A brief history of keeping time: The Rolex President watch

An election-year history of the ultimate power watch

Published: Nov 5, 2016 06:24:20 AM IST
Updated: Apr 13, 2020 05:05:24 PM IST
A brief history of keeping time: The Rolex President watch
Image: Frank Wolfe/ LBJ Library

Three score and zero years ago, rolex brought forth a timepiece on the European continent conceived in quality and dedicated to the proposition that not all watches are created equal. The 1956 Rolex Day-Date soon became known as the Rolex President, having been worn by LBJ (and sharing a scandalous connection to JFK). Since then, it has earned the vote of a diverse array of potentates, including Forbes 400 member Warren Buffett, Jay Z and Tony Soprano.
-Michael Solomon

Five years before the introduction of the Rolex Day-Date, the company presented General Dwight D Eisenhower with an 18-karat, yellow-gold Rolex Datejust to celebrate its 150,000th chronometer. The watch was engraved with the initials ‘DDE’ and five stars for his rank, and once appeared with Ike on the cover of Life magazine. It failed to sell at auction in 2014, though, despite reaching a bid of $475,000.



Rolex introduced the Day-Date, the first watch to display the date and have the day of the week spelled out in a window. Available in 18-karat gold or platinum, it came with a newly created band: The President Bracelet.



The same night Marilyn Monroe sang ‘Happy birthday, Mr. President’ to John F Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, she reportedly gave him a Rolex Day-Date with the inscription ‘JACK, with love as always from MARILYN, May 29th 1962’. JFK told an aide to “get rid of it,” but in 2005 the watch resurfaced at auction (with the box and love poem Monroe had placed in it) and sold to an anonymous bidder for $120,000.



Lyndon Johnson became the first US president to wear the Day-Date. In 1966, Rolex advertised the watch—which cost $1,000 at the time (roughly $7,400 today)—emphasising its connection to the Oval Office.


Warren Buffett not only lives in the same house he purchased in 1958—he’s also relied on the same Rolex President to get him to meetings on time since the day he bought it decades ago. The billionaire investor once admitted that he’d like to add the company to his collection. “They know my number,” he said of Rolex, “but they haven’t called.”

Among the many ways Tony Soprano displayed power was by wearing an 18-karat-gold Rolex President with a champagne dial. In real life, the late James Gandolfini favoured a Rolex Submariner, while Jamie Lynn-Sigler, who played his TV daughter, wears a Rolex Daytona.



To commemorate the President’s 60th anniversary, Rolex introduced a new $37,000 Day-Date at Baselworld 2016 in Everose gold with a dial featuring its signature colour: Green. But don’t expect to see one on the 45th president—Hillary Clinton owns a Rolex Lady Datejust (a variation on Ike’s timepiece) but has often been seen wearing a Chanel J12 watch. And, naturally, Donald Trump launched a line of signature watches back in 2005. You can find them on eBay for about 50 bucks.

Images - From Top: Lambert / Getty Images; Keystone / Getty Images; Bill Clark / Cq Roll Call / Getty Images; Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images; Pietro D’aprano / Getty Images

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(This story appears in the 11 November, 2016 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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