The British racecar driver and Formula 1 champion Jenson Button sat in an armchair inside the Rolex hospitality suite at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in mid-August at the height of Monterey Car Week and reminisced about his favorite Rolexes.
“This one’s got a lot of history,” he said, looking down at his yellow-gold Daytona. “It was my dad’s. I bought it for him for his 70th. He actually chose it. I remember thinking, ‘Really, it’s black and brown? Does that work?’ And then he put it on and yeah, it really works. He sadly passed away the next year, and I’ve inherited it.”
Button, a Rolex testimonee since 2022, was at the famed track to meet with journalists and cheer on friends competing in the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, one of Car Week’s signature events. It was clear that Button’s love for the brand developed long before their official partnership.
“I got into Formula 1 in 2000 as a 19-year-old and thought, ‘I’m going to splurge,’ and bought myself a Rolex Daytona,” he said. “It was the racing connection, but also, it looked really cool.”
Take a straw poll of the gearheads who flock to the Monterey Peninsula in August to pay homage to every kind of car, from vintage Delahayes to over-the-top supercars boasting 1,800 horsepower, and you’re likely to find that most own a Rolex, probably several.
At The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering, Monterey Car Week’s most exclusive event (the cost of a single ticket is $1,295) — where rare Porsches, museum-quality Ferraris and high-performance Paganis are displayed along the course of the Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel Valley — founder Gordon McCall explained the love car enthusiasts have for Rolex as a reflection of the Geneva watchmaker’s ubiquitous presence in the world of motoring.
“I look at the support Rolex puts into motoring, into motorsports in general — it’s huge,” McCall said. “We like to think it’s mutually beneficial; these are great Rolex clients that are here. It goes back to Rolex’s commitment to motorsports. Talk to any of the drivers. The proud ones who’ve won Daytona are all wearing their Daytona. It just goes hand in hand.”
Rolex’s involvement in the automotive world dates back to the 1930s, when Sir Malcolm Campbell became the first driver to break the 300 mph barrier driving his car, Bluebird (wearing an Oyster on his wrist, naturally).
Since then, Rolex has dominated the motorsports category with an approach to sponsorships that prioritizes both breadth and depth.
The brand first partnered with track racing in Daytona Beach in the late 1950s and became the title sponsor of the iconic 24-hour motor race in 1992.
The Geneva maker revved up its association with the culture, heritage, and tradition surrounding automobiles in 1997 when it partnered with the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Monterey Car Week’s flagship event. The gathering, which this year saw a 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster crowned “best in show,” began in 1950, when the first Pebble Beach Road Race took place on the Monterey Peninsula.
In 2001, Rolex became the official timepiece of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the legendary French endurance race that celebrated its 100th anniversary earlier this summer. That same year, the brand teamed with the Monterey Motorsports Reunion, founded in 1974 as a competition for historic racecars, becoming its title sponsor in 2010.
The year 2004 saw Rolex once again embrace the more genteel side of motorsports when it became the official timepiece of the Goodwood Revival, and title sponsor of the Rolex Drivers’ Club.
In 2005, the watchmaker became the official timepiece of the Quail, just two years after its founding, cementing the brand’s position among the crème de la crème of the car industry. In 2013, Rolex assumed the title of global partner and official timepiece of the Formula 1 World Championship, having supported three-time Formula 1 world champion Sir Jackie Stewart since 1968.
By 2016, when Rolex became the official timepiece of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), its reign over the prestige motoring circuit was complete.
Across all of these related but disparate events, the Rolex name and logo are all but impossible to ignore. From the clocks positioned along the Pebble Beach golf course, to the Daytonas strapped to the wrists of the drivers careering around the treacherous Corkscrew curve at Laguna Seca, the brand was, quite literally, everywhere in Monterey.
“We associate it with motorsport,” Button said. “For years, we’ve seen Rolex banners around the track and Rolex sponsoring events. The atmosphere they bring to motorsport is very special.”
Beyond a shared appreciation for precision, craftsmanship, mechanical engineering, and timing, the brand and the world of motoring are both committed to pushing the limits of human and technical performance.
At this year’s Pebble Beach Concours, a client of Ben Bridge Jeweler—the Seattle-based chain is a longtime Rolex retailer—who owns both fast cars and fancy watches (he described himself as a “Lamborghini guy”) drew an apt comparison.
“Rolex is like Porsche,” he said. “You always come back to it. You might have another watch in your wardrobe, but you always come back to Rolex.”