You Can Own Steve McQueen’s Rolex

Steve-McQueen-Rolex-Submariner-with-Persol-Sunglasses

When Paul Newman’s 1968 Rolex Daytona sold at auction for an astonishing $17.8 million it was not only a record for a Rolex but also the highest amount ever paid for a wristwatch at auction. Now, a little more than a year later, a Rolex Submariner belonging to Steve McQueen, Newman’s only real rival for Hollywood’s title of “King of Cool” is set to come to the auction block this October at Phillips.

When you think of actors who defined “cool” for their generation, Steve McQueen has to be at the top of your list. Although his tenure as a superstar leading man was relatively brief, he packed those years with a string of great films that remain iconic like Bullitt, The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven

McQueen was frequently photographed wearing his Rolex Submariner, circa 1964 which he bought some time in the mid-1960s for around $250. Like Newman’s watch, McQueen’s Submariner has a fascinating history.

Steve-McQueen-Rolex-Submariner-1200x675

According to Forbes magazine, sometime in the late 1970s, McQueen gave his Submariner to his favorite stunt double, Loren Janes. The pair had been working together since 1958, when McQueen was making the TV series Wanted: Dead or Alive. Over the next two decades, in 19 movies—including Bullitt, The Getaway and The Thomas Crown Affair—Janes performed some of McQueen’s most memorable stunts. That iconic ten-minute car chase in Bullitt, where McQueen careens through San Francisco in a 1968 Mustang? It was actually Janes behind the wheel.

To show his gratitude for Janes’ work and friendship, McQueen also had the case back engraved—Loren, the Best Damn Stuntman in the World. Stevemaking it the only known McQueen watch to bear the actor’s name.

When Janes’ California home was ravaged by wildfire in the summer of 2016, it was presumed gone for good. But Michael Eisenberg, the collector who’s selling the watch this fall, begged the Janes family to search the ashes of their former home for it. After they found it, the Submariner was shipped back to Rolex for a much-needed service to get it in good working condition again. But even after a thorough cleaning, you can still see soot from the fire in the bracelet clasp.

It’s a remarkable watch owned by two remarkable men. And while the likelihood is that it won’t quite eclipse the astronomical selling price of the Paul Newman Daytona, there’s a good chance collectors will drive its value well into the seven-figure territory.

Very few stars have the allure of Steve McQueen when it comes to collectability—in large part because he was seen as a man’s man who lived his movie fantasies in real life and also because of the scarcity of things he actually owned. “Elvis, Bogart, James Dean,” Eisenberg says, “nobody’s items have sold for the same prices. It could be 10x or 100x if it were owned by McQueen.”

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Hemingway’s Last Ride

hemingway-reading-in-living-room

“There are only three sports: bullfighting, mountaineering and motor racing; all the rest are merely games”.  Ernest Hemingway, author of The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls and arguably one of America’s most illustrious authors is said to have uttered that famous quote.

Throughout his colorful lifetime, the famed author and ex-patriot was a car buff, having owned a number of different vehicles in a number of different countries around the world.   Unfortunately, when the author committed suicide in 1961, his vehicles were scattered about from his time in Paris, Cuba and the western United States. But it is the last car he owned, a 1955 Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe convertible coup that has captured the imagination of car enthusiasts around the world.

In 1955, Hemingway paid $3,924 for the Navajo Orange and Desert Sand convertible while living in Cuba. He had been living there since 1939 when he purchased his home “Finca Vigia” located about 10 miles outside Havana. It was here that he penned some of his most famous works, including The Old Man and the Sea and Islands in the Stream.

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When the Cuban revolution occurred in1959, the author left the island to return to the United States and Finca Vigia was seized by the Castro government.  But what became of his 1955 convertible? Of all the mysteries swirling around Cuba, one of the most intriguing was “What happened to Hemingway’s Chrysler”? For decades, the car survived only in legend. Was it still on the island? Had it been secreted away? Or was it lost to history?

What little is known about the car reads like a novel. Somehow the Chrysler escaped government hands and apparently passed to Hemingway’s driver. The driver hid the car before he fled by raft to the United States. It then somehow made its way into the hands of Hemingway’s doctor. In the 1970s the doctor passed the Chrysler down to his son. From there, it changed hands again, and again, and again. With each new owner, the car’s connection to Hemingway dimmed. The Chrysler disappeared into Cuba’s’ automotive jungle, where it might have been sold for scrap, chopped for spare parts, or simply pushed, rusting, onto a junk heap. It would have stayed lost forever, had Ada Rosa Alfonso not continued the search.

Ada Rosa Alfonso is the director of Finca Vigia, now a restored museum. With Ada’ s help, a Chrysler matching the description of Hemingway’s car was discovered nearby and towed to the museum where it sat on cement blocks under a tarp rusted and topless. Although there is no documentation showing that Hemingway registered the 1955 Chrysler coupe in Cuba, he did take out an insurance policy on the car. The recently discovered policy included the vehicle registration number.  That registration number matches the VIN number of the Chrysler now located at Finca Vigia.  Mystery solved!!

There is now an attempt underway to totally restore the 1955 Chrysler back to its original condition. It will be a long road – the original two-tone Navajo Orange and Desert Sand color scheme was no longer visible beneath a shoddy white paint job. The original leather interior was lost forever, eaten away by mildew and the stresses of time. The chassis had rotted away and even the 331 cubic inch Hemi V8 looked beat up.

Although Cuban mechanics are experts at keeping old American cars running, much of their work comes down to improvising repairs and hand-making parts. But proper restorations require original components, impossible to find on the island. The Chrysler New Yorker is, after all, an American car, and although the Cold War has been over for decades, the United States still has a trade embargo with Cuba. This means that anyone in that country hoping to get authentic car parts for a rare American classic will have a heck of a time getting them through customs. However, with the best efforts of many people some parts are slowly making their way into the hands of restorers. The 50 year journey to bring Hemingway’s classic ride back to life continues and it is as colorful and interesting as the author’s life.

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Can You Tell If A Painting Is A Forgery? Maybe?…Maybe Not?

Supper at Emmaus
As the great French painter Theodore Rousseau of the Barbizon School pointed out “We should all realize that we can only talk about the bad forgeries, the ones that have been detected; the good ones are still hanging on the walls”.

“Supper at Emmaus” is perhaps the best example of how even the most renowned art experts can be fooled.  In 1937 Dr. Abraham Bredius, was asked to examine the “recently discovered” Vermeer. Bredius had dedicated a great part of his life to the study of Johannes Vermeer and was one of the world’s most authoritative art historians. After examining the painting, Bredius presented his findings in The Burlington Magazine, the “art bible” of the day.  He wrote “It is a wonderful moment in the life of a lover of art when he finds himself suddenly confronted with a hitherto unknown painting by a great master, untouched on the original canvas, and without any restoration, just as it left the painter’s studio.  And what a picture -I am inclined to say – the masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft… quite different from all his other paintings yet every inch a Vermeer.  In no other picture by the great master of Delft do we find such sentiment… so nobly human expressed through the medium of highest art”.

The art world might never have known how wrong Bredius was if it were not for a knock on Hans van Meegeren’s door in 1945 Amsterdam. Fueled by rejection from the art world, van Meegeren would become the force behind the greatest art hoax of the 20th century.

In the mid 1920’s van Meegeren established himself as a young artist in the Netherlands art scene.  The highly sensitive artist took offense as critics soon noted his limitations. The artist, determined to prove himself, set out on a mission to “not only copy the style of the Dutch masters but produce a work of art so magnificent that it would rival the works of master painters”. He settled on Johannes Vermeer- an artist many considered among the most difficult to emulate as the master he would copy. That Vermeer produced only about 35 or 36 paintings was helpful to van Meegeren.  Other major artist of the time, such as Rembrandt, typically created hundreds of paintings. Many critics at the time agreed that there were at least 15 Vermeer’s that had been lost with time.  All this provided van Meegeren’s fakes with a plausible backstory.

Trial

Recreating Vermeer’s style proved incredibly difficult. Van Meegeren spent years conducting extensive research and experimentation with canvasses, paints and aging techniques. He purchased original 17th century canvas, crafted his own paints from raw materials and meticulously constructed his own paint brushes from badger hair – all of which the 17th century masters had done.

Another dilemma faced by van Meegeren was emulating the age of the paint. Oil paints take decades to fully dry and harden; he had to find a way to make two-month-old paint seem as if it were three centuries old. So he bought a pizza oven and tried time and again to mix a paint that could withstand the heat of the oven and harden, but not lose its brilliance. Time and again, his experimental paints burned up or melted. Then he hit on dissolving a small amount of plastic into the paint and rolling it with a baking pin to crackle it, and washing it through a cycle of India ink to emulate patina. It was an ingenious system — perhaps the best ever devised by a forger — and it produced incredibly convincing paintings.

 

During his studies, van Meegeren had learned that Vermeer greatly appreciated the work of Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Van Meegeren analyzed the Italian’s best known work, “Supper at Emmaus,” then went about replicating it in the style of Vermeer He titled the work with the same name — “Supper at Emmaus” — and went about peddling it to the art world.

With Bredius’s “expert” stamp of approval, the painting sparked a fierce bidding and was ultimately purchased for the unbelievable sum of 550,000 Dutch guldens -roughly $4.5 million dollars today! Supper at Emmaus” was so well received that van Meegeren began churning out one Vermeer forgery after the other, each selling for millions of dollars.

At this time Hermann Goring was the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany, behind only Adolf Hitler himself. Goring was also an avid and greedy art collector. His collection was enormous and much of it had been plundered and stolen during the war. In 1942 he took 137 looted paintings and traded them for one of van Meegeren’s forgeries, “Christ with the Adulteress. It would be this painting that would become van Meegeren’s undoing.

A few years later, as Allied forces pushed into Nazi territory, 6,700  looted pieces of art were discovered in an obscure Austrian salt mine. Among them was van Meergeren’s “Christ with the Adulteress”. The Nazis were known for meticulous record-keeping and Goring’s Vermeer was eventually traced back van Meegeren.

When the police rapped on van Meegeren’s door in 1945 to question him about what they thought was a routine matter van Meegeren was unable to explain himself and unwilling to admit to his life as a forger.  It was only when he was accused of being a “Nazi plunderer” that van Meegeren revealed the truth.

Van Meegeren’s story was immediately met with skepticism – no one could forge a Vermeer with such authenticity.  Van Meergeren was soon facing charges of not only fraud but of aiding and abetting the enemy. After being confined to the headquarters of an Amsterdam military command for a few months, van Meegeren offered a proposition to prove his innocence — he’d forge one last Vermeer before a panel of reporters and court-appointed witnesses. The court agreed, and the man was brought his paints and brushes. Over the course of six weeks, he crafted his last Vermeer, “Jesus Among the Doctors.” Forgery experts subsequently determined that it was of such a high quality that van Meegeren couldn’t possibly be lying, and his abetting the enemy charge was dropped.

But van Meegeren still faced a less serious fraud charge, and on October 29, 1947, his second trial began. In interviews with the press, he’d won over the public. He’d taken the original declaration that he was a traitor and Nazi conspirator, and flipped it on its head: Instead, he claimed, he had planned to dupe the Nazis with his forgeries in a scheme to reclaim 200 plundered Dutch paintings. In a matter of months, he went from being a detested figure to a patriotic hero. The Dutch had been taken by van Meegeren’s rhetoric — that he’d conned a Nazi official to prove his patriotism — and the fact that he’d cheated people and walked away with millions of dollars seemed to be of little importance.

Van Meegeren was eventually convicted of fraud and sentenced to a year in prison in 1947. Nearly two months later, he died of a heart attack without serving even a day. Ironically, the forger died a hero.

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A Cord 812 Supercharged Phaeton and the Death of a Superstar

Tom Mix

Before there was Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Roy Rogers, James Stewart, or even Gary Cooper, there was Tom Mix.

Mix was the iconic Hollywood cowboy hero of the silent-film era. Having starred in close to 300 films, his popularity in the early 20th century would have rivaled many of today’s superstar celebrities. Moving from Pennsylvania to the West as a young man he wrangled cattle and rode horses before the 20th century arrived. His way of life and the company he kept was representative of the Old West. He rode with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during his inaugural parade and served as a pall bearer at Wyatt Earp’s funeral.

As the silent-era of movies slowly faded into the background and films with dialogue rose in popularity, Mix’s spotlight started to dim. By the 30s, most of his money was gone; however, he was still able to afford a brand-new, Gordon Buehrig-designed Cord 812 Supercharged Phaeton, one of the coolest cars ever designed.

His Cord 812 was no ordinary Cord. True to Mix’s flamboyant and outlandish lifestyle, his vehicle was outfitted with various customizations and upgrades. According to Bonhams, Mix’s car was designed with a “front-wheel drive chassis, supercharged Lycoming V-8 engine and open 5-seat coachwork” and featured “an exposed rear-mounted spare tire with extended rear bumper, raised rear license plate bracket on the left bumper spring, two Kilborn Sauer fog lights and single Trippe driving light, which are seen in period photos with the famous cowboy star.”

Other customizations included “TM” embossed leather stone guards, flag poles on the front bumper, bumper guards, grille protector, Mix’s initials on the side of the car, his last name on the horn, leather holster for his gun, an accelerator that fit the heel of his cowboy boot and two medallions given to him by the King of Denmark on the front of the car.

Mix’s new car was beautiful and fast … just the way he liked it. Unfortunately, the Cord 812 is linked to the Hollywood cowboy in a way that no one wants to be associated to a vehicle.

Cord 812

On October 12, 1940, Mix was behind the wheel of his yellow Cord 812 when he tried to cross a bridge in Arizona countryside. He was driving so fast that he didn’t notice–or failed to heed–signs warning that the bridge was out on the road ahead. The Phaeton swung into a gully and Mix was smacked in the back of the head by one of the heavy aluminum suitcases he was carrying in the convertible’s backseat. The impact broke the actor’s neck and he died almost instantly.

In 2010, the hammer fell on Mix’s Cord for $155,000 according to Bonhams.  After extensive renovations, the Tom Mix Cord 812 Supercharged Phaeton has made its way around the show circuit picking up awards and honors at some of the most prestigious events: the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Glenmoor Gathering, Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, The Elegance at Hershey, Keels and Wheels and Santa Fe Concorso, among others. Tom Mix was truly one-of-a-kind and so was the car he drove.

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King of Hollywood… and Wristwatches

Clark Gable

Clarke Gable epitomized the Golden Age of American film—he was known as the “King of Hollywood.” In a career that spanned close to 30 years, he amassed tremendous fame and notoriety as the stuff of Hollywood legend and came to epitomize the Golden Age of film

He landed his first big role on screen in 1931 in the film The Painted Desert. After seeing him on camera, MGM studios offered him a contract. That same year he landed his first leading role opposite Joan Crawford in Dance, Fools, Dance. From that moment forward, Gable was a star. Over the next ten years, he starred in some of his most memorable roles, like It Happened One Night and Gone with the Wind.

 

Yet, despite his fame, few fans remember, or even know, that the Academy Award Winner was also a huge timepiece collector of some of the world’s most illustrious brands.   He wasn’t loyal to one particular brand, and he had a diverse collection including a Rolex Oyster Perpetual, a Cartier Tank, a Patek Philippe Triple Date Moonphase, and a Mathey-Tissot Chrono. Gable wore his array of timepieces both on and off screen.

Provenance has the ability to make a relatively ordinary watch extraordinary. This is especially true in the auction world, where a watch owned by an important historical figure like Clarke Gable can result in a phenomenal final hammer price. In Bonham’s 2013  “What Dreams Are Made Of” sale, which featured memorabilia from nearly 100 years of cinema history, what caught the eye of most collectors, naturally, was the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Ref. 6011 owned by legendary actor Clark Gable. The 14k gold automatic watch can be seen on Gable in the movie Mogambo (1953), where he stars alongside fellow Hollywood royalty Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly. The final sale price was a whopping $28,750 to a private collector.

 

One of the greatest things about vintage watches is that they come to you with a story. Whether it’s been passed down through your family, or from the estate of a famous movie actor, there are great stories to be had. Most notably, watches belonging to famous people or watches that have accompanied their wearers during important events can fetch large prices and be highly sought after by collectors of all types.

If you or someone you know would like to share or are interested in receiving more of our little known but true stories about luxury collectibles please email us at info@eliassoncapital.com or like us on Facebook.  Eliasson Capital provides collateral loans on fine art and collectibles.