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1946 Rolex Chronograph ref. 3525 "POW"

Long before Rolex was regarded as a luxury brand, the company was a manufacturer of precision timekeeping tools and even sent watches to captured Allied troops during World War II. One of the models made available to the detained soldiers in POW camps was the Rolex Oyster Chronograph reference 3525, which is now frequently referred to by its “Prisoner of War'' nickname.

In our latest installment of What Is On My Wrist, Craft + Tailored’s CEO Cameron Barr dives into the history behind a beautiful 1946 stainless steel Rolex Oyster Chronograph ref. 3525 to explain what exactly makes this particular watch so special and why this reference is one of his favorite Rolex chronographs of all time.

Produced during the 1940s, the reference 3525 offers a more artful approach to design compared to what you will find on many of the later-era Rolex chronographs such as the Daytona, yet it still represents a rugged and highly capable tool watch. The “Prisoner of War” or “POW” nickname comes from the fact that the ref. 3525 was one of the models that was made available to captured Allied soldiers during the war. Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf personally oversaw a program that would send replacement watches to soldiers who had their previous ones confiscated, completely on the honor system and with no payment required until after the war. While Rolex also produced the reference 3525 in both two-tone and solid gold configurations, it was the stainless steel examples that were sent to captured soldiers and therefore go by the now-famous “POW” nickname.

One important detail to note is that the Rolex reference 3525 was branded as an “Oyster” chronograph model, which denoted its water resistant casing. What is most interesting here is that this designation didn’t start making an appearance on Rolex chronographs until the later-era Daytona watches added screw-down pushers to the collection many years later. Powered by a manual-wind Valjoux movement, the Rolex Oyster Chronograph 3525 features a two-register layout with a centrally-mounted seconds hand, along with both tachymeter and telemeter scales printed along the periphery of its dial. The ability to track and record time proved to be invaluable for captured Allied forces, and Rolex reference 3525 chronograph watches were famously used by the soldiers who escaped the German Stalag Luft III POW camp, which later inspired the 1963 Steve McQueen Film, The Great Escape

While Rolex produced the Oyster Chronograph 3525 with both black and white dials, this particular example features a white dial with gilt hands and hour markers that is in incredibly well-preserved overall condition. Some versions produced during the era featured luminous dials and hands finished with radium, but since this particular example never had radium applied to its surfaces, it does not exhibit the heavy degradation and “radium burn” marks on the dial that are characteristic of the reference 3525 watches that were originally fitted with luminous components. Adding to the fantastic condition and provenance of this specific watch is a sharp and honest case that appears to be unpolished, along with the mess card from the original owner, who was a first lieutenant and used this card to receive his meals while serving in the armed forces and wearing this watch.


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