What happened when a rodeo cowboy’s Rolex Explorer met a 2000lb bull…Luke Benedictus
EDITOR’S NOTE: Eric Wind is one of the world’s foremost vintage watch experts and the owner of Wind Vintage. In this interview, he tells the amazing tale of how he acquired and restored the Rolex Explorer of rodeo cowboy and bull-riding champion, Gary Leffew – a watch that had an unfortunate run-in with a 2000lb bull.
WHY HAS THE ROLEX EXPLORER ENDURED? I think it’s all about the purity, simplicity, but also the ruggedness of the watch. It’s become so iconic that we even talk about “Explorer style” dials on other watches. So I think that’s definitely a huge part of it. It goes beyond the ascent of Everest – where, of course, the watches they actually wore didn’t look like the Explorers we know today . But there’s still that idea of this watch being made for a mountaineer, something that’s light and built without a bezel that might pop off if it hit a sharp edge.
Ian Fleming who wrote the Bond books wore one and his references to Bond’s Rolex seem to reflect his own Explorer. And a lot of stylish men today make the 1016 their “dail y watch”, whether that’s Fred Savage or Randall Park. It goes very well, obviously with a suit, or with a polo or a t-shirt or anything . But it also looks wonderful on a lady ‘s wrist because of the sizing . So it is just the quintessential kind of perfect “one watch”. If you’re going to have one watch in life, it could very well be an Explorer. But this one in particular is special.
Gary Leffew was an amazing cowboy and still has a bull riding school. He won the 1969 Calgary stampede bull riding competition, which is a legendary competition originall y from California. And when he won the bull riding competition, Rolex decided to give him a Rolex Explorer and take a famous photo of it on his wrist, and put it in their advertisement. Later when Gary had the watch in his gear bag, a 2000lb bull stepped on the watch and he never got it fixed.
How did I hear about it? I’ve got a friend Steve Bridges who’s got more of a modern-focused watch company called Flâneur, in Colorado. Steve was a cowboy as well in his younger days and was familiar with Gary Leffew, and then he bought a copy of the Rolex poster from Ad Patina [the website that sells vintage watch ads] with Gary in it. It was his favourite ad ever because he’d been a cowboy and liked Rolex. Then Steve reached out to Gary and asked about the watch, but Gary wasn’t sure exactly where it was. It turned out that Steve’s ex wife had it and lo and behold, had just had it sitting for many years in a box. So Steve decided to buy it.
Steve and I are good friends, but he’s more of a modern dealer. So he offered it to me and I said I’d take a look. I was extremely excited for many reasons. One, I don’t know of any other watches from print ads, where we actually know where the watch is. And it’s absolutely Gary ’s watch because it has this rare dial variation where it’s called a super fat font, where the 3 , 6, 9 are very flat and very wide. So it’s absolutely his watch, and to have the ad that shows the watch when he won it is pretty insane. And then just the fact that it was stepped on by a bull…
After I bought it, nervousness set in of gettin g the watch restored. The hands were bent from the impact of that bull, the dial itself was actually a little bit bent. But Greg Petronzi the watchmaker at True Patina in New Jersey restored it and did a great job. Now it’s back in chronometer spec, which is great. It’s just a phenomenal watch to wear because of the history and everything about it. The configuration with the super fat numerals… it’s just a really special watch.
For me, that watch is what watch collecting is all about. It’s finding something that has such a tremendous story , that has lived a life. I love to own and buy watches that are kind of untouched, unp olished, not restored to look like new. So the fact this watch was all original was really special as well. So it was a combination of the story , that condition, the fact that it was in an advertisement, just all of these things together.
This article first appeared in Time+Tide’s NOW Magazine