Rolex Oyster P.O.W. Watch On Auction
This isn't just the story of a watch, nor the tremendous money that this object will likely fetch at the upcoming auction of watches put on by Antiquorum Geneva on May 12th and 13th. This is the story of a man and a war and how part of that emotional journey has been preserved in this timepiece.
During the second world war captured Allied soldiers found themselves in POW camps. The owner of the above watch was a soldier called Clive Nutting, imprisoned at Stalag Luft III. You may recognize the name of the camp thanks to the soldiers that famously broke out in 1944, and it was also the inspiration for the film "The Great Escape" in 1962.
Along with other imprisoned soldiers, Nutting did work for the Germans, earned a wage, and had a unique opportunity to buy Rolex watches like the one above. During the war, Swiss Rolex found themselves cut off from their primary markets by the Axis presence on all sides. Yet Rolex was able to find willing customers among the Allied POW's that could afford their precision timepieces.
In an act of confidence, they offered American soldiers remarkable prices and payment terms... even going so far as to say that they "must not even think of settlement" of accounts until after the war. Buy now, pay when the world flew the white flag. Rolex continued to find such "captive" markets, hoping for a booming business for themselves once peace finally came.
The black faced Rolex pictured above is rare enough on its own, and the care that Clive Nutting showed for his precious watch shows. He also kept all the paper work, related newspaper clippings, his own unpublished illustrations and cartoons from his time in the camp, even correspondence between Nutting and the head of Rolex himself. Auctioneers love that kind of extra material to give an item "provenance" and boost bidding, but this collection is more than that. Together, this collection recreates a fascinating snapshot of a part of WWII that we seldom hear about.
The auction house is also offering another similar watch, with a similar history. It's worth reading the full-length stories that I linked below to get all the details, and also check out the great pictures. It's amazing to see how a wrist timepiece can become more of a mini time machine. [thanks for the tip, Michael!]