The cult of the Führer plays a significant role in the reach of infamous despotics. It is clear that the outfit of the inclined dictator has to fit harmoniously into the character they have built for themselves. In addition to the carrot and stick, a chic timepiece on the wrist can score a hige amount of charisma points. And what better way to keep the mood of the subjects high, than a small donation from your personal watch collection here and there? All the more clever when personal and state property are one and the same thing anyway.
Which watch was able to win the trust of the individual despots is the subject of this list, which is of course free of political views and strictly limited to the choice of watch.
Fidel Castro did not let himself get carried away: A Cohiba cigar casually tucked away in the corner of his mouth, and two Rolex watches on his arm (naturally, both worn on his left). Legend has it that his Day-Date showed the time in Havana, whilst his Submariner was set to Moscow time.
The GMT Master, which is somewhat more practical in this respect, is said to have ensnared his Compagnon Che Guevara as a wearer. The comrades from the Cuban proletariat would have preferred to have had something to eat. Let them drink Mojito!
In any case, the crown on the dial of all Rolex models seems to have survived the revolutionary iconoclasm without much damage. The Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev had a Datejust just like his brother-in-spirit Erich Honecker. Even Mao Zedong is said to have been the proud owner of two watches of this model. Once at the levers of power, the contradiction between communist aspirations and capitalist reality is suddenly no longer totally incompatible. Curiously, they all preferred the gold version…
Brezhnev’s predecessor Khrushchev, however, fell somewhat out of line here. He preferred to wear his Soviet-made model on his right wrist. And in any case, only when absolutely necessary, since wristwatches (in his opinion) interfered with the body‘s circulation of blood. But an extension of the wristband would have been in order, Comrade General Secretary!
As far as Stalin’s watch is concerned, the matter is somewhat more complicated. At least we could find no evidence that the Soviet dictator wore a wristwatch. However, he initiated the foundation of Poljot (Sturmanskie) and is even said to have personally supervised the designs of the dials.
Even though wristwatches were not very fashionable amongst the revolutionaries of his time, old Bolshevik Lenin sported a pocket watch from H. Moser & Cie. Possibly acquired during his stay in Switzerland, whereupon he had to hide from the Tsar’s henchmen. Whether he already had the watch when he travelled to Russia with the help of Germans loyal to the emperor,
is not known to us.
If Honecker did not want to curry favour with the Soviet secretary generals by strapping the popular Rolex Datejust around his wrist, he and his watch enthusiasts from the CC of the SED also used domestic models.
Thus, the VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (formerly Lange & Söhne, amongst others, after the fall of communism: Glashütte Original) had to produce a limited collection, which the gentlemen of the party could gift any state visitors, and also stock up on for themselves (for example, via so-called “honour gifts”).
Rumour has it that the “GröFaZ” is said to have worn a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, which was freshly launched at the time, on his (non-extended) arm. For us, however, a similar but more German model by A. Lange & Söhne seems more plausible. One of several small donations to which he could not say no. Even watchmaking legend Alfred Helwig did not shy away from personally handing over a watch to the dictator and naming the so-called “Hitler Tourbillon” after him.
Hitler himself was just as happy to give away models from A. Lange & Söhne or Deutsche Uhrenfabrikation watches (DUF), engraved with his own signature and dedication. Mistress Eva Braun also got off lightly with an expansionistic watch from “Eszeha”, a brand of the Scheufele family, which today is the progenitor behind Chopard.
Haitham Wihaib, the former chief of protocol of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, can recall the following story: his task was to cover the tracks of his boss after the president had spent a few hours with one of his playmates.
To his surprise, he found the dictator’s Rolex Day Date lying next to the bed. After a short sprint to the dictator’s Mercedes to give him back the watch, the dictator unceremoniously gave him the brilliant Day-Date in gold. Obviously Saddam Hussein had had a quite eventful day. The watch is said to be worth GBP 100,000, although it will not be his last.
Muammar al-Gaddafi was well acquainted with the game of tyranny:
the revolution against the royal house had been won, the ideology had been brought to the people with his green book full of collected teachings. Now all he had to do was make small donations from his watch collection here and there to create a good atmosphere.
After the oil (which had recently been declared state property) was sold,
the funds were used to purchase Patek Philippe timepieces, which he gifted to selected subordinates (later coming under the hammer at Christies for $193,750). For daily use, however, Gaddafi favored a Rolex Daytona or a Datejust in bicolor.
The three Kims from Korea’s north may agree about the cult of their own person, but their fashion consciousness varies from generation to generation. Sure, a classic suit or military uniform will always go down well
with a dictator. However in terms of watchmaking, grandpa Kim Il-Sung allegedly wore an Omega Constellation in gold, while grandson Kim Jong-un cultivates the old contacts from his school days in Switzerland, and usually wears a relatively plain Movado Moderna.
Please remember that no matter how beautiful the watch on the wrist may apear, the hands of the despots listed above remain bloody.
The freedom to pick out the watch of your choice can be found here.