The Gift of Time – Rolex Presentation Watches
The giving of timepieces to commemorate a special occasion is as old as the invention of time-telling instruments. In many cultures, marking a special birthday, anniversary or long service at a company has been marked with the gift of a clock or watch for the past century.
In the UK, it was commonplace for an employee to receive a gold wristwatch with case back engraving to commemorate 25-years’ service at a company, a fact backed up by the number of such watches that appear on the market. US-based companies have been awarding employees for meeting exceptional sales targets, for example, with a wristwatch since the 1960s and in the Middle east, the custom of gifting watches as a sign of gratitude or as a sign of respect as led to some of the most collectible watches being commissioned as gifts.
Today we take a look at one specific sub-set of presentation watches; Rolex timepieces that have had a special logo applied to the dial. The sheer breadth of different logos that have appeared on Rolex watches over the past 70 years is staggering, with previously unseen examples appearing each year. We have always been fascinated by these watches and when possible, have some examples available to offer our customers. And especially the logo dial Rolex Datejust's and Oyster 34 mm versions are great fun and still achievable special watches. Offering a lot of extra mojo on the wrist. You can see our latest selection here.
The Middle Eastern Connection
Arguably the most coveted by collectors are Rolex sports watches that have either the Oman Khanjar emblem on the dial or the signature of Sultan Qaboos. Sultan Qaboos Bin Sa‘id assumed leadership of Oman in 1970 and was renowned as one of the world's most enthusiastic watch collectors. He took great pleasure in sharing his passion for timepieces with others, frequently gifting watches upon noteworthy individuals and guests to Oman. A significant number of the Rolex watches he gifted were custom-ordered through Asprey in London. The watch dials frequently showcased either the national symbol of the Khanjar dagger and crossed swords or the Sultan's personal signature, most notably on Daytonas and Seadwellers.
Extremely rare Rolex 1665 Seadweller with Gold Khanjar Dagger and Swords from Oman. Only a handful known and even less confirmed by Rolex. Many of them delivered in a custom order through ASPREY London.
The Red Khanjar Dial version of the Rolex 1665 Oman Sea-Dweller
Aside from Oman, a significant number of other countries ordered special dial Rolex watches, mostly Datejusts and Oyster Perpetuals, including Bahrain, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. These commissions were for a cross-section of the countries’ infrastructure; from the military and police forces through to charities and football associations.
The UAE emblem of the Qaraysh hawk is one of the instantly recognisable Middle Eastern crests on any Rolex watch. Known by collectors as the Desert Eagle, the Rolex watches were ordered by order of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. He is currently both the undisputed ruler of Dubai and the Prime Minister of the UAE, but back in the 1970s, he served as Minister of Defence in the newly established UAE. It was common for his department to request custom-made Rolex watches for government officials, who would gift them to important employees and associates.
Once my personal Rolex 1675 UAE Dial GMT I picked up from an old taxi driver in London, who bought it many many years ago from a good friend, who was bodyguard for the royal family. The watch was gifted to his friend for his service.
We have this very cool looking Lady Datejust that has come from the daughter of the original owner. The lady was given the watch by the Sheikh for who she did some work in the early 1980s. The steel and gold watch houses a champagne dial with the Desert Eagle in the lower half of the dial, in place of the usual chronometer rating text.
We offer this Lady Datejust with Omani Dial directly from the original owner here...
The Logo King
The Air King name was first used in 1945 and, but for a short break in 2014, it has a constant presence in the Rolex line up until 2014, making it one of the most enduring Rolex models thanks to its near 70 year long run. The longest reference run was the 5500, which was introduced in 1957 and stayed in the catalogue until 1990. Since the era of the reference 5500, the Air King was used extensively as a presentation watch. Probably due to its entry-level price point, there are lots of examples of Air Kings with company logos applied to the dials. Overlooked for many years, the watches came to the forefront of collectors’ notice when the 2008 Antiquorum ‘Revolution’ sale catalogue was released. Revolution was a Rolex-themed auction that with a particular focus on sports models.
The Air King has always been seen as a quasi-sports watch due to its link with the Explorer (there were some reference 5500 Explorers in the 1960s, both 3-6-9 dial layouts and dressier Explorers for the UK and Canadian markets). As part of the Air King section in the catalogue, there were examples of watches that featured the logos of companies such as US supermarket chain Winn Dixie, Libyan oil company Pool Intairdril and Domino’s Pizza.
Pool Intairdril was an oil servicing company. It supplied the labour, rigs and plant equipment to the big oil companies. It is believed that the Air Kings were given to Pool Intairdril employees typically as safety awards, as safety was a significant issue for companies back then. Managers and other personnel in charge of safety management would be presented watches with their names engraved into the case back along with a certificate of commendation.
The Domino’s pizza watches were similarly given to employees, this time primarily to stores and regional managers, to recognize outstanding sales results. A custom that began in the 1980s, it is still a scheme in operation today by Domino’s although since Rolex no longer undertakes special dial orders, now the watches have a case back engraving and occasionally a plaque attached to the bracelet.
See the vintage and the modern Rolex Domino's Pizza Presentation Watches. Both as should delivered by Schlanderer & Sons. The old ones still had the logo on the dial and the modern ones have the logo on the bracelet and case back.
You can find this Rolex 11600 Domino's Pizza in NOS condition here...
One of the rarest logo dial Air Kings we have encountered is the Odessa Pro-Am watch from 1969. Presumed to exist in very small numbers, the watches were presented at the Dallas-based golfing tournament to, we assume, the winners. This is the first one we have seen and there is no accessible information on out there about these watches. We do, however, love the stylised golfer at the end of his swing in the centre of the dial.
It wasn’t just Rolex that offered this service, Tudor did too and, in fact, still operates a service to have dials and case backs embellished with organisations logos. Examples have recently surfaced of Black Bays with custom dials made for military units, police forces, companies including Google and even Ed Sheeran, as gifts for his road crew on the Divided tour.
One series of vintage Tudors that we have always loved are the Cotton Bowl dials, given out to the winning team of the annual Texas-based college football tournament. It was Rolex that first produced the Cotton Bowl Classic watches in 1967 with an Air King. By 1971, however, Tudor began producing some of the watches with all watches being supplied by Tudor in 1972 until 1976.
Interestingly, the Tudors had all the text removed from the dial with just the shield remaining at 12 o’clock and the Cotton Bowl logo in the upper half and the text and year in the bottom half. These watches were all engraved with the player’s name on the case back too and are great fun to track down and collect at still quite reasonable prices.
When the worlds of horology and gift-giving meet, Rolex and Tudor presentation watches with special logos have created a collector niche like no other. From commemorating decades of dedicated service in the UK to recognizing outstanding sales achievements in the US and showcasing gratitude in the Middle East, these timepieces hold a unique place in the world of collectible wristwatches.
With each watch bearing a unique story and connection, these presentation watches continue to captivate collectors and enthusiasts alike!