Second World War airman’s life-saving Rolex watch could fetch £1,500 at Reeman Dansie auction

Vernon Wilkes' Rolex.

Vernon Wilkes' Rolex. - Credit: Su Anderson

A Rolex watch bought in Canada during the Second World War could sell for double its actual worth at auction next week because of a letter from a former owner.

Vernon Wilkes' Rolex.

Vernon Wilkes' Rolex. - Credit: Su Anderson

The brand is famous for its craftsmanship and prestige, perhaps the reason RAF air bombardier Vernon Wilkes bought one of its Oyster Royalite Observatory watches in 1943.

Mr Wilkes, who lived in Suffolk before is death aged 92 in 2013, was a flight lieutenant when he left the air force and took part in bombing raids over Germany during the war.

He wore the watch while aboard the Avro Lancaster he served on with 150 Squadron – and credits it with keeping him alive during his sorties.

In 1975, while living in Tranmere Road, Ipswich, Mr Wilkes wrote to Rolex saying while the watch was still operating well, the thread on the winder needed attention.


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In the letter he explained the watch had been the only one aboard his Lancaster which continued to operate during a particularly cold raid, “thereby ensuring our survival”.

For this reason, Mr Wilkes wrote, he did not want to see it scrapped due to its sentimental value and Rolex duly assisted by effecting a repair on the watch for him.

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The watch left Mr Wilkes’ possession before his death and has since been in the hands of collectors. It is now being sold by Reeman Dansie in Colchester in its fine arts and antiques auction next Tuesday (February 16) with an estimated sale price of £1,000 to £1,500.

Auctioneer and valuer Daniel Wright said: “It is fascinating because it has this letter with it which details this gentleman’s reliance upon the watch.

“It is quite interesting that it was the only watch to keep going through bombing raids and keep them alive.

“The watch itself is not of great note except in the context of the letter.”

Despite the watch in itself not being particularly special Mr Wright said it would still have been a high status item when purchased.

He added its provenance, with the letter, would appeal to a wide range of collectors and the auctioneers had agonised over whether it would fit best in it fine art and antiques sale or in militaria.

And without the letter, included in the lot, Mr Wright said the watch’s value would likely be halved.

In terms of interest in the item he said: “It’s very early days but it’s amazing how bids flood in as the sale approaches. There has been interest in it.”

The watch retains its original two-tone dial and distinctive red second hand. It is boys-sized, a popular size for soldiers and airmen in the 1940s.

Details about the lot can be found online by going to www.the-saleroom.com and searching for ‘Rolex Oyster Royalite’.

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