To be a great rock star, one needs three things: style, attitude and, ideally, some iota of musical talent. For our part though, we’d argue for one more element to that list: a serious timepiece. Skull-topped top hats and flamboyant shirts are all well and good, but that’s just show; a watch is about taste.
Here then, are some of the greatest musicians of all time whose guitar collections are at least equalled by their watches. And don’t worry that most of these guys are wearing serious collectors’ pieces that you’ll not find outside a Geneva watch auction. So you can live out your rock star wrist candy fantasy we’ve also given you the modern equivalent. You’re welcome.
Elvis Presley’s Hamilton Ventura
The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll needs no introduction; Elvis the Pelvis was the hip-thrusting, up-tempo (possibly Mafia-affiliated) bad boy that brought music kicking and screaming into the atomic age. From fresh-faced conscript to the old hound dog eating peanut-butterbanana- bacon sandwiches on the toilet, he’s to this day one of the most influential musicians to have ever lived. In some ways, so is his watch of choice.
The Hamilton Ventura, icon of the 60s, was the first electronic wristwatch, dubious honour that it is. Tied in with a unique, shield case shape and the perfect look for the shiny new electronic era, it’s no wonder that when Elvis was gifted the watch for Blue Hawaii he rarely took it off. Hell, he had a habit of giving them out to friends. It’s not the priciest watch ever built, but even the Venturas of today like the aptly named Elvis80 are incredibly cool.
Hamilton Ventura ELVIS80 Quartz, £870, available at Hamilton Watch.
Mick Jagger’s Heuer Carrera
The strutting frontman of the Rolling Stones certainly had flair back in the band’s drug-fuelled, hedonistic heyday. Between spitting out dark, edgy lyrics and just owning the stage with his wanton flamboyance, he was – and still is – the rock star of rock stars – and he looks a damn sight better than some of his bandmates.
Despite his presence on stage though, his timepiece of choice is far more low-key than you might expect. Despite having enough cash for a Keith Richards-sized mountain of cocaine (which is more or less what he was back then), Jagger opted for the low-key pieces of Heuer. He wore a few, including the Monaco, but it was the original tachymeter-equipped Carrera 1153N he kept going back to. It’s a classic and, while the modern-day TAG Heuer has modernised the Carrera, the vintage-inspired Autavias are a solid throwback to the Stones of the 60s.
Tag Heuer Autavia, £2,750, available at Tag Heuer.
John Lennon’s Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Ref. 2499
From likely lad from Liverpool thrust onto the world stage to icon of a cultural revolution to revolutionary artist and full-time napper, John Lennon’s impact on the world can’t be underestimated. His solo back catalogue – let alone the genre-pushing discography of the Beatles – is more than most musicians could even dream of. While his life and career were cut short, having marked his 40th birthday just two months before his fatal run-in with Mark David Chapman, Lennon’s influence remains.
The watch in question actually comes from one of the last photos ever taken of Lennon; his Perpetual Calendar Ref. 2499 was supposedly a 40th birthday present (along with a Tiffany Stars & Stripe tie pin) from Yoko Ono, a far more horologically extravagant piece than you might expect from a bohemian artists obsessed with white. There’s no denying that it suits Lennon’s wrist nicely, all the more so for the contrast with his intentionally dishevelled look. Nobody seems to know where the specific Ref. 2499 went, but if it turns up it’ll give Paul Newman’s Paul Newman a run for its money.
Patek Philippe 5159J, £73,620, available at Patek.
Eric Clapton’s Albino Rolex Daytona
One of the greatest guitarists of all time and a living legend, Clapton’s been the six-stringed backbone of bands ranging from The Yardbirds (incidentally my first ever gig) to Cream. He’s also a man that knows quality, thanks to his blues-influenced rock ‘n’ roll lyricism, can afford the best. Think custom Boss & Co guns, an on-point mix of Italian tailoring and Japanese streetwear and a Rolex collection to make any watch lover swoon.
Sure, Clapton’s been known to dabble in Patek Philippe too; who of that stature hasn’t? But Rolex is the guitarist’s first horological love and he’s been seen sporting Subs, Day-Dates, GMT-Master IIs and even a Milgauss. The most legendary however is the Albino Daytona (white dials, black tachymeter) that sold for over half a million at auction, of which there are less than five in existence. Good luck finding one of those. Still, the modern Daytona Cosmograph below is a decent stand-in.
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, £10,500, available at Rolex.
Slash’s Breitling Chronomat
Nobody can pull off flaming guitar licks in a top hat quite like Slash, one of the only guys that can wear skulls, rings and rips aplenty without looking like a D&D nerd’s picture of what a rock god should look like. From the opening bars of Appetite for Destruction to his modern touring schedule and plenty of stage appearances, he’s the heavy rock gift that keeps on riffing.
That of course comes with an impressive collection of guitars – you name it, he has it – but on the watch front Slash has only been seen with a couple of pieces. Well, what can be seen through a wrist full of beads, bands and bracelets. The latest is his Hulk Submariner with its signature green dial, but my favourite is the Breitling Chronomat of the 60s. Slash’s comes with a UTC module – essentially a separate, smaller watch used for keeping track of local time – which Breitling’s newly launched Chronomats don’t; otherwise though, they maintain the same chunky, retro style that Axl Rose wouldn’t argue with.
Breitling Chronomat, £6,650, available at Breitling.
Eric Singer’s Ball Springlock Prototype
The only grown man that can wear cat make-up and not have a nearby mother call the police, Eric Singer’s not the original Kiss drummer – he’s the third, in fact – but he’s the current incumbent of the Catman persona and still tours with the heavy metal make-up artists. That said, he’s almost as well-known for his watch collection, a hereditary love he had long before taking up the whiskers.
The drummer has a serious appreciation of horology, and Singer’s collection includes the likes of Blancpain, Breguet, Panerai, Rolex, Omega – the list goes on and on. Surprisingly though, it’s Ball that he perhaps has the most interesting relationship with. The watchmaker went to Singer to test out its patented SpringLock shock protection system on stage, a bold move given what a heavy metal drummer’s wrists go through, and gave the entire band prototype watches. It’s now the only watch Singer wears on stage; if that’s not an ear-ringing endorsement, nothing is.
Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon, £2,580, available at Ball Watch.
John Paul Jones’ Rolex GMT Master
While Robert Plant and Jimmy Page soaked up most of the Led Zeppelin limelight, bassist John Paul Jones provided the backbone of the band’s sometimes trippy, sometimes chaotic, Hobbit-loving sound. Indeed, he’s considered one of the most innovative musicians of his era, and that’s saying something. On his wrist throughout a huge amount of that (often dazed and confused) time, Jones had a whole lotta love for one watch: the GMT Master.
Built in the early 70s, the two-tone timepiece is a true classic, telling two timezones rather than the three of the GMT-Master II that replaced it. It’s an understated timepiece par excellence, perfect for the quietest member of one of the loudest bands in history – and he’s still wearing it today. In fact, it doesn’t look like he’s ever taken the thing off. Not that he needs to; it’s as cool now as it was when he got it, and likely worth a record deal’s worth more.
Rolex GMT-Master II, £11,850, available at Rolex.
Brian May’s Seiko 5 Sports
It’s not a rock star watch list without a collaborative limited edition or two. Thankfully I’ve only allowed myself one this time and, while there are plenty of cool pieces to choose from (Ronnie Wood’s eclectic painted dials for Bremont comes to mind) my choice is this guitar-inspired piece from Seiko and the inimitable Brian May.
As lead guitarist of Queen, it’s impossible to overstate the impact Brian May has had on modern music. He created a stadium-filling anthem from a bit of stomping and clapping and was possibly the only fitting foil Freddy Mercury could have ever found.
The starting point for May and Seiko’s collaborative watch is the Red Special, the guitar that Brian and May Snr built out of a fireplace and old motorcycle parts. There’s no other six-string quite like it and it’s been the Queen guitarist’s go-to for pretty much his entire career. No being smashed on stage for the Red Special.
The mahogany red and shape of the guitar make for a nicely abstract dial on the Seiko 5, which has done a good job of imitating the gloss finish of the wood. It’s limited to 9,000 pieces, but given the current sexiness of Seiko among collectors, that’s not a huge number at all.
Seiko 5 Sports X Brian May, £500, available at Seiko.