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Al Capone: Gangster, Philanthropist, and Watch Fan

By Sebastian Swart
12_PTR_Al Capone_2-1

Prostitution, illegal gambling, and protection rackets: These were just a few of the dangerous businesses run by the American gangster Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone. The colorful mobster, sometimes known by the nickname “Scarface,” ruled the Chicago underworld in the 1920s and 30s. Born in 1899 to Italian immigrant parents in New York, Capone was one of nine children and grew up in early 20th-century Brooklyn. Expelled from school at the age of 14, he was involved with gangs in his teens, during which time he learned the things he needed for his future career in crime. 

Al Capone’s role model and mentor was New York gangster Frankie Yale. Under his wing, Capone learned that the best way to get through life was with kindness and patience; violence was always a last resort. Capone obtained the nickname “Scarface” at the age of 18 when gangster Frank Galluccio slashed him on the left side of his face three times with a knife during an altercation about Galluccio’s sister. 

So much for a last resort. Capone moved to Chicago in 1919 following a fight that saw him batter a rival gangster into the hospital for five weeks. Together with legendary crime boss Johnny Torrio, Capone helped build the infamous Cosa Nostra Chicago Outfit and would eventually come to lead the organization. Along with protection rackets, prostitution, and illegal gambling, Capone expanded his operations to include bootlegging and illicit alcohol sales during Prohibition. 

After the rise comes the fall, as the saying goes, and Capone was no exception. Convicted on five counts of tax evasion and money laundering, he was sentenced to a hefty fine and 11 years in prison in 1931. Paroled in 1939, Capone largely withdrew from the public eye. He died at the age of 48 in Florida a few days after suffering a stroke.  

Capone was more than just a legendary criminal, however. He was the first gangster around whom an entire pop culture would emerge, complete with its own film genre: the mafia flick. The following generations posthumously formed Capone into a hero. During his lifetime, Capone was also considered a respectable businessman and philanthropist. He was a fashion-conscious lover of the arts and luxury goods and always dressed the part, donning expensive suits, shoes, hats, and, you guessed it: an expensive luxury watch.

Al Capone’s Rolex Prince

Several reliable sources state that Al Capone wore a gold Rolex Prince. At the time, the then-young Swiss brand was still working to make a name for itself. The wristwatch was also a relatively new invention and had yet to establish itself as a replacement to the pocket watch. 

Rolex first introduced the Prince model at the end of the 1920s and would produce it until the early 1950s. The Prince’s rectangular Art Deco-style case turned more than a few heads when it first arrived on the market. The Prince also boasted an unusual dual dial setup with a decentralized seconds display at 6 o’clock and was powered by a chronometer-certified hand-wound movement. 

Capone probably wore the yellow gold ref. 3140. This model might make a rather modest impression by today’s standard, but back then, this kind of watch enjoyed the status held by today’s gold Rolex Daytona or a luxury Patek Philippe timepiece. 

Al Capone was one of the world's first Rolex fans.
Al Capone was one of the world’s first Rolex fans.

Rolex reintroduced the Prince in four different varieties in its 2005 Cellini Prince collection. It produced these timepieces until 2015. The hand-wound COSC-certified Rolex caliber 7040 ticks away inside them. Options include two white gold versions, one in 18-karat yellow gold, and one in Rolex’s proprietary Everose gold. By the way, you can see the 18-karat ref. 5440/8 with its gorgeous champagne dial adorning the wrist of Willy Bank, played by Al Pacino, in the 2007 heist comedy blockbuster Ocean’s Thirteen. 

Speaking of Pacino, he also played the leading role in 1983’s Scarface, a crime drama that many fans understand as an homage to Al Capone. In it, Pacino’s character Tony Montana wears an Omega La Magique. But that’s a (gangster) watch story for another day. 

The 2005 reintroduction: the Rolex Prince 5440/8
The 2005 reintroduction: the Rolex Prince 5440/8

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About the Author

Sebastian Swart

I've been using Chrono24 for years to buy and sell watches, as well as for research purposes. I've had an infatuation with watches for as long as I can remember. As a …

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