Rolex and the Royals
The British Royal family (gawd bless ‘em!) are no strangers to the finer things in life. From collections of some of the most important works of art, to antiques and jewelry worth millions, to palatial homes (as in, homes that are actually palaces) they have a lifestyle few can imagine.
Of course, that comes as no real surprise, seeing as their accumulated wealth is estimated at around £25 billion. Yet, beyond all the pomp and circumstance, there has always been an underlying reserve to the monarchy. Tradition weighs heavy on the royal head, even today, and it curtails anything in the way of showiness or ostentation. Adornments are chosen for their refinement rather than any display of affluence, and it is the same story with the selection of timepieces they have worn over the years.
The list of royal watches reads like a who’s who of horology’s greatest names—from Cartier to Patek Philippe, and from Omega to, naturally, Rolex.
Fittingly represented by a crown, Rolex watches have long been a favorite amongst Britain’s first family, serving well both on domestic duties as well as on the frontline.
Below, we take a look at two members of the Royal household and the Rolex watches they call their own.
Princess Beatrice and the Rolex Air-King
Princess Beatrice Elizabeth Mary of York, to give her her full title, is the first child of Prince Andrew and his former wife Sarah, Duchess of York (forever known in England as Fergie—but not the Black Eyed Peas one. Or the former Manchester United manager for that matter).
As The Queen’s fifth grandchild, she is ninth in the line of succession, and only the second female, behind Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, the daughter of Prince William.
One of the more minor Royals, Beatrice escapes much of the spotlight focused on others in the family, but still has a well-known public image through her patronage of a number of charities and organizations.
During her outings, she is often seen wearing a classic Rolex Air-King ref. 114200.
A name that dates back to WWII, the Air-King has enjoyed one of the longest unbroken runs of any in the brand’s catalog. Originally part of a series of ‘Air’ watches Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf created to honor the heroism of Britain’s wartime RAF, it stayed in constant production until a short-lived retirement in 2014. After a brief R&R, it was reissued in 2016 in a much altered guise and continues to be one of the more popular second stringers in the portfolio.
Beatrice’s series started life in 2007, part of the ref. 1142XX range, the last of the Air-Kings to be issued in the time-honored 34mm. It was also the first in the watch’s history to be fitted with a chronometer certified movement, the Cal. 3130. The dateless version of one of Rolex’s most well-respected calibers, the Cal. 3135, it saw service inside the Oyster Perpetual and Submariner models of the same era as well.
Only ever made in 904L steel, the ref. 114200 Air-King came with a choice in dial color, and Beatrice’s is among the most distinctive. Silver, with a striking concentric circular design and fiery orange Arabic numerals, it has an atypical flamboyance, for both Rolex itself and the Air-King in particular.
As the fashion for larger watches continues, especially with a female audience, more and more women look to vintage Rolex for the ideal size—and the princess’s choice is an inspired one.
Prince Harry and the Rolex Explorer II
The second child of Charles, Prince of Wales, and the late Princess Diana, Prince Harry is among the most popular members of the Royal family. His marriage to American actress Megan Markle in 2018 was watched by an estimated 1.9 billion people worldwide, and it was the biggest TV event in the U.K. that year.
After attending the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and enlisting as second lieutenant in the Blues and Royals, part of the Household Cavalry, Harry went on to serve two tours of duty in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, the second time as an Apache helicopter pilot with the Army Air Corps.
While he left the military in 2015, he retains a very energetic lifestyle. He is a keen polo player and patron of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) as well as an advocate for numerous charities, including UNICEF and Help For Heroes, which supports returning veterans from recent conflicts.
For perhaps the most active of the Royals, Harry would seem to have gotten his choice of watch spot on. The Rolex Explorer II ref. 216570 with a Polar (white) dial is just about as tough and no-nonsense as the brand gets.
The high performance model is from the series released in 2011 to mark the 40thanniversary of the watch. Growing in size to 42mm from the 40mm it had been since it debuted in 1971, it is still very noticeably of the same breed as its predecessors. Forged from the strongest steel and with its fixed, engraved bezel, it also saw the welcome return of the ‘Freccione’. From the Italian word for arrow, Freccione refers to the bright orange additional hour hand used to point out the second time zone on the 24-hour scale etched into the surround.
Also new for the series is the caliber, the Cal. 3187. Here, for the first time, the Explorer II was given its own movement rather than having to share one with Rolex’s other dual time zone legend, the GMT-Master.
In reality, there is nothing to choose between the Cal. 3187 and the caliber used in the GMT of the time, the Cal. 3186. Identical in function, the 3187 is simply slightly larger due to the case size.
With a classic aesthetic and built for the world’s adventurers, Prince Harry’s favorite timepiece is a fitting choice for the hardworking Royal.