounted unusually on a Rolex President bracelet.
His revolutionary compatriot, Dr. Ernesto Guevara, was far more sober, wearing only a Rolex GMT-Master. But the sight of both gentlemen laughing proudly with Rolexes on their wrists is more reminiscent of a wealthy teen’s spring break in Florida!
The Dalai Lama: Wearing Nothing But Rolexes
As the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the 14th Dalai Lama has a true interest in watches. In fact, in his 2001 bestseller, Ethics for the New Millennium, the Dalai Lama recounted, "I have always enjoyed repairing watches, but I can remember a number of occasions as a boy when, completely losing my patience with those tiny, intricate parts, I picked up the mechanism and smashed it down on the table. Of course, later I felt very sorry and ashamed of my behavior – especially when, as on one occasion, I had to return the watch to its owner in a condition worse than it was before!"
When looking at the foundations of Buddhism, one of the cornerstones is Buddha teaches that by destroying greed, hatred, and delusion, which are causes of suffering, people can attain perfect enlightenment.
Despite the Dalai Lama’s real enthusiasm for watchmaking, it is hard to understand how possessing two Rolexes will help him reach Nirvana. Once again, it is hard to find the link between the concept of destitution and the ownership of a Datejust on a Jubilee bracelet or a yellow gold Day-Date.
Phillippe Dufour: Independence with a Crown
Without any doubt, master watchmaker Phillippe Dufour is a living symbol of independent watchmaking. With the iconic Simplicity, he enlightened and converted an entire generation of collectors to the beauty of hand-crafted and hand-finished watches, inspired by the masters of the 18th century.
It can only be assumed that such an ambassador of tradition would certainly wear one of his own creations or another equally beautiful hand-crafted timepiece. Alas, no. Since 2019, those lucky enough to meet the master will find him wearing a Rolex GMT-Master II (reference 126710BLRO). When speaking to him about his choice of watch, he was characteristically laconic, “It’s good value for money.”
More Than Just a watch: A Rolex
There are many other famous Rolex clients seem to be flouting their ideology by owning such a symbol of wealth. For example, Pope John Paul II and his two-tone Rolex DateJust (as recently featured in our article dedicated to Pope(s) watches), but also Pablo Picasso, who we would expect to be more innovative in his watch choice.
In conclusion, perhaps these inconsistencies are just being distorted in our mind due to the current image of luxury and these famous customers were just looking for a robust and reliable professional tool watch.