What Makes the Rolex ‘President’s Watch’ a Symbol of Power?


There are few timepieces that exude the glow of status and power quite like the Rolex Day Date – known as the President’s Watch. Since its inauguration in 1956 it is a watch that has been on the wrists of many of the men who have changed the course of history and shaped world events.

There’s a story that perfectly captures the essence of the Day-Date:

In 1962 Marilyn Monroe famously sang “Happy Birthday” to US President John F. (“Jack”) Kennedy at Madison Square Garden.

Later that day, or so it is rumored at least, she secretly gave a very special gift to the president’s aide, Kenneth O’Donnell, with instructions to give it to the president when nobody was looking. It was a gold Rolex Day Date with the inscription: “Jack, With love as always, from Marilyn, May 29th 1962.”

The president, wanting to keep their love relationship a secret, instructed his aide to get rid of the watch. Whether the story is true or not, that watch sold on auction in 2005 for $120,000.

The powerful reputation of the Day-Date didn’t just come about by accident. It was carefully designed by the founder of Rolex, Hans Wilsdorf, right from the beginning. First he made a gift of the watch to the highly respected and well-loved Swiss Army General Guisan, and later he presented Winston Churchill with the 100,000th Officially Certified Rolex Chronometer.  Very strategically, the watch became associated with power.

Over the years this watch has been worn by a great number of the world’s most important and powerful figures. Five-Star US General, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Roosevelt are all on that list, among many other world leaders. But it’s not just presidents that wear it.

Martin Luther King was often seen wearing a gold Rolex Day-Date and many other leaders of the world. It’s popular with movie stars and sport celebrities too, including the Rolex ambassador Roger Federer.

While the Day-Date is by no means the most complicated watch today, it was something quite unique when it was first released. The highly legible jump calendar system was one-of-a-kind in the mid 1950’s. It was dubbed the “miracle at midnight” because of the way the date windows simultaneously jump to the next day, displayed in an eye-catching arc at the 12-o-clock position.

Chronometer accuracy was combined with the robust water-resistant Oyster case and the luxurious three-link president’s bracelet. Those charismatic semi-circular satin-finished outer links and polished, wider central links made it the perfect symbol of reliability and prestige. It was readily adopted by the elite.

I can only imagine at how many high-power meetings the Day-Date has peeped out from a jacket sleeve while important documents were signed.

In 1984 Rolex officially recognized the nickname “President’s Watch” in an advertising campaign, and it’s a name that has stuck.

This particular Rolex has become a kind of go-to symbolic gift to commemorate important achievements, like graduating from university, or closing life-changing business deals.

60 Years on and it’s still popular. In fact, last year the Phillips “Glamorous Day Date” auction was entirely themed on this single Rolex model, and it was a huge success. With only a limited number of lots, the pre-auction estimates were far exceeded, every piece was sold, and the net total was $6,634,800.

On display were rare special editions, uncommon dial configurations, special bezels, and bracelet variations.

The top lot, nicknamed the “Big Kahuna” (from the 1999 movie starring Kevin Spacey) was a platinum and diamond reference 6612 with a very unusual circular satin finish. The watch dates back to 1958 – the early days of the President’s Watch. It sold for an astounding $507,000!

Also on auction was the Day-Date reference 1831, dated to 1977, originally made upon special order for the Shah of Persia, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in a limited run. This one goes by the name: “The Emperor,” was hammered at a good quarter million Swiss Francs.

On the same occasion Pucci Papaleo, a world class expert on Vintage Rolex and author of many Rolex books launched the new Day Date book featuring the rarest examples of this model.

One of the pieces featured in the book, is luckily in our possession. Sinbad is a Ref 1802 with a unique 3-diamond dial, factory set Arabic calendar discs and mesh bracelet. Though there is so much information on Day Dates, some pieces still remain a mystery because they have been made on special orders or in very limited numbers and won’t appear in any brochures until they hit the collectors’ market. 

The Rolex Day-Date is a symbol of power and status, even after 60 years. It underlines the slogan Rolex ran for a while, ‘Men who guide the destinies of the world wear a Rolex’.

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