Formula 1 legend Sir Jackie Stewart’s 50-year relationship with Rolex is a unique and special example of ‘star’ endorsing ‘brand’
It can be hard to keep track of some celebrity ‘ambassadors’ and the watch brand they represent. This year they’re the face of one brand, the next it’s another.
None can claim the relationship that Formula 1 legend Jackie Stewart has with Rolex. As one of its Testimonees, his partnership with the famously independent luxury watchmaker racks up an astounding 50 years this year. It’s a connection that commenced even before Stewart was ‘officially’ on board with the brand.
“I purchased my first Rolex having qualified well at the Indianapolis 500, before I became a Rolex Testimonee,” says Stewart. “It was a Rolex Day-Date 18-carat gold with President bracelet and it instantly established my love of and respect for Rolex.”
A regular visitor to the Australian Grand Prix each March, of which Rolex is the principal sponsor, Stewart is one of the most recognisable figures in motor racing, a tireless advocate for the sport, for its safety, and for sportsmanship. Younger followers of Formula 1 may not be fully aware of the size of the diminutive Scot’s achievements in the sport: Three FIA Formula 1 Drivers’ World Championships (1969, ’71, ’73) and 27 Grand Prix victories from 99 starts by the time of his retirement in 1973.
They may also be unaware that as a child, Stewart struggled to read and write due to undiagnosed dyslexia, which led to social isolation from his peers. In 1953, as a teenager, he won a clay pigeon shooting competition and discovered he had a talent for the sport. It led to him representing Scotland and Great Britain on the European stage in shooting, developing the focus and attention he later took into motor sport. To this day he remains the only person to have won British Grands Prix at shooting and Formula 1.
Influenced by his elder brother Jimmy Stewart, Jackie participated in his first-ever competitive sports car race near Troon, Scotland in 1961, where he finished second. His motor sport career was off and running. For a while, Stewart split his time between working at his father’s garage as a mechanic and racing on British tracks, until 1963, when he signed his first professional contract with the Scottish team, Ecurie Ecosse. In 1964, he raced in Formula 3 for Ken Tyrrell, winning the Formula 3 Grand Prix De Monaco and being congratulated by his hero, World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio. It remains one of Stewart’s most cherished memories.
In 1965 Stewart signed with Formula 1 team BRM, a significant step into the spotlight given his team-mate was 1962 World Champion Graham Hill. He claimed his maiden Grand Prix win at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, the heartland of Italian motor sport. Standing on the podium, the crowd chanted “Il Grande Jackie. Il Grande Jackie” in praise of his win, a chorus that still greets him in Italy to this day. In 1969 the Italian Grand Prix would also be the race where Stewart secured his first Formula One World Championship.
Post racing, and after witnessing the deaths of friends such as Jim Clark and Bruce McLaren, Stewart has been a key figure in the significant safety improvements made to Formula One racing. While Chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, Stewart was one of the pioneers of the regulations that govern the safety of the sport today. In the 1990s, he also ran his own race-winning Formula 1 team, Stewart Grand Prix.
Rolex’s connection with motor sport is no new thing, as demonstrated by its relationship with Stewart. In fact, it stretches back to the 1930s, when Sir Malcolm Campbell – “the king of speed” – broke the World Land Speed on Daytona Beach record with a Rolex on his wrist.
Since then, Rolex has been a key presence at many of the world’s pre-eminent races, formalising its relationship with Daytona as title sponsor of the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 1992, named Official Partner and the Official Timepiece of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2000, and becoming a Global Partner and the Official Timepiece of Formula 1 in 2013.
“It’s a rare commitment and almost unheard of in sport,” says Jackie Stewart of his half-century connection to the brand. “It has been a fantastic journey together. I am still as impressed and in awe of the brand today as I was back then. One of my most strived-for values is attention to detail because if you look after the little things, the big things look after themselves, and I definitely learnt that from this magnificent sport and from this prestigious watch brand – the Rolex and motor sport partnership is the perfect marriage.”
Which begs the question as to which is Stewart’s favourite among the current crop of Rolex timepieces. “The watch that I particularly treasure is my new Daytona,” he says. “It was presented to me in 2016 by Rolex at the Grand Prix de Monaco to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my first win around the hallowed streets of the principality. There is a special engraving on the back of the watch, which of course makes it all the more important to me.”
THE STEWART STORY
Born: June 11, 1939
Teams: BRM, Matra, March, Tyrrell
3 – 1969, 1971, 1973
Pole positions: 17
Fastest laps: 15
First GP win: 1965 Italian GP
Last GP win: 1973 German GP