Wrist Watching: Fidel Castro Wearing Rolex
by Nick Gould
Mention the name Fidel Castro in watch circles and the first thing that springs to mind is the Rolex GMT-Master with bi-color bezel that was so frequently seen on his wrist throughout his life next to the gold Rolex Datejust that he wore on the same wrist. The consensus seems to be that Castro wore two watches to keep the time in both Havana and Moscow handy; it is unknown whether he realized that the GMT-Master already offers two time zones.
And while choosing Rolex might seem paradoxical in the face of the communist principles he defended Soviet politicians also wore Rolex watches, including Leonid Brezhnev. Perhaps this explains why Rolex was Castro’s brand of choice.
Castro first wore a Reference 6542 GMT-Master with Bakelite bezel – Bakelite being the first synthetic plastic, and one used for a while for colorful watch bezels – followed by a Reference 1675 with aluminum bezel insert.
When Castro succeeded with his coup d’etat against president and leader of Cuba Fulgencio Batista in 1959, he was already sporting a Rolex on his wrist.
Greeting crowds of people in Havana in January 1959, Castro did not sport a GMT-Master, but rather the other famous timepiece by the “crowned” Swiss maker: the venerable Submariner. I deduce from the size of the crown that Castro was wearing a Reference 6536 Submariner.
The familiar diving bezel of the Submariner with its marked indications is clearly visible along with the recognizable black dial displaying luminous dot markers and the Oyster bracelet. Here Castro was wearing another (unidentifiable) timepiece on a leather strap.
It was thought that Castro obtained the watch after he and his fellow revolutionaries entered Havana in January of 1959, but this is not the case. A variety of photos from 1958 show Castro was already sporting the Submariner along with another timepiece on a leather strap.
A pre-1959 photo from AP (at top) shows Castro wearing two watches on leather straps; he later replaced one of these with the Submariner.
The photo below shows Castro with his son in the Havana Hilton. Castro is wearing his Submariner, while his son is holding a gold Rolex that is most likely a Day-Date with its familiar “President” bracelet.
However, it is also possible that Castro placed a Datejust head on a President bracelet as some photographs I found do allude to this.
I was flabbergasted upon discovering a photo of Castro with Che Guevara in which the clasp of Castro’s gold Rolex is visible: and this clasp features an engraving!
At first, I thought it was an engraving of some symbols, but after further research I found they are letters: you can make out the “FCR.”
Castro’s full name was Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz; as per Spanish-language custom, the maiden name of a child’s mother is included at the end of a family’s name, so Castro put his initials, FCR, on the clasp.
This was quite a surprise and one that means that Castro’s personalized gold Rolex Datejust is still out there waiting to be discovered.
My thanks to Charles Tearle for assisting me with the identification of Castro’s Submariner and other observations as well as to Eric Ku for helping me figure out it wasn’t symbols, but letters engraved on Castro’s gold Rolex Datejust.
And thanks to Jake Ehrlich of Jakes Rolex World who first discovered and published photos of Castro with his watches.
Quick Facts Rolex GMT-Master Reference 6542
Case: 40 mm, yellow gold with Bakelite bezel insert
Movement: automatic Caliber 1036; 2.5 Hz/18,000 vph frequency, chronometer certified
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, GMT
Years of production: 1954-1959