A “POW Rolex” Recalls the
by Alan Downing
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On May 12-13 th, Antiquorum
Geneva will hold its second auction of 2007, in which nearly 696 watches
and clocks will be auctioned off.
On this occasion, two lots, No 311 and 312
will be sold and we are proud to share with you the wonderful story of lot
No. 311. We warmly thank Mr Alan Downing, who we met at our Antiquorum
Office in Geneva three weeks ago, for sharing with us the exceptional
story of this Pow Rolex.
Following a very interesting discussion
with Mr Downing and thanks to the rich illustrative material he provided
us with, we hereby present the story of this Rolex Oyster which belonged
to Mr Clive James Nutting, Corporal in the Royal Corps of Signals, who was
a prisoner in Stalag Luft III from 1939 to 1945. This essay written by
Alan tells us the story of Clive Nutting and shows how Rolex (and other
watch factories) were engaged in the regular supply of watches to men
incarcerated in Prisoner of War camps like Stalag Luft III (located at
Sagan, 100 miles southeast of Berlin, at present Poland). This camp is
probably the most famous of all Prisoner of War Camps due to it being the
scene of the great escape of march 1944 and the subsequent making of the
1962 film of the same name.
We are pleased to share this story,
provided by Alan, and photos with the TimeZone community in advance of the
Sharon Kerman and Morghan Mootoosamy
Clive Nutting’s POW Stalag Luft III Watch” - lot 311
Lot 311: Ref. 3525, Stainless Steel
So-Called "Monoblocco” with Exceptional Original Documentation. Rolex,
“Oyster Chronograph, Antimagnetic”, Ref. 3525. Case No. 185983. Made in
1941, sold "gratis” on July 8, 1943 to Corporal Clive James Nutting whilst
a prisoner of War in Stalag Luft III.
Very fine, one of very few remaining,
water-resistant, stainless steel gentleman's wristwatch with black dial,
round button chronograph, register, tachometer, telemeter and a stainless
steel Rolex Oyster buckle. Accompanied by the original numbered receipt,
numbered guarantee, Rolex envelope, three letters from the Rolex Watch Co.
Ltd. signed by Hans Wilsdorf, and Corporal Nutting's archives,
correspondence, and photographs relating to his time at Stalag Luft III.
C. Two-body, polished and brushed,
screwed-down case back, concave lugs. D. Matte black with luminous
gilt-edged Arabic numerals, outer gilt minute/seconds track, subsidiary
seconds and 30-minute register dials, outermost gilt tachometer and
telemeter scales. Luminous gilt "baton" hands. M. 13''', rhodium-plated,
17 jewels, straight line lever escapement, monometallic balance,
self-compensating Breguet balance-spring, index regulator.
Dial, case and movement signed.
Diam. 35 mm. Thickness 14 mm.
About the Ref. 3525
Ref. 3525 was one of the first Oyster
Chronograph references and was available in stainless steel as well as 18K
pink and yellow gold. The condition of the present watch and the rarity of
the black dial make it one of the most desirable watches of this reference
to appear at auction in the last decade. When this watch first appeared In
the early 1940s it cost 350 Swiss Francs in stainless steel, in 18K gold
it cost 935 Swiss Francs.
Adding to the desirability of this
particular watch is the almost unique survival of the original receipt
bearing the reference and case number of the watch and the original
numbered guarantee with it's postally used Rolex envelope. Historically
important correspondence from the immediate post-war period between Clive
James Nutting and Hans Wilsdorf himself is included with this lot and
gives a fascinating insight into the business methods of the Rolex Watch
Company during the Second World War.
The documents included with this lot are:
- Original order acknowledgement from Rolex
Geneva to Corporal Nutting in Stalag Luft III, dated March 30, 1943.
Signed by Hans Wilsdorf.
- Original dispatch note from Rolex Geneva
to Corporal Nutting in Stalag Luft III, dated July 10, 1943. Signed by
- Original Rolex receipt bearing the watch
reference and case numbers, dated July 8, 1943.
- Original Rolex guarantee and envelope
bearing the watch case number, dated July 8, 1943.
- Letter from C.J. Nutting to Hans Wilsdorf
requesting that the watch is serviced and offering to pay for the watch,
dated August 11, 1945.
- Letter from Hans Wilsdorf to C.J. Nutting
with instructions to return the watch for servicing and discussion of
payment, dated August 20, 1945. Signed by Hans Wilsdorf.
- Letter from The Rolex Watch Co., Ltd
informing C.J. Nutting that payment can now be accepted at £15, 12s & 6d,
dated March 23, 1948.
- Corporal Nutting's wartime log with
original drawings and photographs made in Stalag Luft III, official
notices regarding his missing and prisoner status, newspaper cuttings,
letter from United Artists regarding the film "The Great Escape" and
Wessex Film Productions regarding the film "The Wooden Horse".
A Wonderful Story
A 1940s Rolex chronograph
that belonged to a British prisoner of war at the Stalag Luft III camp in
Nazi Germany is coming up for sale at Antiquorum in Geneva on May 13 and
14. With it is the logbook Corporal Clive Nutting of the Royal Corps of
Signals kept during his wartime captivity. It’s a collection of
unpublished cartoons, illustrations and photographs revealing a new
insight into camp life and the mass breakout of 76 POWs made famous in the
movie, The Great Escape.
Included in the papers is
Nutting’s correspondence with Rolex, confirming the remarkable marketing
campaign the Geneva brand launched during World War II.
A Captive Market
Swiss watch sales were
badly hit by the war, especially after Germany invaded unoccupied Vichy
France in November 1942, and neutral Switzerland found itself completely
encircled by Axis powers. Watch companies were cut off from their best
customers, the British and Americans.
Rolex, however, discovered
that there were plenty of British and Americans right on Switzerland’s
doorstep — literally a captive market — in German prisoner-of-war camps.
Stalag Luft III, for example, housed up to 10,000 Allied airmen, shot down
in operations over occupied Europe. Thousands more Allied officers were
interned in the various Oflag (officer’s POW camps) scattered throughout
the German Reich.
Clive Nutting (at right) with his “Brothers in Arm” in Stalag Luft III
This was evidently a
booming market, judging from Rolex’s confirmation of an order for one of
its more expensive watches received from prisoner No. 738 in Stalag Luft
III, Sagan, Germany (now part of Poland). Hans Wilsdorf, founding director
of Rolex who took personal charge of sales to POWs, warned Clive Nutting
of “an unavoidable delay in the execution of your order.” The delay was
due, not to wartime restrictions, “but to a large number of orders in hand
Rolex’s Incredible Offer
The large number of orders
is explained by the incredible offer Rolex was making to POWs. Underlined
in Wilsdorf’s letter to Nutting are the words, “…but you must not even
think of settlement during the war.” The news that Rolex was offering
watches on a buy-now- pay-whenever” basis must have spread through the
camps like wildfire. More than 3,000 Rolex watches were reportedly ordered
by British officers in the Oflag VII B POW camp in Bavaria alone.
It meant that Wilsdorf,
himself a German, was betting on an allied victory. By early 1943, this
was a risk worth taking. The tide of war had turned: the Russians were on
the offensive after routing the Germans at Stalingrad; German and Italian
armies were being driven out of North Africa. But this expression of trust
must have been a wonderful morale-booster for the POWs. Besides being a
comfort in a POW camp, watches were part of an airman’s kit, and many had
lost theirs on capture or in trying to avoid it. Clive Nutting, as a
signaller, would also have been issued with a watch as part of his
equipment. For escape-minded prisoners, who could only get to the borders
by public transport, a watch was as essential as a train timetable.
Wilsdorf hedged his bet
further by making this offer available to British officers only, in the
belief that their word was their bond. He had started his watch business
in England, but moved to Switzerland after World War I for tax reasons. He
was also impressed by the fact that Rolex watches were popular among
British Royal Air Force pilots. But he also extended the offer to Clive
Nutting, who though not an officer nor even in the air force, was
gentleman enough to order a 250-franc Rolex 3525 Oyster chronograph. Most
other POWs ordered the much cheaper Speed King model, popular for its
The Oyster chronograph No.
122, ordered on March 10, 1943, was eventually sent on July 10 with a
gratis invoice, certificate and instructions, and it was on Nutting’s
wrist by August 4. As a chronograph, it could well have been useful in
timing the patrols of the goons (prison guards) or the despatch of 76
escapers though tunnel “Harry” in the mass breakout of March 24-25, 1944.
A Valuable Craftsman
Nutting was among a few
army personnel quartered in the North camp of Stalag Luft III and, as a
shoemaker by trade, was valuable both to the Germans and to the POWs. He
thus had a privileged position in charge of the camp’s shoemaking
workshop. He received a wage from the Germans, sent remittances to his
family in England, and as an officer’s promissory note testifies, had
money to lend. He could evidently afford a special watch.
Clive Nutting (at right) with his
friends in the workshop
The next we hear of the
watch is on Nutting’s return to his home in Acton, London, in August 1945
when he writes to Wilsdorf that although his watch served well in the cold
weather during the evacuation of the camps, it was now gaining an hour a
day. Where can he have it fixed? And can he have the final invoice?
Due to British currency
restrictions, Rolex could only send Nutting the invoice of £15 12s 6d for
his watch in 1948. The chronograph stayed with him until his death in
Australia in 2001 at the age of 90.
The last record of
Nutting’s POW watch is a restorer’s bill for AU$2,356 (€1,400), dated
March 28, 2003 — exactly 63 years after its original owner became a
prisoner of war.
The restorer’s bill
dated March 28, 2003
A Souvenir to Escape For
The Swiss watch industry also heavily
promoted its watches to the estimated 5,000 allied escaped POWs in
Switzerland (known as évadés), including more than 1,200 US airmen
who had baled out of, or landed their crippled aircraft in Switzerland.
The Americans, as well as British officers, stayed in luxury hotels in
such Alpine resorts as Adelboden, Wengen and Davos, becoming the mainstay
of the wartime tourist industry.
Then-popular brands such as Aureole, Angelus,
Cyma, Invicta, Movado, Mulco, Olma, Paul Buhré, Richard, Rodana and
Pierce, advertised heavily in the évadés’ newspaper,
Richard, in particular, took out whole-page advertisements offering
evadés a 25% discount on their 100-franc automatic model, payment in
12 weekly installments, and replacement in case of loss or theft.
Patek Philippe, more
discreetly, advertised an expensive high-precision pocket-chronograph.
The Americans, with an
allowance of CHF20 a day, had the most money to spend. Non-commissioned
British and Dominion évadés
had to subsist on CHF15 a week, yet most managed to save up enough to buy
The success of the campaign is shown by a
cartoon in Marking Time
of returning evadés parading for
departure festooned with watches and clocks. The
were no doubt also motivated by the paper reporting a shortage of watches
in Britain, citing a demand to the minister for economic warfare for “an
aircraft full of Swiss watches to be sent to England as soon as possible”
because “good cheap watches are unobtainable.”
The Historic Value of
The prices quoted for
watches in the 1940s converted to current values, show that watches were
relatively far cheaper then than they are now. In the pre-quartz era,
watches were more of a necessity than a luxury.
The CHF250 quoted for
Nutting’s Rolex chronograph in 1943 had the purchasing power of about
USD2,500 today. Today’s Rolex chronograph costs around four times as much,
although, unlike the 1940s model it’s automatic.
The cheapest Swiss lever
watches sold for an equivalent of USD300-500 today. Automatics were at
least twice as expensive.
Continue to Part 2: Clive Nutting’s Story and the Great Escape >>>