The Dalai Lama – How a Marxist gets to own 15 Rolex watches
Watch & Bullion12 August 2016 | 4 min read
I’d like to share my story of why I bought a Rolex at seventeen years of age. While I loved the watches, the reputation of the brand drove me away from these exceptional timepieces due to the stigma attached to a “typical Rolex wearer“. An issue often discussed on enthusiast forums. I have to add that I come from a conservative household, and you could only imagine the look on my father’s face when he saw me wearing an expensive watch. The sad thing is that not buying a Rolex because of what others may think of me is no better than those who buy a Rolex to put themselves on display.
So there I was, seventeen years young, dealing with a watch dilemma. But when I saw what was to become my Oysterquartz, it was like love at first sight. There was a Rolex out there which I not only found visually striking, but further which I was sure would go unnoticed by most. Most people don’t know that Rolex produced quartz watches, something the company does not seem to advertise, and the design of this watch was unlike any other oyster models.
While the market may have flourished under the idea of watches as a status symbol, it has also suffered from it. This has lead to the creation of a stigma which deters enthusiasts from the more mainstream brands. Who could better portray this dilemma between stigma and passion than Tenzin Gyatso, more commonly known as the Dalai Lama?
How can the man who stands at the forefront of Tibetan Buddhism, a teaching which speaks against all forms of materialism, own a watch collection 15 pieces strong. The answer is surprisingly simple, he just loves watches.
The first watch he received was a Patek Philippe pocket watch reference 658, gifted to him from president Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1943. This means he owned a Patek at around age seven, which is not a bad start for young Tenzin. However remarkable this is we have to remind ourselves that at this time watches were still considered tools, not luxury items.
Regardless, a Patek, and especially one from that time period, remains a highly delicate device. It may not come as a surprise that the watch underwent numerous travels to Switzerland for repair. While arguably not the best choice for a seven year old, it fueled a keen interest in watchmaking for the Dalai Lama. Below is a quote from his book “Ethics for the New Millennium”, describing the meditative patience required to service watches:
“For example, I have always enjoyed repairing watches. But I can remember a number of occasions as a boy when, completely losing my patience with those tiny, intricate parts, I picked up the mechanism and smashed it down on the table. Of course, later I felt very sorry and ashamed of my behavior–especially when, as on one occasion, I had to return the watch to its owner in a condition worse than it was before!”
Another brand the Dalai Lama seems particularly fond of is Rolex. He has been seen sporting several models. These include both a two tone Datejust and a Day-Date with a Lapiz Lazuli dial.
What is noteworthy here is the way the Dalai lama wears his watches. In awareness of the delicate situation considering Tibet’s incorporation by the People’s Republic of China you will struggle finding images of the Dalai lama and his watches.
And if you do find an image, the watches are usually worn upside down to hide their identity and commonly found on a cheap Twist-O-Flex bracelet. Where some see a hidden agenda of trying to hide a lust for luxury I see something different. I see a feeling I can all too well identify with. Having to hide your passion for the fear of what others may say.
Looking at the Dalai Lama and his genuine passion for watches and thinking back to my seventeen year old self, I have mixed emotions and have drawn a personal conclusion for myself. If you do not encourage people wearing watches as a status symbol, you equally should not fear wearing a watch for what others may think. Money has always been a sensitive topic, but we should never let it oppress a genuine passion.
How else would you explain that a self-declared Marxist and the figure head for Buddhism comes to wear a Rolex?