Throughout the ages, wristwatches have been worn for many utilitarian purposes, but as time marches on it’s clear that there’s more to wearing a watch than just checking the time. Perhaps it shows that the wearer values dependability and reliability, that they have an intrepid sense of adventure, or perhaps wish to express their appreciation of horological design and craftsmanship. Let’s take a closer look at how this meaningful accessory came to be so inextricably linked to some of the most famous wearers as to have reached iconic status in watchmaking history.
Buzz Aldrin – Omega Speedmaster
After anonymously outperforming a selection of other watches under extreme, harsh, and rigorous testing, the Omega Speedmaster was launched into space, thereby introducing it into the annals of horology as the most famous wristwatch not only our planet but on another astronomical body as well. On July 21 1969, Neil Armstrong may have been the first man to set foot on the moon, but it was Buzz Aldrin who wore the Omega during the moon walk. The Speedmaster would be associated with him and the flight to the moon for time evermore.
Sir Edmund Hillary – Rolex Explorer
By being the first person to set foot on the summit of earth’s tallest mountain, Everest, “roof of the world”, Edmund Hillary carved his name indelibly into history. In the 1950s, Rolex was one of a number of watchmakers that were developing watches that not only looked nice but were in fact “tool watches” that could keep accurate time in the most extreme environments and conditions on the planet. When mountaineers Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were preparing for their historic climb of Mount Everest in 1953, Rolex, keen for their brand to build an association and reputation of extreme ruggedness and reliability provided the mountaineers with a prototype to wear on their expedition. That watch was the Rolex Explorer, now synonymous with Edmund Hillary, whose life epitomised the spirit of adventure and continues to inspire generations of explorers.
Paul Newman – Rolex Daytona
Apart from being one of the most bankable movie stars in the world, Paul Newman was an auto racing enthusiast. He first came to own the now famous ref. 6239 Rolex Daytona after his wife Joanne Woodward bought it for him as a gift. Newman became famous for wearing the model throughout his time as an actor and racing competitor, leading to the particular dial configuration becoming immortalised as the ‘Paul Newman’ Daytona. Testament to Paul Newman’s star power is that this once $200 sports chronograph recently sold for $17.8 million USD, making it the most expensive wristwatch sold at auction.
Andy Warhol – Cartier Tank
What drew Andy Warhol, King of Pop Art, to wear a Cartier Tank? If we’re to go by his own declaration that “I don’t wear a Tank to tell the time. Actually, I never even wind it”, it certainly wasn’t for the purposes of time keeping. It turns out the art giant was an avid collector of watches and for Warhol, who had an astute and hyper honed eye for design, the Tank with its ‘less is more’ aesthetic likely appealed to him for its inherent qualities as an enduring iconic object of
20th century design. And if anyone could pick a design classic, who better placed than a subversive, pioneering artist critical of luxury and consumption, Warhol himself.
Albert Einstein – Longines Curvex
Albert Einstein needs no introduction other than, genius, legend, household name, E = mc2. As far as we know, Einstein owned two pocketwatches and one wristwatch in his lifetime, two of which were manufactured by Longines. In 1921, Einstein won the Nobel Prize for Physics and suddenly his fame and success skyrocketed. Upon travelling to America in 1931 as a now world renowned and celebrated physicist, he was gifted a 14ct gold Longines Curvex, the elegant tonneau shaped design very much in keeping with the prevailing Art Deco style of the time. It is somewhat ironic that a Longines watch with the simple, sober inscription “Prof. Albert Einstein, Los Angeles, Feb 15, 1931” to the reverse, was worn on the wrist of the man whose theories revolutionised our perception of time.
PATRICIA KONTOS / Senior Jewels & Timepieces Specialist
Banner Image: A Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Wristwatch | Sold for $49,600