For anyone who’s ever stared up into the sky wondering what it’s like in space, considered the possibility that they could fly – if they just tried hard enough, or simply enjoys stargazing at night, this will be a familiar story.

It’s April 11, 1970. Apollo 13 launches into the sky on NASA’s third journey to the moon. Almost 56 hours into the flight and 200,000 miles from Earth, the crew was closing in on the moon when an oxygen tank explosion set off a series of unforgettable events. The alarm lights lit up the small ship; the spacecraft shook; oxygen pressure fell and power disappeared. This malfunction had thrown the crew off course by roughly 60 to 80 miles. In an instant, the spacecraft meant to land on the moon had a new mission. In order to get home safely, the crew needed to adjust the course they were on. This would require the astronauts to burn the engine for a specific amount of time: 14 seconds. With no power and no working clock on board, they were forced to do this manually. John L. “Jack” Swigert used an Omega Speedmaster chronograph to time those crucial 14 seconds. As we all know, the maneuver worked and the crew made it safely home on April 17.

We had to burn the engine. Have it on only for a certain length of time: 14 seconds. We used the (Omega) watch that Jack had on his wrist and I had to control the spacecraft. Jack timed the burn on the engine to make that correction to get back home safely.

–James Lovell,  Apollo 13 Flight Commander

While those 14 seconds constituted one of the most famous and life-changing cultural events to include a timepiece, they were hardly the only ones.

Did you know?

The first real “moon watch” was worn by Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on the Apollo 11 Lunar Module. On July 20th 1969, the Apollo 11 Lunar Module put astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on the surface of the Moon. On “Buzz” Aldrin’s wrist? The Omega Speedmaster Professional – from that moment on, it became the first real “moon watch.”

That watch, the Omega Speedmaster Professional, has the words “the first watch worn on the moon” engraved on the case back, along with the reminder that the Speedmaster is flight-qualified by NASA for all manned space missions. It is the only watch to have earned that privilege.

Steve McQueen’s timepiece: The greatest show of loyalty

Known for being a tough guy with rugged looks, the “King of Cool” had a certain mystique about him. His personality was often associated with the watches he wore, making them classic, collectible timepieces. One of his favorite watches was his Rolex Submariner, reference number (ref.) 5513, circa 1964. Sometime in the late 1970s, this watch became less of a way to tell time and more of a symbol of gratitude, loyalty and respect. McQueen gave the Submariner to his favorite stunt double, Loren Janes. The two had been working together since 1958 and would continue their careers over the next two decades and 19 movies. Janes performed some of McQueen’s most memorable stunts. The 10-minute scene in Bullitt when McQueen expertly swerved his way through San Francisco in a 1968 Mustang? That was actually Janes. Before giving his watch to Janes, McQueen had the back engraved, making it the only known McQueen watch to bear the actor's name.

Loren, the best damn stuntman in the world.

– Steve McQueen

Just a few years ago, this famous Submariner landed its last stunt. In the 2016 Los Angeles wildfires, Janes' house was destroyed. The watch was assumed to be lost in the wreckage for good. An enterprising Rolex and memorabilia collector contacted the Janes family and urged them to literally dig through the rubble and find it.

"I begged them to go back to the house and sift through ashes," the collector says, recalling the conversations he had with Janes' wife and their daughter, Erika. "A few weeks later, they called me back to say they had found it."

Though some important parts, including the dial, were replaced after the refurbishment, it still had soot in its clasp – and it was still ticking. Impressive, yet appropriate, for a symbol of loyalty that endured death-defying stunts to keep going with a little grit in it.

Did you know?

The watch McQueen was best known for was the Heuer Monaco he wore in the 1971 racing movie, Le Mans. The most mint conditioned one sold at an auction in 2012 for nearly $800,000.

The Rolex Daytona: A fast rise to fame

Synonymous with everything car racing, NASCAR and the Daytona Beach track in particular, the Rolex Cosmograph ref. 6239 quickly earned its popularity and nickname, “Daytona.” But when Rolex updated the look with a more exotic dial, sales fell flat. Buyers simply preferred the original Daytona dial, until one woman’s unconventional taste changed the fate of the new line. Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman’s wife, was drawn to the slightly art deco look, with its vivid colors and graphic patterns. She purchased the watch for him as a gift during the filming of Winning, a film set around the Indianapolis 500 race. Joanne had the back of the case engraved with the words “Drive Carefully Me,” following Newman’s near death after a motorcycle accident in 1965.

And that’s all it took. The redesigned Daytona took off. As Newman raced in the early 1970s, the Daytona was always with him – an inseparable companion.

This watch, like him, grew more iconic with the passage of time. He would be photographed with it on innumerable occasions over the next four decades. After all, Paul Newman wasn’t just a famous actor; he was also an outstandingly successful racecar driver. In the 1980s, collectors gave the nickname “Paul Newman” to this style of Daytona, which can be recognized by the constrasting colors of the seconds scale around the dial.

This watch appeals to people way beyond the watch world. I don't recall a watch that has roots and ties in so many [collecting] communities, and it's an incredibly potent mix. It of course attracts those who love and admire motor sports and cars. It also appeals to people who love Hollywood memorabilia. It's also a piece of Americana, so it appeals to the American history community.

– Geoff Hess, a vintage Rolex collector and CEO of Analog Shift

The story of the Paul Newman watch continues to break records after countless trips around the track. The infamous watch was nowhere to be found for years, until it was put up for auction in 2017. The Paul Newman 1960s Cosmograph Daytona ref. 6239 sold for $17,800,000, setting a new record for the highest price ever achieved for a wristwatch at auction. 

Did you know?

Where was the Paul Newman all those years?

A young man named James Cox was dating Paul Newman's daughter Nell and visiting the family in Connecticut.  One evening, Paul asked James for the time. When James said he didn't wear a watch, Paul gave him his. Simple as that. Paul Newman gave him the Paul Newman. 

Who wears the Daytona today:

  • Rapper and business mogul, Jay-Z
  • Frontman for Maroon 5, Adam Levine
  • Actor Jonah Hill
  • Comedian and actor Kevin Hart
  • Fashion designer Victoria Beckham
  • Guitarist extraordinaire John Mayer

Time for Change

The time is always right to do the right thing.

– Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. needs no introduction. During his almost 13 years of leading the modern American Civil Rights Movement, from December 1955 until April 4, 1968,  African Americans achieved more progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years. King was truly one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history. He lived a philosophy based on hope and believed that justice will always triumph.

At only age 35, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest person ever to receive the honor of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize came with a medallion, $54,000 (put directly into the ongoing civil rights struggle) and a yellow gold Rolex Datejust. Though a great man deserves an equally great watch, King was initially apprehensive about wearing his classic gold Rolex Datejust on a Jubilee bracelet. He was fighting for equality for all, and he didn’t want people to get the wrong idea about him. Luckily, a fellow civil rights leader was able to change his mind. This advisor pointed out that he was in an arena with some of the most powerful men in the world, a list that included presidents of the United States. These men didn’t hesitate to distinguish themselves by wearing a Rolex power watch and neither should Dr. King. He, too, should possess the power that comes with wearing a Rolex.

Dr. King took that advice to heart. King was photographed wearing it throughout many critical moments in his life and in American history. He wore it when he met fellow civil rights leader Malcom X for the first time; when he negotiated with President Lyndon B. Johnson (Johnson also wore a yellow gold Rolex); during the March of 1965 when he led demonstrators from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama to demand the right to vote for black people; when he witnessed the signing of the Voter Rights Act of 1965. His Rolex was there as well. As he delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech on April 3, 1968 at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee and on that fateful last day, Dr. King’s yellow gold Rolex Datejust on a Jubilee bracelet fell with him.

Did you know?

King had another watch that was his daily go-to: A time-only Timex on a simple leather strap. The watch was spotted in 2014 when Coretta King loaned it to an exhibition in Atlanta, along with his glasses and a transistor radio he carried to stay on top of the news.

The timepiece: A true adventurer

To the moon and back, from making history to changing the future, watches have accompanied some of the most culturally influential people throughout time. History has proven that the watch doesn’t make the wearer, the wearer makes the watch.