Steve McQueen watch rolex submariner auction phillips new york

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Provenance is the coming story for high-end watch collectors as recent sales have neatly demonstrated. Pure rarity still counts, even if the result of accident more than design by the original maker (all those intermediate Submariners), and sheer intrinsic quality is a sine qua non for serious collectors (try looking out for a Patek Philippe 1579), but the $17.5 million that Paul Newman’s Daytona went for last year has changed the game. The previous record for a Rolex wristwatch was just over $5 million and for any wristwatch was $11 million.

Just last month a nice, but unexceptional, Omega sold at Phillip’s Geneva auction thanks to an engraving on the back showing that the watch had been gifted to Elvis by RCA to mark record sales of 65 million. The watch was gifted by Elvis in an unusual swap soon after (according to a statement made by the owner, the watch was given to the owner's uncle after he had expressed his admiration, Elvis proposed a trade, and they swapped watches), but that association was enough to see the hammer come down at $1.8 million.

Now another watch with stellar provenance has been consigned for auction this autumn. Phillips (again) has a Rolex Submariner previously owned by Steve McQueen and subsequently gifted to his friend, stunt-double Loren Janes.

Engraved "Loren the best damn stuntsman in the world, Steve", Janes’ own reputation as one of Hollywood’s best would have added value to the watch itself. But the fact that it was owned and worn by McQueen is almost certain to send the price into orbit (save that McQueen was known to be quite generous with his watches).

That said, Phillips’ estimate of $600,000 (£447,000) still looks rather coy given values commanded by the Newman and Elvis watches. By comparison, good 5513 Submariners from that period go for $30,000 and up.

This particular watch had a lucky escape as the Janes’ Los Angeles family house was destroyed in a fire in 2016 and it was only at the urging of a collector that any effort was made to find the watch, which survived the blaze intact (but was carefully restored by Rolex USA nevertheless).

The watch (which is accompanied by a “correct” set of hands and dials as originally supplied in 1964) goes on sale at Phillips’ New York auction on 25 October.

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