Following Phillips’ recent RACING PULSE auction (New York, 12th of December 2020), we decided to write a little bit more about Steve McQueen’s watch collection
Whether he was dressed in a bespoke suit, or in an old military-style jacket, Steve McQueen was a man of impeccable style and fashion. He lived a life full of fast cars, motorbikes and timeless watches… a life which many would envy, but an equally tragic one at that, as he passed away far too early, in 1980.
Steve McQueen – in short
Steve McQueen was a very talented actor, with tremendous and effortless range: he is best known for his interpretations of the heroic gunman Vic (The Magnificent Seven); Thomas Crown – the millionaire playboy (The Thomas Crown Affair); the gruff Detective Frank Bullitt (Bullitt); and the taciturn racing driver Frank Delaney (Le Mans). McQueen played many different types of characters, but in a way, he wasn’t really acting. If you look at his life in a bigger picture, McQueen was all these different types of characters.
After years of bad decisions and tribulations, remedied by 3 years in the Marines, at the age of 22, McQueen was given the chance and opportunity to make his mark in the world by expressing his personality through the silver screen. Right away, he was an instant hit, and a style icon, too: dubbed “The King of Cool“.
Steve McQueen & Paul Newman
Under a certain light, McQueen’s life was quite similar to his colleague’s – Paul Newman‘s, with whom he co-starred in the 1974 cinematic hit “The Towering Inferno”. Indeed, before making their acting debuts, both men were avid and successful racing drivers: Newman in Le Mans, and McQueen in Sebring.
More importantly, both actors have had their names forever associated with historic Rolex models: Paul Newman with the Daytona, and Steve McQueen with the Rolex Explorer II.
One thing to note however, is that, whereas Paul Newman’s own Paul Newman is a very well-known watch – so much so as to set a record price for an auction, McQueen’s 1655 doesn’t actually exist.
Despite the actor being immortalised in a seemingly infinite number of photos, McQueen was never actually spotted wearing the famous “Freccione” on his wrist. Truth being told, no one really knows why, when, or how the watch got the McQueen nickname, even after his close friends and family affirmed that the King of Cool never actually owned that reference.
Steve McQueen’s Watches
Steve McQueen owned and wore a plethora of other watches, though: some very well known ones, and others which made their appearance in certain scenes for just a split-second. Let’s have a look at the watches which the legendary actor wore the most.
In a few stills from the early 1960s, when the actor was just making his entry into the world of acting, a common timepiece can be seen: a Hanhart 417 (or 417ES). McQueen could be seen wearing this German Military chronograph, which featured luminescent indices. It would appear that the actor kept this watch in his possession for his entire life, and would always wear it on his right wrist with a “bund” style brown leather strap.
His Rolex Submariners
Another watch which can be seen in many shots of the actor – both on and off set – is a non-date Rolex Submariner, featuring “pallettoni” hour plots and crown guards. Higher resolution images led to keen observers identifying 4 distinct lines of text at the 6 o’clock position: all signs point to the ref. 5512, which, contrasting its 5513 “twin”, was powered by a more accurately-set caliber, which gave it its Chronometer Certification.
It would appear that Steve McQueen had a soft spot for Rolex diver models – enough to gift some exemplars to his colleagues and friends. In 2009, Antiquorum auctioned a 5512 which the actor gave to his friend and fellow car collector Jimmy Brucker; and in 2018, Phillips announced their intention to auction a 5513 that McQueen supposedly gave to Loren James – his stuntman. The story goes that the watch survived a fire and was completely and faithfully restored, but the lot was retracted after the McQueen estate cast doubt upon its authenticity.
The Watches from “The Thomas Crown Affair”
In 1968, McQueen donned two of the classiest watches in this list as part of his millionaire banker, Rolls-Royce-driving, Polo-playing and bespoke-suit-wearing role in “The Thomas Crown Affair”.
The first timepiece appears for only a couple of seconds at the beginning of the film: it’s a Patek Philippe pocket watch in a yellow gold “hunter” case, sporting Breguet hands and numerals. The keen observers also noticed a 3rd line underneath the “Patek Philippe” and “Geneve” texts, which led many to believe that this was in fact a Double-Signed dial!
Over the course of the film, McQueen’s character can be spotted wearing the unmistakably-shaped Cartier Tank Cintrée. It is not the ordinary “European” Cintrée, however, but it is rather the “less famous brother from across the pond” – the ref. 21612 – which was only made and sold in the Cartier branch in New York.
The record-setting Tag Heuer Monaco
Well, here we are: the last watch to personify Steve McQueen – also the last one he would wear in the movies.
This is the watch which, perhaps more than all of the previously mentioned timepieces in this article, deserves to be called “The Steve McQueen”. It’s the Heuer Monaco ref. 1133, powered by the historic Caliber 11 (the first automatic movement for a chronograph), which McQueen wore in his interpretation of Michael Delaney: the number one pilot for the Gulf Porsche Racing Team at the 24h of Le Mans in 1970.
As it became clear in the most recent auction, it would appear that McQueen actually owned multiple exemplars of this reference, either as “spares” whilst shooting, or otherwise bought after its premiere. One of these watches was given to a key crew member – Haig Alltounian – and was auctioned by Phillips for the record-setting figure of $2,208,000 USD few days ago!
In summary, although he may have never owned a Rolex ref. 1655, you certainly can’t say that the iconic actor lacked good taste when it came to watches…
Article by Alvise Mori – Translated by Patrick R.