Long before Rolexes were status symbols, British pilots prized the timepieces for their accuracy. Unfortunately, when the men were shot down in World War II, their watches were the first thing captors confiscated.

This news didn’t sit well with Rolex cofounder Hans Wilsdorf, a German expat, who decided he needed to support the troops in his own way. Throughout the war any British pilot whose Rolex fell into enemy hands simply needed to write a letter explaining what had happened. Wilsdorf, in response, would immediately send replacements along with an invoice instructing the recipient not to “even think of settlement during the war.”

Thousands of British officers took Wilsdorf up on his offer, and the German-born watchmaker’s implied confidence in an Allied victory buoyed recipients’ morale. There were strategic benefits to the watch-credit program too: The Rolex 3525 Oyster chronograph sent to Clive Nutting proved crucial in timing the movements of prison guards in the “Great Escape” of March 1944.

Wilsdorf’s generosity also paid unexpected dividends. American servicemen who heard their British allies rave about Rolexes returned home with a new appreciation for Wilsdorf’s wares. Rolex, previously an obscure brand stateside, suddenly became the must-have watch.

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