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Rare gold Rolex watch belonging to Royal Family’s beloved Ballater Stationmaster goes under the hammer

A bidding war is expected for the vintage Rolex Tudor watch awarded to Alexander Milne by British Railways in 1961 to mark his retirement after 45 years' dedicated service.

A rare watch belonging to Alexander Milne, a stationmaster at Ballater Station, is going to auction next week. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson
A rare watch belonging to Alexander Milne, a stationmaster at Ballater Station, is going to auction next week. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

A rare, gold Rolex Tudor watch belonging to one of the final stationmasters to royalty at Ballater Station is to go under the hammer next week.

The vintage timepiece was a treasured possession of Alexander Milne, awarded to him by British Railways upon his retirement for 45 years’ service.

As well overseeing operations at the station, the stationmaster at Ballater was responsible for looking after the Royal Family on their holidays to Balmoral.

The engraving on the back of the watch. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

When news of his retirement reached Clarence House, the royals got in touch to thank him for his dedicated service.

A letter from Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s lady-in-waiting, along with a signed photo of the Queen Mother, is included in the sale.

The letter and signed photograph. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

With its Rolex stamp, royal provenance and connection to a bygone era of railways, the 9ct gold watch is expected to far exceed its auction estimate of £400-£600.

Ballater Stationmaster’s watch expected to exceed estimates

Clive Hampshire, auctioneer at charity Smile Scotland,  says it’s “a proud moment” for the Oyne auction house to sell a piece of local history.

Auctioneer Clive Hampshire is pictured alongside the watch, and other items which will be auctioned off, such as an 18th century painted grandfather clock face.  Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

And already there’s been a flurry of interest in the watch, which is in full working order.

He added: “It appeals to people who collect royalty, people who collect railway memorabilia and people who collect watches.

“When we put it live on our website within half an hour we had a bid of £300.

“We had a dealer who said the signed Queen Mother photo should have been in the auction on its own because that’s worth money – it’s actually signed by her, it’s not printed.

“But we wanted to keep it altogether as Mr Milne had.

A closer look at the watch. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

“The watch he was given is a Tudor, and the crown on the side for winding it is stamped with the Rolex stamp.

“Rolex once made Tudor watches, so it’s a really, really vintage watch.

“This was an expensive watch to be given out by British Railways in Scotland for 45 years’ service, so they must have been really proud of the gentleman.”

Just who was the Ballater stationmaster the Royal Family came to love?

The back of the watch is stamped with ‘BR Scottish Region A. Milne in appreciation of 45 years’ service’.

Alexander started his railway career as a clerk at Glassel Station in Deeside, and went on to become stationmaster at Udny in 1936.

He spent 10 years as stationmaster at Aberdour, then ended his career back where it began in Deeside with the prestigious appointment of stationmaster at Ballater.

An Evening Express article about the appointment of Alexander Milne at Ballater in 1953. Image: DC Thomson.

Alexander was given the watch in March 1961 when his tenure at Ballater came to an end.

The letter from Clarence House written by lady-in-waiting Olivia Mulholland said it was “sad news indeed” to hear of his retirement.

It reads: “Queen Elizabeth much appreciated the help and courtesy you extended to her guests, her household, and her staff.

Mrs Mulholland added her own personal tribute and said: “We shall miss you when next we come to Birkhall.”

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip arriving at Ballater Station in 1955. Image: DC Thomson.

Alexander was proud of long service on the railways… but never revealed royal secrets

After Alexander’s death, the watch was bequeathed through the family, but now his descendants have passed away.

The watch, alongside the other items which will go under the hammer. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

The watch has come from the estate sale of a former volunteer at Smile Scotland, who was a descendent of Alexander Milne.

The cherished family heirloom will leave the family for the first time after the volunteer’s father also recently died.

Alexander was remembered in the family for being proud of his days on the railway.

But he never disclosed any information about his royal encounters.

The Queen, Prince Charles and Princess Anne at Ballater Station on August 8 1952. Image: DC Thomson.

Clive said: “Mr Milne was a very proud person and although the Queen Mother came with her daughter, The Queen, he never told anyone when they were arriving, nor did he tell anyone when they were leaving.

“He wouldn’t repeat his conversations with the royals.

“Mr Milne would make sure all their luggage was taken off the train correctly and placed correctly, but he never told anybody.

“He was very discreet and very, very loyal and he was very proud.”

When asked what the Queen Mother would say to him Alexander would always reply “nothing was said at all, all I do is say hello”.

Stationmaster’s watch was token of appreciation

When Alexander retired he did so begrudgingly.

Clive explained: “When it came to retirement we were told it’s because he was at retirement age and he didn’t want to leave.

“Back then, when you got I think it was 65, or you’d done your full 45 years’ service, that was it – you were gone.

“So he didn’t have a choice, he didn’t want to go.”

The watch is more than a memento of a long and loved career.

The railway station at Ballater pictured in 1962, the year after stationmaster Alexander Milne retired. Image: DC Thomson.

It’s a treasured symbol of a bygone era where each station had its own stationmaster and branch lines still snaked across north-east Scotland.

And there aren’t many people these days who chalk up 45 years working for the same company.

If they do, it’s unlikely they’d be rewarded with a gold Rolex.

The watches were a true token of appreciation for British Railways staff.

British Railways’ long-service watches made by Rolex

Rolex Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, said in 1946 that he wanted to sell a watch “at a more modest price than our Rolex watches, and yet one that would attain the standards of dependability for which Rolex are famous”.

FIT FOR A QUEEN: The Royal Train steams through Deeside to Ballater.
The Royal Train steams through Deeside to Ballater in 1954, along the now-closed Deeside Railway. Image: DC Thomson.

Although marketed separately, these early wristwatches were manufactured by Rolex and contained the same parts and components.

Customers could enjoy the reliability and prestige of Rolex, but at a more affordable price.

It was a clever move after six years of war when luxury was very much at a premium.

Crucially, Alexander’s watch bears the Rolex ‘coronet’ stamp on its crown – the part used to wind the watch – proving it is one of the true Rolex-made Tudors.

The 9ct gold watch dates to around the 1950s, a time widely considered the golden age of Swiss luxury watches.

These days, Tudor is a sister brand to, but no longer manufactured by, Rolex, meaning Alexander’s watch is all the more special.

Auction proceeds help support charity’s work

With bidding available online, in person, over the phone or bids left auction house staff, it’s hoped Alexander’s watch will garner interest outwith the north-east of Scotland.

Smile Scotland helps young people with mental health problems, disabilities or a criminal record get back into further education and employment.

All commission from the sales goes to supporting the charity’s work.

Other interesting lots appearing at the auction at 10am on Tuesday January 16 include:

The cufflinks. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.
The grandfather clock face. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

Items going under the hammer can be viewed at the auction house in Oyne from Friday until Sunday. For more information about the auction and to view the catalogue, visit the website.

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