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Talking watches with Sonia Rolland
Watch Stories

Talking watches with Sonia Rolland

Friday, 05 February 2021
By Frank Rousseau
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Frank Rousseau

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7 min read

An actress, model and supporter of humanitarian causes, Sonia Rolland has a weakness for watches that are elegant and hard-working. Like her.

Crowned Miss France at the age of 18, the face of l’Oréal’s Mixa skincare brand and ambassador for Guerlain alongside Angelina Jolie, the Rwandan-French actress Sonia Rolland is also an activist for women’s causes, through her documentaries, and for children in Africa through Maïsha Africa, the charitable organisation she presides. As a mother herself, she juggles her time between bringing up her children and a busy career. Her recipe for success? Incredible energy, a strong work ethic and straight talking. Including when it comes to watches.

What’s your personal relationship with watches?

I have a thing for men’s watches, though not the “look at me”, status symbol kind. It’s quite simple, really. All I do is follow my heart. The first watch I bought myself was a Tank Américaine in white gold on a leather strap, a model that Cartier recently reissued. I spoiled myself with my first pay cheque: a Tank and a three-piece suit from Yves Saint Laurent. I chose the Tank as the perfect fit for my slim wrist and because it’s so very elegant.

Carré © Boucheron
Carré © Boucheron
Is it the only watch you own?

No. Boucheron was kind enough to gift me a man’s watch, a Carré in white gold. I’m also the proud owner of a pink gold Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso: my treat to myself after signing the contract for Léa Parker [a police drama on French TV]. Those are the three watches I cherish the most. Then there are the ones that were gifts from admirers, like the gentleman I met at a charity dinner who thought he could win me over by having a diamond-studded Rolex delivered to my hotel. There have been a few watches like that and every one of them has ended up in a safe. Strangely enough, it’s rare that a man has given me a watch I’ve actually liked!

Do you remember the first “grown-up” watch you were given?

Yes I do. It was a Pequignet that was presented to me for my election as Miss France. It was set with diamonds and, unusually, could also be worn clipped to a lapel. I also remember the first watches I gave my parents: simple, elegant “his and hers” Festinas.

Oyster Perpetual vintage © Rolex
Oyster Perpetual vintage © Rolex
Have you ever gifted a watch to a man other than your father?

I gave a 1960 vintage Rolex to the father of my daughter, Kahina [Sonia’s ex partner, Jalil Lespert, a French actor and director]. The minute I set eyes on it, I could picture it being worn by Hollywood legends such as Paul Newman or Robert Redford. I actually bought two, one for him and one for me. It was the first time he’d owned a watch of any great value.

Why do you think so many people lust after Rolex?

It’s hard to say. Possibly because men over 40 like to show their success by what they wear on their wrist. Personally I prefer vintage Rolex to the current styles. I absolutely adore my vintage Rolex. The only drawback is that it constantly needs winding. And it’s quite noisy. Because it’s vintage, it reminds me of my grandmother who used to wear a gold watch with a tiny dial. So sophisticated! There was a time when people would fall in love with a watch and buy it simply for that reason. Now they’re influenced by advertising. They’ll buy this or that model for what they think it says about them. It’s all part of our consumer society and obsession with appearances. I don’t think that way. Can I prove it? Well, I have a Rolex that I never wear!

Do you consider Swiss Made to be a guarantee of quality?

Yes. It also reflects centuries of expertise. For years I’ve been fascinated by complication watches and the Swiss excel in that department. I love it when you can actually see the movement ticking away, in fact one of the first things I look at in a watch is what’s inside! Obviously this type of watch tends to carry a hefty price tag, meaning it can spend a lot of time shut away in a safe. And when you do dare to wear it, you wonder if you shouldn’t have hired a couple of bodyguards for the night!

You’re no stranger to the red carpet and a regular at the Cannes Film Festival. What would be the ideal watch for the occasion?

Red carpets are glamorous affairs and it’s rare for a woman to pair an evening gown with a watch. If, on the other hand, I’ve opted for a trouser suit, then I’ll accessorise with a jewellery watch. I’ve worn Boucheron and Montblanc on the red carpet on several occasions. I actually gave my godfather a Montblanc dive watch as a gift. When my father passed away, he became like a second father to me. He’s always watched over me and given me his full support. He used to pay for my plane tickets when I couldn’t afford them myself. When I set off to build a career in New York, he also helped me out financially. Back then I was an up-and-coming actress without the money I would earn from modelling. If he hadn’t been there, I could never have followed my dreams. A watch was a way for me to say how much I admire him, like a seal on the bond between us. He’s a sporty guy so a dive watch made sense.

Sonia Rolland © Laurent Campus
Sonia Rolland © Laurent Campus
Speaking of diving, you play a police commissioner in Tropiques Criminels, a popular French TV show that’s filmed in Martinique. Is it possible for a watch to become a “character” in a fictional drama?

Absolutely! In a crime drama, for example, every time a suspect is taken into custody and interviewed, the officer will always notify the exact time the interview starts and ends. In Tropiques Criminels you’ll see me look at my watch in a very brisk, authoritarian way. It’s all part of the atmosphere. I have my gun and my handcuffs in one hand, my watch in the other! My character wears a Festina. She’s a police commissioner, remember. As a public servant, she can hardly turn up to work wearing a Rolex. If she does, it means she’s taking bribes! (laughs)

OK, so if you were a corrupt police officer, what would you spend your ill-gotten gains on?

I can’t really picture myself as a corrupt police officer, but, well it would either be something vintage or a Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition. Quite a beauty! Obviously we’re in a different price range here. And if I were really going to treat myself, it would be the Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel. An absolutely fascinating watch.

What’s your opinion of smartwatches?

As someone who appreciates craftsmanship and mechanical watches, they go against the things I believe in. I need to feel that the watch on my wrist is the work of people whose heart shares the same beat as the mechanical masterpieces they create. You don’t get that sensation with a smartwatch. Technology takes away the magic. Every watch, every piece of jewellery I own corresponds to a particular moment in my life. Milestones.

Last year, in Los Angeles, you were photographed by Laurent Campus for Carl F. Bucherer. Were you already familiar with the brand?

No I wasn’t, and they’re definitely the business! They have a look, a design, that’s both vintage and modern. They’re pretty much what I look for in a watch: a classic side that’s still bang up-to-date.

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