View all articles

Feature: 3 People You Won’t Believe Wear A Rolex

You don’t have to be a total watch nerd to know that Rolex is a popular brand. You don’t even have to have a passing interest in watches to know that Rolex is a popular brand. There are some people, however, who you really wouldn’t expect to be wearing one. Here are three of them.

Philippe Dufour – Rolex GMT-Master II

Now, you definitely have to be a watch nerd to know who Philippe Dufour is. If you’re one of those people, then you’ll understand that he’s an international treasure. Watchmaking these days has become hugely conflated as a term, blending business, procedure, skill and service all into one—but Philippe Dufour takes it all back to its roots.

When someone says that something is their life, that’s usually a bit of an exaggeration. Seeing Radiohead live a couple of times and owning all the albums except Pablo Honey doesn’t make Radiohead life—for Philippe Dufour, however, watchmaking really is his life. I mean, he decided he wanted to be a watchmaker when he was fourteen and has been practicing ever since. He’s now in his seventies, so yeah, that’s really a lifetime.

But if you’re thinking that he’s just some old boy cobbling together some bits he bought on eBay, I’ll stop you right there. After honing his skills at Jaeger-LeCoultre and Audemars Piguet, Dufour set about making his own watch—and he started with a Grand Sonnerie, probably the most complex mechanism found in a watch. Each one took two thousand hours to make.

Philippe Dufour is a Master Watchmaker from Le Chenit, Switzerland. Dufour worked for both Jaeger-LeCoultre and Audemars Piguet before starting his own brand in 1992

Philippe Dufour is a Master Watchmaker from Le Chenit, Switzerland. Dufour worked for both Jaeger-LeCoultre and Audemars Piguet before starting his own brand in 1992

He’s an expert in mechanical complication, but he’s also an expert in perfect simplicity. In fact, one of the models he produces is called the Simplicity. To the unfocussed eye it appears to be exactly that, a simple three-handed watch with no standout features, but it is in fact a masterclass in refinement. Every hand-polished angle, every hand-striped bridge is beyond perfection.

So exquisite are his works that if you want one, it’s kind of tough. His order books are full, and as you can imagine, a watch made to that calibre by one man takes a long while to make. Even if you considered buying one used, it’s such a personal treasure to each owner that, currently, you’ll only find one for sale. So rare and special are they, that Dufour can’t even afford to have one for himself. Instead, and here’s the surprising part, he settles for a Rolex, a ceramic-bezelled GMT-Master II no less.

Steve McQueen – Rolex Submariner

If you’re a fan of racing and you’re a fan of Steve McQueen, then you’ll be well aware of the 1971 films Le Mans. Ok, so the film itself may not be the best, but as a piece of iconography, it can’t be beat. That picture of McQueen, as Michael Delaney, a racing driver for Porsche in that fearsome and gruelling twenty-four–hour race, buttoning up that famous Gulf-liveried, Heuer-branded racing suit, big, square Heuer Monaco on his wrist, is the stuff of legend.

Even the events leading up to how that image even came to be are legendary. Heuer, the watch company, led by CEO Jack Heuer, was no newbie to motorsport. Racing was in its blood, the company finding fame with its dash timers and racing stopwatches in the early part of the 20th century. Jack Heuer himself was a common fixture in the racing paddock, supporting close friend and racing driver Jo Siffert in his F1 and Le Mans campaigns.

In fact, Heuer was the first non-motorsport sponsor in F1, the brand’s shield decorating Siffert’s racing suit just as it was in the film Le Mans. Coincidence? Definitely not. What you have to understand was that being a racing driver back then, or any famous athlete for that matter, was not a high-paying gig like it is today. To make ends meet, Siffert helped Heuer sell watches to the other drivers, hawking them whenever he was out of the cockpit.

Steve McQueen wore a Heuer—now TAG Heuer—Monaco in the film Le Mans

Steve McQueen wore a Heuer—now TAG Heuer—Monaco in the film Le Mans

So, when prop master Don Nunley was looking for the ideal getup for Steve McQueen’s character in Le Mans, the eye-catching stripes of Jo Siffert’s own Le Mans racing suit was an easy choice—and with the suit came the watch. Ever the salesman, Siffert’s consultation on the film included the push of his watch sponsor as well, and four different watches were requested to be brought on set to be inspected. The bold, square case of the Monaco was the second easy choice made by Nunley.

And so those choices became legend, and that iconic pose took the Heuer Monaco to a level even Jack Heuer could have never expected. But that’s on set; in the real world, you would think that McQueen would still wear the watch he made so famous—and he is rumoured to have permanently borrowed one of the watches used in the film—but no. It’s to the tried and true Rolex Submariner that he turned to in his personal life instead.

Edgar Mitchell – Rolex GMT-Master

Remember how Omega had a Speedmaster worn on the moon? I know I sometimes give the company a bit of stick for mentioning it from time to time—read: all the time—but it’s a hell of an achievement. I can only imagine what it must be like to be so good at making something that NASA chooses it above all the other somethings, and Omega is one of those few select companies—alongside, of all things, Playtex—that doesn’t have to imagine.

I mean, the Speedmaster was already a proven entity, personally picked by astronaut Wally Schirra to wear on board Sigma 7 for the 1962 Mercury-Atlas 8 programme. Schirra spent six orbits and nine hours testing not just flight systems but also himself, studying the effects of prolonged exposure to micro gravity on the human body. The watch, and the astronaut, performed flawlessly.

But this head start made it no easier a task getting to becoming NASA’s official watch for all manned missions; the Speedmaster still had to survive many gruelling tests, including forty-eight hours at 71 degrees Celsius, followed by another half-hour at 93 and then four hours at minus 18—that’s 160, 200 and 0 degrees Fahrenheit, in case you were wondering—then an hour at high pressure, two hours at low; six shocks at 40g followed by half an hour vibrating at 8.8g; and even having 130 decibels of noise from a low rumble to a high-pitched squeal fired at it. If there had been a human on the other end of that watch during those tests, they’d be dead.

Edgar Mitchell wore both an Omega Speedmaster and his personal Rolex GMT-Master on the moon. Making the Rolex GMT-Master an unofficial moonwatch

Edgar Mitchell wore both an Omega Speedmaster and his personal Rolex GMT-Master on the moon. Making the Rolex GMT-Master an unofficial moonwatch

With a few tweaks—mainly to improve the high-contrast legibility—the Speedmaster was ready, and boy did it live up to and exceed expectations. Not only was it worn to great success on the surface of the moon by Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong’s also replaced the faulty lunar module’s mission clock, which is why he didn’t wear his on the surface. And of course, Omega received the prestigious Silver Snoopy award for the Speedmaster’s role in timing the critical burn that brought the Apollo 13 crew safely back home.

Apollo 14, however, was a bit different, because it turns out that astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who had just completed his second moonwalk to total over nine hours on the lunar surface, wasn’t just wearing his Speedmaster—tucked under the cuff of his spacesuit was his own personal watch, a Rolex GMT-Master, making it, unofficially, a moonwatch. And Mitchell wasn’t the only astronaut who’d put his faith in Rolex’s pilots’ watch; Alan Shepard, Jack Swigert, Stuart Roosa, Ron Evans and Leroy Chiao are but a few others who also chose it.

Even though it’s predictable to see Rolex everywhere, there are still a few places left where it isn’t—and yet the brand still manages to pop up, even when it’s least expected. It’s no wonder that what was once a plucky young watch company at the start of the last century has become the giant it is today, and even continues to surprise us with its seemingly unstoppable appeal. It’s not all hype after all!

Looking for a Rolex watch? Click here to shop now