Monday, July 22, 2024
He thought a cow ate his Rolex. It turned up five decades later.

He thought a cow ate his Rolex. It turned up five decades later.

World News

James Steele had saved up all the extra money he made from milk deliveries in his early 20s to buy a silver Air-King Rolex around 1950. He’d paid about 100 British pounds for the white-faced watch and proudly wore it, whether sporting dress clothes or riding a tractor on his family’s dairy farm about 150 miles northwest of London.

But one day in the 1970s, Steele was bringing in his cows for milking when the Rolex broke off his wrist and fell into a grassy pasture. He searched for it for days but eventually gave up, figuring the watch had ended up in a cow’s stomach. Confident he would never see it again, Steele bought a few replacements over the following decades.

Now 95, Steele has been reunited with his long-lost Rolex after a metal-detector enthusiast recently found it on the family’s land in Shropshire, England.

“I’d written it off,” Steele said, adding that he recognized the Rolex immediately, even after five decades. “I never thought I’d see it again, but I was over the moon when the detector found it.”

Steele’s son, Andrew Steele, had invited the metal-detector aficionado to the family’s property, Treflach Hall. As a young boy, Andrew had discovered a coin under a cedar tree on the land and learned it was a “token” of the kind Brits used for two centuries amid a shortage of government currency. His discovery sparked a lifelong love of local history.

As an adult, Andrew was confident there were more treasures to be found on the family farm, which he now oversees with his brother Jamie.

“I just wanted the land to talk to me,” said Andrew, 57.


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To see what his land might tell him, Andrew linked up with Liam King this year and asked whether he would be interested in combing through the Steele family pastures for historical knickknacks.

That’s when the Rolex turned up. King said he didn’t think much of it at first; it looked like any other broken watch.

He gave it to Andrew, who shared it with his father. James reminded Andrew about the lost watch he had heard about while growing up. This was that watch, James told him.

King, 38, began metal detecting around 2022, years after he would watch people wave detectors on the beach as he fished while growing up. Since getting his own metal-detecting equipment, King has found a host of treasures, including Roman coins and brooches, and even a toggle — a predecessor to buttons — that he believes could be from the Iron Age.

The Steeles’ farm yielded a few such historical prizes, including a Roman coin and a signet ring that Andrew said appeared to be medieval. The land is dotted with relics from English-Welsh skirmishes and the 17th-century English Civil War, he said.

But James’s decades-old Rolex was a special find. Watch enthusiasts from around the world have contacted the family to express their delight at the discovery, Andrew said. One enthusiast in the Netherlands even offered to try to get the Rolex working again.

The watch’s current value is unclear, but Andrew worries that his father might misplace it around the house, creating another puzzle. So for now, James carries the Rolex as much as he can, reluctant to even set it down.

The watch is symbolic for the family, a relic of another era in the elder Steele’s life. Whether it ever made its way through a cow’s digestive tract, meanwhile, remains a mystery.

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