The late legendary watch designer, Gérald Genta had plenty of hits to his name: the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the Patek Philippe Nautilus, and the Cartier Pasha – just to name a few. But did you know that he had a hand in designing a Rolex watch too? The Rolex King Midas to be exact, and in true Genta form, this is far from your traditional, run-of-the-mill design. Let’s find out more about the rare Rolex Cellini watch that both Elvis and John Wayne once owned.
The Rolex King Midas
In 1964, Rolex introduced the heaviest gold watch on the market – aptly named after Greek mythology’s King Midas, who was famous for his ability to turn everything he touched into gold. Featuring a manually-wound movement and an unconventional silhouette comprised of an asymmetrical case with a thick integrated bracelet, the King Midas watch was carved from a single block of 18k yellow or white gold and weighed between 150 and 200 grams.
In addition to being the heaviest gold watch of its day, it was also the most expensive Rolex of its time. Just in case one might forget the name of the watch, the words “King” and “Midas” are engraved on the side of the case, flanking the saw-toothed winding crown.
The design of the Rolex King Midas draws its inspiration from the Parthenon temple of Athena in Greece. If you place the watch on its side with the winding crown facing up, you will see the triangular tip resembles the temple roof, while the thick bracelet grooves represent the columns. Taking design cues from objects was a signature Gérald Genta approach, as later seen in the Royal Oak (inspired by a diving helmet) and the Nautilus (inspired by a porthole on a ship).
Yet another uncommon trait of the King Midas is that it was produced as a limited edition model (unusual for Rolex), complete with engraved numbers on the back of the bracelet. The first King Midas model, the ref. 9630, was limited to 1,000 pieces, followed by the ref. 3580 in the 1970s, which was also produced in a limited series.
In contrast to the unusual case and bracelet, the dial of the Rolex King Midas is relatively classic and simple in design. At the center of the small square dial is the pair of hour and minute hands, accompanied by the Rolex crown and Greek letters spelling out the “MIDAS” name. Surprisingly for a watch from this era, the dial is protected by a sapphire crystal rather than one made from acrylic.
A Midas for A King, A Duke, and A Villain
The King Midas may not be a famous Rolex watch today, but some legendary men wore it decades ago. The most famous of them all was the King of Rock & Roll, Elvis Presley. The watch (No. 343 ) was given to Elvis after performing six shows at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in 1970. Today, that exact Rolex King Midas sits on display at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.
Additionally, Actor John Wayne also owned a Rolex King Midas (No. 557), which was sold in 2011 during the “The Personal Property of John Wayne” auction. Back then, the Duke’s Rolex sold for $26,290, which was well over three times its pre-sale estimate.
The Rolex Midas even made an appearance in a James Bond movie. During the 1974 film, The Man with the Golden Gun, the watch can be spotted on the wrist of Francisco Scaramanga – a villain played by Christopher Lee. However, it is important to point out that his Midas was a later model that belonged to the Cellini collection, rather than one of the original, limited-edition Rolex King Midas timepieces.
There is no doubt that the King Midas watch is an anomaly in Rolex’s lineup – it is astonishingly different from the other watches made by the Crown. However, that is precisely what makes the Rolex King Midas so intriguing. Designed by a watch industry legend and worn by at least two legendary entertainers, the mysterious King Midas watch story is one worth telling.