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The Politician And His Rolex, A Timeless Morality Play

From Fidel Castro to JFK to Barack Obama, world leaders have long sported expensive watches. Does that create a distance with the people they lead?

The Politician And His Rolex, A Timeless Morality Play

Fidel Castro "watching" in 1962

Peter Heinz Junge/DPA/ZUMA Press
Mattia Feltri


ROME — I love the way social networks give you the real-time pulse of society. Here in Italy, for example, the plight of Afghans has apparently become boring and we've heard enough about anti-vaxxers — and so the online crowd has focused its unquenchable thirst for justice toward Roman Pastore, a young political candidate pictured wearing a Rolex watch.

It actually wasn't even a Rolex, but that doesn't matter: Rolexes have now become a political talking point for the nation. Some might have been taken aback by the sheer number of self-appointed judges sentencing a single defendant — guilty of belonging to a very solid tradition of Rolex-wearing politicians. But I was more surprised by the reasons for the conviction: how can a politician wealthy enough to wear a Rolex at a young age, the reasoning goes, understand the frustrations of the people?

That's a great question. Fidel Castro had a Rolex, and did the people think he understood their plight? Debatable. Che Guevara was also a Rolex wearer, as was John F. Kennedy. Who can say for sure if either really was in touch with the people?

The Dalai Lama owns a pair of Rolexes as part of a collection of about 15 luxury watches, and just how knowledgeable he is in terms of people is still to be ascertained. Another fancy watch aficionado is Barack Obama, though to be precise he was spotted wearing not just any Rolex, but a Cellini, priced well above $10,000. And let us not forget another great American, Martin Luther King, who seemed to understand people in his "dream" well before his times. Yes, he wore a Rolex — it was a gold Datejust, very similar to the gold Datejust of another notable icon of the 20th century: Pope John Paul II.

Perhaps the tale should be reversed, to discover which politicians do not own a Rolex. For example, the leader of Italy's far-right Lega party, Matteo Salvini, famous for shuttering ports to refugee rescue boats, is said to understand people so well he can even pick up their scent. And no, he doesn't wear any watch at all.

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Photograph of Police and emergency services working at the site of a shooting in Jerusalem that saw two gunmen kill three people at a bus station in the Israeli capital.

Police and emergency services are working at the site of a shooting in Jerusalem that saw two gunmen kill three people at a bus station in the Israeli capital.

Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

👋 ନମସ୍କାର*

Welcome to Thursday, where Hamas claims responsibility for a shooting that killed three people in Jerusalem just hours after Israel extended a ceasefire in Gaza, Henry Kissinger dies at age 100, and Singapore gets some company at the top of the world’s most expensive cities. Meanwhile, Turin-based daily La Stampa’s correspondent at the Israel-Gaza border describes conditions amid the fragile ceasefire.

[*Namaskār - Odia, India]

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