Rolex has had a long-running and successful ambassador programme - placing product in the hands of people of influence, power, prestige, in the arts, in humanities, in sport, in science and in exploration. The advertising campaigns that have and always will stick with me are the ads I read in the National Georgraphic magazines throughout the 1980's where it seemed to me that if you went out on a limb, if you separated yourself from the pack or did something which was completely challenging the status quo - you wore a Rolex wrist watch.
This is in fact exceptional marketing from Rolex who have spent an enormous amount of time cultivating this Rolex 'idea' which sits in the minds of consumers. Starting with associations with pioneers of motor car speed records on Daytona beach with Sir Malcolm Campbell aka 'The Speed King' - which evolved over time into their current Daytona model - to creating the first waterproof watch which they named the 'Oyster' and along the way creating some extremely unique models like the datejust and day-date watches which went on to become synonymous with heads of state and presidents alike; Rolex wrist watches must be one of the most successful marketing campaigns that has spanned more than a century and continues go from strength to strength despite the logical threat of traditional watches by smart watches and mobile telephones having clocks.
Of all the watches though that have been made by Rolex one is considered to be of the greatest historical importance. In 1950 the then head of Rolex, Rene-Paul Jeanneret approached a close friend of Generel Dwight D Eisenhower, a lady by the name of Nana Rae, and asked her if she would kindly ask the General, who had recently been made the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe, if he would do Rolex the honour of receiving their 150,000th official chronometer. In the letter to Nana Rae, Jeanneret explains that the 50,000th had been bestowed upon Swiss General Henri Guisan, protector of the Swiss during WWII, that the 100,000th had been bestowed upon Sir Winston Churchill - would the General accept the 150,000th?
|The letter between Nana Rae and Rene-Paul Jeanneret|
The General accepted the invitation and had the date that he was made Supreme Allied Commander of Europe by NATO inscribed on the underside of the watch as well as his 5 general stars and his initials which were later also added on the jubilee golden bracelet which was added to the watch some years later by Rolex during a service. Rolex could not have known in 1950 that 3 years later he would be President of the United States Of America - but that is how fate would have it. Rolex was offering the 5 star General the Rolex as a token of their appreciation of his service to Europe by the success of his D-Day invasion and the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny.
The watch that President Eisenhower received was a datejust Rolex in 18k yellow gold. The watch became something very dear to him and over the years he is pictured wearing it in many photographs although some say that depending on the company he was in, Eisenhower use to slide the watch up and down his wrist to hide it behind his shirt cuff.
When Eisenhower died he left the watch to his valet and long time associate Sgt John Moaney who in turn left it to his wife who in turn sold it to Raleigh DeGreer Amyx, a former FBI agent turned Presidential memorabilia collector.
On the 8th of June 2014 the Daily Mail reported that the watch was going to be auctioned off as Amyx's children did not want it and his house in Florida was being clogged with Presidential memorabilia, including Dwight's WWII leather jacket. The watch was sent to Boston to be auctioned off but according to Bloomberg the watch, despite it's provenance and despite what some Rolex aficionados declared was the greatest Rolex watch of all, it failed get a rise above $475,000 USD despite estimates that it could crack $1 million USD.
The watch is of cultural importance, not just because it belonged to one of the most important men of the 20th Century but because it is also the precursor to the phenomenon known as the Rolex 'President'. General Eisenhower's watch was a date-just but the addition by Rolex to it of the jubilee bracelet became known as the 'president bracelet' which in turn evolved into the 36mm day-date model that was given to Eisenhower on his successful campaign for a second term in the oval office. The same watch is said, but not verified, to have been given by Marilyn Monroe to John F Kennedy when he was President and then after Kennedy's assassination, it was the watch chosen by President Lyndon Johnson - who wore an 18k gold jubilee bracelet with a day-date face and fluted bezel. Until this point Rolex had only referred to the bracelet as a President bracelet - having ensured with President Eisenhower that there was absolutely no advertising tie up with the gift - but by the time Johnson was wearing the watch Rolex slowly began including the world President in much of it's marketing to associate the watch with people who had achieved great things or were in the highest office of their company. In one image from the mid 1960's, Rolex uses an image of a hand holding a red telephone and wearing an 18k yellow gold day-date with the caption 'The President's Watch' to convey a strong message that this is a watch associated with power.
The watch then went on to be associated with Presidents Nixon, Ford and Regan also but the genesis of this relationship begins with the datejust Rolex bestowed upon General Dwight D Eisenhower's 150,000th official chronometer gifted by then head of Rolex Rene-Paul Jeanneret in 1950. It is for this reason that some say it is the greatest Rolex of all time - which is why I was surprised to hear that it didn't reach the reserve at auction in September.
For a more in depth history of the Rolex President - read Jake's Rolex blog or read the Daily Mail article on the sale of Eisenhower's watch here.
|President Eisenhower wearing his prized Rolex date-just gifted by Rolex to mark the 150,000th official chronometer and as a token gesture of gratitude for the role Eisenhower played in freeing Europe from Nazi tyranny during WWII|
|The watch was inscribed by Rolex with the date that Eisenhower was made Supreme Allied Commander of NATO along with his initials and the 5 stars relating to his rank as a General.|
|Part of the marketing for the watch prior to the auction was to show it referenced with the cover of Life magazine where the President wore the watch.|
|The watch as it was presented for auction in September 2014.|
|President Johnson wearing a 36mm Day-Date with gold bracelet circa 1964 - it was this watch which became more widely known to be the Rolex 'President'.|
|A great example of the watch sold in the 1960's - this is an example of the 36mm 18k yellow gold watch with jubilee bracelet. Today the watch is mostly superseded by larger faces of up to 41mm|