Introducing our new watch columnist, Nick Foulkes.
I realized that horological nomenclature was getting out of hand when I was told that the primrose-dial Rolex Oyster Perpetual had a nickname. One of the hot quintet of candy-colored dial watches the Crown issued in 2020, it's got a playful personality. Yet I was unable to keep a straight face when a collector friend told me that the yellow watch is called the Pikachu.
Rolex is particularly rich in informal shorthand, bestowed by fans and collectors. There's an entire extended universe of cartoon characters in the brand's ranks: Smurf, Kermit, Hulk, Batman, and Batgirl. There are soft drinks: Coke, Pepsi, and root beer. Even cigarettes: The John Player Special refers to a black-and-gold Daytona. And, most famously, there are the film stars like Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, and Marlon Brando, whose names have come to be associated with Rolex models that now fetch astronomical prices at auction.
But for a brand predominantly associated with sports watches, there is just one sporting name linked with a particular Rolex: the Killy, which refers to the Rolex Dato-Compax chronograph worn by French Alpine ski champion Jean-Claude Killy. (The skier himself preferred a reference 6236, but the name has stuck to the whole family of Dato-Compax timepieces.) The Killy, especially the 6236, is a great watch: Its 36-mm case houses an antimagnetic 12-hour chronograph and a triple calendar, and as a congenital contrarian I would argue that it is far more chic than the Paul Newman chronograph. Nevertheless, the Paul Newman is much more famous (and expensive).
Sports personalities are among the most frequently employed brand ambassadors, so why are their names not more widely bandied about in auction catalogs and the like? There is no single model known to collectors as the Federer, the Sir Jackie Stewart, or the Beckham, despite their penchant for certain Rolex, and, in the case of Beckham, Tudor, watches. Paradoxically, the answer might well be that sports are such an expected part of horological marketing these days. Killy was a Rolex ambassador well before the age of Instagram ad campaigns, after all.