Recently we did a long story on the relation between Formula 1 racing and timing and I guess you know that Rolex is the F1’s official timekeeper. In order to learn more about this relationship, Rolex invited me to attend the F1 race in Monaco and to have a talk with their long-standing ambassador, Sir Jackie Stewart. He can explain this like no other, and that while we were talking about his watches. Yep, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Sir Jackie Stewart was in Monaco to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his first F1 victory in the principality. He’s a three time world champion, two time runner-up, 27 wins, and was on the podium 43 times during his F1 career. Because of his fast and furious racing style, he was nicked ‘The Flying Scot’, however after competing at the highest level for nine seasons (from 1965-1973), he stopped and became an advocate for improved safety in the racing sport. During one particularly dangerous period of Stewart’s F1 career, a driver who raced for five years had a two-thirds chance of being killed in a crash. Now-a-days we simply cannot imagine this, and as Sir Jackie Stewart jokingly said, those were the days of real men behind the wheel. However when seeing this in the light of his crash and the role he played in improving F1 safety, we have to admit that safety has come a long way.
Sir Jackie Stewart: If I have any legacy to leave the sport I hope it will be seen to be an area of safety because when I arrived in Grand Prix, racing so-called precautions and safety measures were diabolical.” (source: www.grandprixhistory.org)
On the Saturday before the race, we had some time to talk about Sir Jackie Stewart’s watches, his ambassadorship for Rolex, and the parallels between Rolex and Formula 1.
MW: Your first ‘expensive’ watch, which you bought for yourself, was a yellow gold Rolex DayDate. When and why did you buy it?
JS: I went down to Houston, Texas, after I qualified for the Indy 500. I received $ 25,000 USD and I decided that I’d treat myself on a watch. The team owner drove me there and I bought the yellow gold DayDate. However the bracelet was too long, and it had to be sized to my wrist. They told me to come back a day later, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. So, the next day I went there to pick it up. I get the watch, but it had a diamond set dial! I had bought the watch, and the owner of the team I was driving for, had the dial changed for the diamond set version. At that time, and still, I wasn’t really a diamond kind of guy, so I had them change the dial back.
MW: I’ve seen quite a few photos from 1969, showing you with a steel Rolex GMT Master on your wrist. Do you still have it, and maybe even wear it?
JS: Oh yes, I still wear that. That’s the watch I probably wear more than anything else. I like the watch, it’s very nice.
MW: What do you wear during a weekend like this?
JS: When I’m traveling I wear different watches for the day time and for evenings. I prefer to choose one that matches the event. Like for tonight. I’m thinking if I should wear this DayDate in platinum or maybe my old Daytona that I got for winning the Monaco GrandPrix in 1971. Tonight it’s a casual evening, so maybe I’ll go for the Daytona.
MW: Why did you buy a Rolex, when you received those $ 25,000 USD for qualifying?
JS: I never forget the advert at that time, in magazines like Time Magazine and other magazines. The ad showed a picture of the United Nations building in New York and a Rolex DayDate in gold. The line underneath was “If you were speaking here tomorrow, you’d wear a Rolex” and I felt that was a fantastic declaration of Rolex’ height. And because of that I like to look at the watch. I had no association with Rolex or any other brand. It wasn’t an impulse buy, I knew what I was buying.
MW: The DayDate was Rolex’ top model. Before hand, did you know you were going to buy the DayDate?
JS: I think I wanted, because I didn’t have a lot of money in life, I was a garage mechanic, and I am dyslexic and I didn’t have much education. That had an influence, no doubt.
MW: What could be the most unique watch that you got over the years?
JS: For my first world championship, Mr. Heiniger gave me a King Midas. Heiniger was the great man of Rolex, he made Rolex to where it is today. Have you ever seen a King Midas? A very unusual watch. It’s very heavy, all in gold, with a small face in gold. I think it’s more a piece of jewellery and it’s a mens watch. The watch itself is very elegant, but also very heavy, it’s almost a piece of jewellery.
MW: What is it, after all these years, that you find yourself draw to the brand Rolex?
JS: The integrity of the company, the quality of the product, the engineering. I actually hate saying ‘engineering’ when talking about watchmakers, because it sounds too much like a car being engineered. The technology that goes into. If you ever have the opportunity to visiting Rolex than do so, because they make absolutely everything themselves. Certainly not all watch brands do everything themselves. Rolex has gone to great lengths creating not just their own brand, but their own engineering. I mean, their waterproofing is better than anybody else. The deep sea diving, they’ve done that [editor: referring to Jacques Piccard’s descent to more then 10,000 meters deep, with the Bathyscaphe Trieste with a Rolex watch strapped to the outside of the bathyscaphe, and to James Cameron doing something similar recently] and mount Everest as well, if you go the other way. Sir Edmund Hillary, who wore a Rolex, was first man to do Everest.
For me it was an alignment, I thought, of excellence. I had no knowledge of the watch business. I was the type of person who thought, my goodness, if I wear a Rolex that’s something special.
MW: Has it become a family affair?
JS: Yes my wife wears Rolex, and my sons wear Rolex, I’ve got grand children who wear Rolex’s. And before they had Rolex’s they had Tudors. Because when they were young, about 11 or 12 years of age, I thought wearing Rolex’s is too big, too much, so I bought them Tudors. And now the grand children are wearing the Tudors, because the fathers handed them down.
MW: Do you also see a similarity between de brand Rolex and Formula 1 or car racing at a high level?
JS: I like the technology alignment, because Formula 1 has the greatest technology in the world and if there’s a fault phoned, it’s reaction in which its dealt with [snapping fingers]… instantly. Its garages are immaculately clean, you don’t see people leaving empty coke bottles on the top of a cabinet. It’s a very fussy business. I think F1 is the closest alignment for Rolex. I was involved deeply in the creation of the relationship between Rolex and F1. I just thought it was a natural.
Sir Jackie Stewart received the new Rolex Daytona to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his first F1 victory in Monaco. The engraving in the case-back reads: “1966 – 2016 50th Anniversary 1st F1 Win Monaco GP”.
On the Sunday morning, before the race, we visited the paddock and Sir Jackie Stewart was my tour guide. Although he’s not an active racer anymore for 40+ years, everyone, and I really mean everyone, knows him. That’s great fun, because when Sir Jackie is your tour guide for a paddock tour, he will get you inside every mobile office and all other ‘stands’ in the paddock. He kept pointing out that everything is clean, no trash, no sloppiness, no coke can on cabinets. To him that’s just one, but an important, alignment for Rolex and Formula 1 racing. Both work on the very highest level, are absolute professionals and show a sort of dedication that is unparalleled.
Thanks to Rolex for inviting me for a brilliant weekend. The rain didn’t spoil the fun, not at all. And thanks to Sir Jackie Stewart for taking the time to talk with us, and show us the paddock.
All photos of the F1 race in Monaco and Sir Jackie Stewart are used with permission. © Rolex/Jad Sherif