This past Veterans Day (Remembrance Day for those outside of the United States), we wrote about a Rolex that had come up for auction belonging to British Flight Lieutenant Jack Williams. He was one of the 76 prisoners who escaped from Stalag Luft III, in 1944, by crawling through a tunnel. He was also one of 50, out of 73 (three people were able to escape), who was then executed after being re-captured.
The break-out was later immortalized in the Steve McQueen film, The Great Escape.
Vintage watches have the ability to tell a story, or leave you guessing what the story may have been. They have seen tremendous events and moments in history, this one is no different. Luckily we know a good portion of the tragic story surrounding the watch.
The Rolex Chronograph was returned to Jack’s family by his friend, and fellow POW, Don Wilson. Wilson was able to keep the watch safe even after being moved from one camp to another.
The history of the watch doesn’t stop at being returned to Jack’s family. His mother gave the Rolex to his third cousin in the 1980s because he reminded her of the airman and her only son. The watch was worn on his wedding day and when he visited the Stalag Luft III memorial. This historic watch was also serviced, for free, by Rolex in the mid 1980s due to its incredible history and amazing journey.
This watch sold on December 2nd, in Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom. The original estimate was £30,000 to £50,000 ($45,322 to $75,537). A similar Rolex chronograph from a “Great Escape” prisoner Fl Lt. Gerald Imeson, who was not a part of the tunnel escape, sold for £60,000 a few years ago.
When the final hammer went down, the winning bid was £165,000, just over 3x the high end of the estimate. That’s just under $250,000 without the final fees added in.
A private British-based collector bought the watch, and related RAF items, to add to his collection of military memorabilia.
There have been a few exciting watch auctions in the last few months, and there are still a few more before the years’ end. This is a watch that will surely be remembered in auction history, and be enjoyed by the private collector for years to come.
Learn more about the man who owned the watch and Bourne End Auction Rooms. Images courtesy of Bourne End Auction Rooms.