May 28, 2023

The Art of Being Winston Churchill: Watches


In 1894, an eighteen-year-old Winston Churchill brought to the London watchmakers M. F. Dent a prized possession for repair: a gift timepiece from his father that had been knocked from his hand and broken. No sooner was the watch returned, mended, than young Winston dropped it again, this time into a brook. Showing overpowering enterprise, he then engineered its retrieval, employing twenty-three men to dig a new channel for the stream before paying the local fire brigade to pump the stream dry. His father, Lord Randolph, was not impressed, or amused. After the watch was repaired a second time, he gave it to Winston’s brother Jack, who kept it all his life.

In 1928, Churchill brought another watch to Dent’s, a Breguet first purchased in 1890 by his cousin, the Duke of Marlborough. A model 765 with minute repeater and flyback second hand, this was the watch everyone in his family would refer to as “The Turnip” because of its shape and size. Churchill wore it for the rest of his life attached to a heavy gold-plated waistcoat chain that he linked with a silver head of Napoleon; a keepsake medallion of the Westminster Abbey Division by-election he narrowly lost in 1924; a small round case for holding gold sovereigns; and his wedding gift from Clementine, a garnet stone set in a gold heart.

Barry Singer is proprietor of Chartwell Booksellers in New York City and author of Churchill Style (2012).

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