Inside King Charles III’s Timeless Watch Collection
King Charles III in Rabat, Morocco, 5 April 2011. Photograph by Mr Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Few of King Charles’ attributes are as well documented as his keen appreciation for traditional crafts. From architecture and ceramics to stone masonry, wood carving and metalwork, His Majesty’s deep passion for craftsmanship covers the most niche of heritage skills and contemporary innovations.
Therefore, when it comes to the fine art of watchmaking, the new British monarch is, as one would expect, quite the connoisseur. Indeed, over the past 64 years serving as the Prince of Wales, Charles has been quietly staking his claim as a true watch aficionado, cultivating one of the most diverse selections of luxury timepieces in the game.
Boasting styles from top-of-the-line Swiss watchmakers, such as Jaeger-LeCoultre and Patek Philippe, Charles’ collection of well-tuned classics perfectly exemplifies his preference for taste over flashiness above all else. Beyond this, there are also several off-beat picks in his personal haul that showcase a penchant for brands outside the mainstream.
“King Charles’ collection of well-tuned classics exemplifies his preference for taste over flashiness”
Case in point is perhaps his most commonly-worn watch: an under-the-radar gem by Parmigiani Fleurier, worn by the new monarch on the first full day of his reign while attending to mourning crowds in the wake of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. The young Swiss brand, founded by Mr Michel Parmigiani in 1996, is something of a well-kept secret among watch buffs. Charles wears a yellow-gold automatic Toric Chronograph, designed around 2005, that he has sported since at least 2015 on occasions such as the wedding of Prince Harry and Ms Meghan Markle.
According to the brand, Charles purchased the watch in Switzerland, probably in Klosters, the Swiss resort the royal family often visited during the winter holidays. The watch itself is an old-school beauty, marked by the hand knurling on the bezel, a signature of the brand since its beginning.
Similarly, Charles also owns a Breguet Classique. Despite being one of the most pioneering brands in horological history, Breguet is heavily underrated in today’s market.
From left: King Charles III trekking In the foothills of the Himalayas, Nepal. 11 December 1980. At The Reform Club, Pall Mall, London, 16 September 1999. Watching polo at Cowdray Park, Sussex, 20 July 1986. All photographs by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images
On the occasion of his 60th birthday in 2008, His Majesty received what is almost certainly the rarest piece in his rotation – a one-off timepiece from the Swiss brand bearing the Prince of Wales’ seal (three feathers rising through a gold coronet of alternate crosses and fleur-de-lys) and the inscription: “HRH The Prince of Wales in commemoration of your 60th birthday”. In yellow gold with contrasting guilloché dial details, it’s both understated and a true showcase for traditional finishing.
At the other end of the spectrum – epitomising mid-century simplicity over intricate decoration – Charles has long favoured his trusty Patek Philippe ref 3445, a style nicknamed the Disco Volante for its distinctive flying saucer-style case shape. With its three-hand dial and yellow-gold case with recessed crown, the ref 3445, much like Charles himself, is quietly stylish. But beyond its looks, the timepiece has quite the royal history. The story goes that in the early years of their relationship, Princess Diana would often wear Charles’ Patek alongside her own yellow-gold Calatrava ref 3618 when he was playing polo – a rather touching way of wishing her then-fiancé good luck in the match.
Another household name in His Majesty’s personal haul is Cartier, a heritage jeweller steeped in more than a century’s worth of royal history. Notable clients of the maison include Princess Diana, who wore a Tank Louis, a gift from her father, Earl Edward John Spencer, while Princess Catherine’s signature style accessory is her stainless-steel Ballon Bleu de Cartier, presented to her by Prince William just before they embarked on a tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2014.
“Charles knows the benefits of a rectangular watch. But he doesn’t restrict himself to only wearing dress watches for formal occasions”
Charles’ collection includes several references. He has been spotted with a yellow-gold and stainless-steel Santos-Dumont de Cartier on a simple black leather strap, and more recently a yellow-gold Tank Louis Cartier, also on timeless black alligator leather.
As befits a man with such a strong association with Savile Row tailoring, Charles knows the benefits of a rectangular watch. But he doesn’t restrict himself to only wearing so-called dress watches for formal occasions. As well as the various Cartiers, Charles also owns a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, a wrist staple among British royalty since its introduction in 1931. King Edward VIII, Charles’ great uncle who abdicated the British throne in 1936 to marry the divorced American Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, wore a bespoke two-tone Reverso Calibre 411, the first model with central seconds in the collection, in stainless steel and yellow gold. The defining feature, however, came engraved on the underside of the case: a royal crest with his name, crown and the year of his planned coronation.
Charles’ choice of a yellow-gold Reverso, whose distinctive swivelling mechanism was originally designed to be worn on the polo field, is another all-time classic for the royal who inherited his love of polo from his late father, the Duke of Edinburgh.
From left: King Charles III skiing in Klosters, Switzerland, 24 January 1981. In Stratford-upon-Avon, 23 April 2016. In Annai Village, Iwokrama rainforest, Guyana, 27 February 2000. All photographs by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images
Last but not least, we must call out one watch in King Charles’ life that is unlike the others: neither gold nor particularly elegant, it isn’t from a power-broker luxury brand or a little-known atelier. It is, however, probably one of the most personal. Seen on his wrist in the 1970s and 1980s, it is a stainless-steel chronograph from Hamilton of the kind that was issued to British military personnel.
Charles trained as an RAF pilot in 1971, going on to join the Royal Navy in the same year, where he would serve until 1976, having qualified as a helicopter pilot in 1974. The watch is assumed to have been issued to Charles during this time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it isn’t often seen on his wrist, but does still make an appearance when he carries out engagements in one of his military roles – as Prince of Wales and Colonel-in-Chief of the Army Air Corps, he was seen wearing it on meetings with serving officers.
All in all, Charles displays a true watch collector’s appreciation. Picking the right watch for the outfit or occasion, but also knowing that a change of strap, or an unexpected juxtaposition of a more formal watch with a casual look, can pay dividends. And like many watch collectors, he has a favourite, to which he returns time and again. It would be very surprising to see anything other than his trusty Parmigiani Toric chronograph on his wrist for his coronation on 6 May at Westminster Abbey.