Five Stories You Never Thought a Wristwatch Would Tell

From the top of Mount Everest to Earth's orbit, these timepieces have amazing histories.

April 3, 2018 5:00 am
A Rolex Oyster Perpetual, similar to the style Ronald Platt wore at the time of his death. (Slices of Light/Flickr/Creative Commons)
A Rolex Oyster Perpetual, similar to the style Ronald Platt wore at the time of his death. (Slices of Light/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Having an excellent watch is great — but having one with an incredible story behind it is even better. We compiled some of the most fascinating stories behind some of the world’s most well-known timepieces. Take a look.

Revolutionary: Hans Wilsdorf and the First Waterproof Rolex

Any SCUBA divers out there know how important a dive watch can be — even lifesaving. But the capability to bring a complex digital timepiece down to the bottom of the ocean floor evolved over decades, beginning with Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf, and the development of revolutionary technology to not only keep water out of a regular wristwatch — but convince the public it was even something worth buying.

The very first Rolex Oyster watch, introduced in 1926, was touted as “The Wonder Watch that Defies the Elements.” Never one for subtlety, Wilsdorf had a long distance swimmer wear the Oyster on a necklace during an attempt to cross the English channel, a feat that was already attracting quite a bit of attention from the media and public. The watch survived the swim, and a story in the Daily Mail brought the public proof of it. As this unfolded, Wilsdorf set up retailers to showcase the watch in their windows inside a fish tank full of water.

An extremely rare early waterproof Rolex Oyster pocket watch (c.1926), priced at $125,000 British pounds on display at The Mayfair Antiques & Fine Art Fair, held at The London Marriott Hotel, Grosvenor Square, in central London. (Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)

Stolen: Astronaut Donn Eisele’s Omega Speedster

NASA-issued and given to Donn Eisele for his first Apollo mission in 1968, the Omega Speedster Professional chronograph was stolen from an Ecuadorian museum nearly 30 years ago. It’s since been returned to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum after space history enthusiasts and authorities were able to track it down through watch shows and ultimately, eBay. This particular Speedster was engraved by NASA with its common identifier — SEB12100039-002 — and its unique serial number, 34. But it’s far from the first or last NASA watch stolen — most famously, Buzz Aldrin’s Apollo 11 Speedster has been missing since 1970 when it disappeared while in transit to the Smithsonian.

Astronauts Donn F. Eisele (foreground) and Walter Cunningham laying back in full uniform with tubes and cords being attached in its sockets. You can spot the wristwatch on Eisele’s right arm. (Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Implicated: The Wristwatch That Helped Solve a Murder

The waterproof Rolex Oyster and the English Channel make another appearance on our list, but for a much more sinister reason: In 1997, a fisherman caught the body of a man wearing a Rolex Oyster Perpetual in his netting. Thanks to Rolex’s immaculate record of purchases and services dates, as well as a multiple-day power reserve in the watch itself, authorities were able to narrow down the exact date that Ronald Platt was murdered — and why.

Platt was a TV repairman who befriended a bad person at an even worse time. Ontario financial consultant Albert Johnson Walker fled to England with his daughter, who posed as his wife, after embezzling $3.2 million of his clients’ money. Befriending Platt and even starting a business with him, Walker capitalized on Platt’s desire to return to Canada — where he was also from — and told Platt to return. When he left, Walker reportedly stole his identity, then panicked when Platt returned a few short years later. He murdered the repairmen while out on his yacht at sea, tying an anchor around the body and dumping him overboard. He’s now serving a life sentence for murder in Ontario.

A Rolex Oyster Perpetual, similar to the style Ronald Platt wore at the time of his death. (Slices of Light/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Argument: Which Was The First Watch to Summit Everest?

Most say Sir Edmund Hillary wore a Rolex on his wrist during his historic expedition to the summit of Mount Everest in May of 1953, but there are disputes over whether or not he was actually sporting a Smiths De Luxe by the now-defunct S. Smith & Sons. The answer might actually be both.

After the successful ascent, the British company capitalized on the achievement and launched a marketing campaign around it, even quoting Hillary in it boasting about the De Luxe. But it’s a fact that Rolex gifted Hillary and his Sherpa Tenzing Norgay with a Rolex Oyster Perpetual, and an early prototype of the Rolex Explorer, respectively. You can visit Hillary’s Rolex in a Zürich museum…and you can also visit his Smiths Deluxe at the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in London. Which are you more likely to stop by and see?

Smiling victors Sherpa Tenzing (Left) and Edmund Hillary at their camp after their return from Everest. (Getty Archives)
Bettmann Archive

Unsettling: The Watch That Counts Down to Your Death

Engineered to evoke its wearer to live life to the fullest because it’s finite and we’ll all die eventually — in case you needed reminding — the Tikker Watch takes the concept of “carpe diem” to the extreme and calculates approximately how long you have left on Earth. It’s meant to encourage you to live every moment to its fullest and not waste a single second.

No pressure.

But the story behind the watch’s creator, and who he is, is an interesting one. Tikker is a Kickstarter-made-legitimate by creator Fredrik Colting, but he has hobbies outside of watch-making — including plagiarizing and “repurposing” some of the world’s most revered and classic works. Colting’s pen name is John David California, and he’s been sued for publishing everything from “children’s versions” of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Old Man and the Sea, On the Road, to writing an unauthorized sequel to The Catcher in the Rye.

Colting didn’t even bother to change the name of the books, and can it really be said that “Tikker” is all that original, either? If you’re going to live your life to the fullest, we suggest carving your own way forward…on your own time.

The Tikker Watch at work. (Greg Swan/Flickr/Creative Commons)


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