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.
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. Steve—making 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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