We just learned that Rolex offered Dwight Eisenhower their 150,000th Officially Certified Chronometer as a kind token of their supreme appreciation for his achievement, which was a Yellow Gold Rolex Datejust, just like the Pink Gold version they gave Sir Winston Churchill.
Why did Rolex choose Eisenhower for the 150,000th Rolex? This strategic decision is probably one of the best historical moves Rolex made.
Let's examine why:
At the time, Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of NATO and was headquartered in Paris. NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Pictured above are General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Sir Winston Churchill and U.S. General Alfred M. Gruenther. General Gruenther took over Ike's position as Supreme NATO Commander when Ike returned to the United States to run for the Presidency. All three of the men pictured above wore Gold Rolex Datejust watches.
To best understand the genesis of NATO let's take a look at what Wikipedia has to say:
"The Treaty of Brussels, signed on 17 March 1948 by Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France and the United Kingdom is considered the precursor to the NATO agreement. The treaty and the Soviet Berlin Blockade led to the creation of the Western European Union's Defense Organization in September 1948. However, participation of the United States was thought necessary in order to counter the military power of the USSR, and therefore talks for a new military alliance began almost immediately.
"These talks resulted in the North Atlantic Treaty, which was signed in Washington, D.C. on 4 April 1949. It included the five Treaty of Brussels states, as well as the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. Support for the Treaty was not unanimous; Iceland suffered an anti-NATO riot in March 1949 which may have been Communist-inspired. Three years later, on 18 February 1952, Greece and Turkey also joined."
The North Atlantic Treaty says:
"The Parties of NATO agreed that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all. Consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense will assist the Party or Parties being attacked, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area."
NATO was an organization set up between the United States and most of Western Europe to make certain that Europe would remain safe from tryany and make certain another fascist dictator like Hitler would not come to power.
As a matter of fact, the first NATO Secretary General Lord Ismay, famously described the organization's goal was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down".
After World War II ended, Eisenhower stayed on in Europe to to help rebuild it as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. In 1948 he felt his work was done and decided to re-enter civilian life and when he came back to the U.S. he accepted the job of President of Columbia University.
Interestingly, Eisenhower's family was of German descent and they immigrated to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1741.
In 1950 Harry Truman asked Eisenhower to become the first Supreme Military Commander of NATO. Eisenhower obliged and returned to Paris.
Now that we have examined Eisenhower the beneficiary, let's examine Rolex, the benefactor.
Today most people perceive Rolex as being THE top Swiss watch brand. As a matter of fact, in a recent survey of what people perceived as being the top 50 International world brands, Rolex was the only watch company, but it was not always this way.
As a matter of fact, for many years leading up to and at the time of the Eisenhower gift, it was the opposite.
Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex was born to a Protestant family in Bavaria and the challenge was that the vast majority of his neighbors were Catholic, and they looked down upon the Protestant minority. It has been argued that one of reasons Hans moved to Switzerland while still in his teens was to get away from being looked down upon by his German neighbors.
A few years after living in Switzerland, Hans moved to London, England and married a British woman. In doing so, Hans became a British Citizen, but his name was very German sounding. With the advent of World War One, the general mood in Britain was one that looked down upon anybody and anything German–so once again, young Hans was swimming against the tide.
In 1919 when Hans moved to Geneva and decided to make Switzerland the headquarters for Rolex, Rolex and Hans Wilsdorf, were once again looked down upon by the Swiss watch establishment. Hans, again was a stranger in a strange land, and you have to imagine that this was a motivating force in his mind.
I think Hans likely had a well warranted metaphorical chip on his shoulder and wanted to show the Geneva Watch Establishment that Rolex was every bit as good as their brands–perhaps, even better–and what better way to do this, than to first get the most respected Swiss man alive to wear a Rolex, which is exactly what he did when he got Swiss Army General Guisan to not only wear a Rolex, but to love it. By giving Swiss General Henri Guisan the 50,000th Officially Certified Rolex Chronometer it gave Rolex supreme credibility, which would be intelligently and strategically leveraged.
The fact that Guisan wore and loved his Rolex not only made Rolex credible, but it goes to show Hans Wilsdorf brilliantly understood the power of product placement. The best product placement is invisible and free. In other words, if you simply give a high-profile person a gift of your product without paying them, and they love it, it is the best endorsement you could ever have.
Hans next conquest was to get the most revered Englishman to wear a Rolex, which he did when he gave Sir Winston Churchill the 100,000th Officially Certified Rolex Chronometer. Some people believe that Hans Wilsdorf more than anything consider himself to be British, and as a matter of historical fact, Hans died as an old man, never having changed his British Citizenship.
The next and perhaps greatest Rolex conquest was to get the man who saved the world from Nazi aggression to wear a Rolex and that was, of course, 5-Star General, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The reality is that Eisenhower was the brilliant architect of D-Day, where he brought over the largest Military Armada ever assembled in the History of the world and literally kicked the snot out of the Nazi's, and stopped Adolph Hitler dead in his tracks.
General Eisenhower is pictured above talking with paratroopers of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division just before their departure for Normandy, France on June 5, 1944.
It has been said that Hans Wilsdorf never wanted Rolex to be thought of a a status symbol, but as symbol of achievement, and he could not have chosen three better man to get to wear his watches as symbols of achievement.
To put things in perspective, I want to share an interesting anecdote with you.
One time I observed two men having a conversation. One of the men was American and he was being very gregarious in his loud conversation with his pal. I could not help but overhear their conversation because he was talking so loud. All of a sudden two men with accents sat down near this American and they started talking in a foreign language.
The American noticed their accents and asked the two foreigners, "Where are you from?" One of the men politely answered by saying "We are from France." The American instantly responded by saying "You are welcome!!!"
I must admit it took me and the two Frenchmen a few seconds to understand what he was talking about. We all kind of started laughing, but I though it was very rude and arrogant. For the days to come, I kept thinking about what he said. He was suggesting that the Americans came over and fought the Nazi's and gave France back to the French.
One day I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is German and we were talking about World War II, and what a nut Hitler was. You see, I don't think many people in the world including the German's had any real idea what Hitler was up to. Hitler ruled the German people with an iron fist and most of them were scared to death of him.
I mentioned to my friend the story about this ugly American who told the French they were "welcome" and I said, "If you think about it, Eisenhower really did the German people the biggest favor by stopping Hitler. My German Pal agreed and said, "You are absolutely right. Hitler was a madman, and thank God, Eisenhower came over and stopped him dead in his tracks."
On the May 7th, 1945 The Nazi high command officially surrendered to the Allied powers by signing an unconditional surrender document put forth at General Eisenhower's headquarters in Reims, France.
In the photo below we see General Eisenhower holding up two pens in the form of a "V" for victory. These are the pens in the photo above that were used in signing Germany's capitulation documents.
What does this story have to do with Rolex and Eisenhower? It gives you context to understand just how highly appreciated Eisenhower was. When Rolex made their gracious offer of giving Eisenhower a gift of a Rolex Datejust it was really because of their appreciation of his achievement.
It is intersting to note the Eisenhower's ancestors lived only 300 Kilometers away from Wilsdorf's in what is now Germany. It is also interesting to note that in today's world we take wrist watches for granted, like they have been around forever, but they have only really been around since just before World War 1. As a matter of fact,prior to World War 1, all men used pocketwatches.
The wrist watch really owes its ascent into popular culture because of soldiers. Soldiers liked wrist watches because the could use both hands and still see what time it was. If you were a soldier during the great wars and you wanted to know what time it was and you had a pocket watch, you would have had to dig under your topcoat to get to your pocket-watch and then you would have to hold it in one hand. With a wrist watch you could casually just glance at your wrist.
In this History or Rolex, it was ultimately three soldiers Rolex chose to give their watches to.
The two watches and Datejust direction below are from the Eisenhower Library collection.
The following correspondence between Rolex, Nana Rae and Eisenhower pics up where Part 1 left off.
Tip: Click on all letters to be able to easily read the documents full size.
This next letter is really fascinating. Especially the part where Nana Rea says that all the executives of Rolex "Were of course all for the Americans and British during the War, and the Rolex people did many generous things for our G.I.'s."
Nana Rae continues on to say that since Sir Winston Churchill wears one she thinks it is fitting for Eisenhower to accept the watch. She also says "I know how sincere is the admiration that has suggested this gift."
In Part 3 we will explore Eisenhower's ascent into the White House and his beloved Rolex.