Up for auction is a 1940s Rolex sold to a prisoner of war while he was incarcerated.
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 It’s a collection of unpublished cartoons, illustrations and photographs revealing a new insight into camp life and the mass breakout of 76 POWs made famous in the movie, The Great Escape.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.
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.