Steve McQueen’s Monaco, Paul Newman’s (other) Daytona – will this auction deliver the next record watch sale?Brendan Cunningham
Have you ever wondered what racing cars and auction rooms have in common? In a 2006 publication, neurosurgeon Dr Eric Watkins published evidence that a Formula 1 driver can experience a pulse in the neighbourhood of 200 beats per minute during a race. According to the US Centre for Disease Control, this heart rate approaches, if not exceeds, the maximum heart rate for the typically aged Formula 1 driver. In this way, both race cars and auction rooms have a similar effect on those inside them, with hearts racing if you’re gripping a steering wheel or a paddle, a fact that gives an insight into the name of an upcoming Phillips “Racing Pulse” auction in New York.
This name is a natural choice for the Phillips Watch Department. Arguably their most well-known sale of a watch took place in 2017 when the hammer dropped on the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona “Paul Newman” lot previously owned by Paul Newman. The engraving on the back, “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME”, was a reminder from Mr Newman’s wife to take care during the car races in which he competed. That watch achieved a then world record for a watch sold at auction, at more than $17 million. In this year’s auction, Phillips has another Paul Newman Rolex with a similar race-related engraving (more on that later). In addition, there is a second cover lot connected to the famed 24-hour Le Mans car race, and there are a number of other racing-related lots.
Just as car races have always been scenes of high passion, so too are auction rooms. For the watch community, sales of this magnitude are eagerly anticipated, fought over competitively and remembered as battles where objects of desire were a bounty worth risking it for.
Just as when the world’s best drivers are assembled on a race track to have their performances witnessed by the world, watch lots are collected from the depths of the horological universe and put into a catalogue that can prove so memorable. So let’s take a look at the Phillips “Racing Pulse” sale in more detail, taking in the top lots and a few sleepers in the mix.
Lot 38 – Rolex Cosmograph Daytona “Big Red” reference 6263
Paul Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, gifted this timepiece to him in 1983, the year of their 25th wedding anniversary. On the back she had engraved “Drive slowly, Joanne” in order to encourage Newman to make some safe choices on the racing track. One year later, in 1984, Paul Newman gave his daughter’s then-boyfriend, James Cox, the Daytona reference 6239 I mentioned earlier (auctioned by Phillips in 2017).
Perhaps Newman felt one Daytona in his collection was enough. He was frequently seen wearing the 6263 — the Phillips’ catalogue includes a famous cover photo of The Sunday Times magazine with Newman wearing the timepiece. In many of these photos, Newman has the pushers unscrewed so he can more easily employ the chronograph function. In 2008, Newman’s daughter, Clea, visited him in hospital and he gave her the Daytona ref 6263 during that visit.
Estimate: $US 1 million+
Lot 20 – Heuer Monaco reference 1133
The Monaco line celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019. This particular example dates from the Monaco’s birth year: 1969. Even more notable is its provenance. The lot was consigned by Haig Alltounian, who was the mechanic for legendary Hollywood leading man Steve McQueen. Alltounian also served as the mechanic for the blockbuster 1971 movie Le Mans.
McQueen starred in the film and was asked to select the watch his character would wear in the movie. His menu of options included references from Heuer, Omega, Bulova and Rolex. He initially chose a Speedmaster, but when the prop master noted that a Heuer logo was on his character’s racing suit, he switched to the Monaco. Six Monaco timepieces were used in the filming and McQueen gifted the example in this lot to Alltounian after the movie wrapped.
Estimate: upon request.
Lot 63 – Rolex Cosmograph Daytona reference 116500LN
This Daytona was donated by Shark Tank‘s Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary in order to benefit the One Drop charity as well as the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.
The lot is offered without reserve. The watch has proven very popular with the wardrobe department at Shark Tank. O’Leary pairs it with a red Rubber B strap made in Switzerland, which allows the timepiece to “pop” for the show’s audience.
Estimate: $US 8,000-12,000
Lots 71-74 – Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Grande Complication references 26065 (BA, BC, OR, and ST)
Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté has donated these four lots to benefit the One Drop charity (which he also founded) as well as the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. These four examples represent the pinnacle of horological achievement. They are rendered in yellow, white and rose gold as well as steel. Each sports a skeletonised dial. They offer four complications: a minute repeater, perpetual calendar, split seconds chronograph and moon phase. The lots are accompanied with an AP wooden box in the design of a piano, which amplifies the minute repeater chiming. Each has been freshly serviced by AP. Laliberté has a fifth example of this reference still in his collection. That example, with a more traditional AP tapisserie guilloché dial, travelled to outer space with him in September 2009 when he spent 10 days orbiting the earth aboard the International Space Station as a space tourist. It is the first AP to have orbited the Earth. Estimate: $US 200,000 – 400,000 (each lot)
Lot 92 – Rolex Day-Date “Eye of Horus” reference 1804
Rendered in platinum, with 56 brilliant-cut diamonds set in the bezel and hour markers, this is an exceptionally rare example of a Rolex “President” with an asymmetric tapisserie guilloché dial. The dial engraving ripples in an outward pattern centred on the date window. It is rare for the Rolex manufacturer to offer examples of their timepieces that deviate significantly from the underlying reference design, and this is one of three in this style that Phillips is aware of. Day and date are in Arabic. The timepiece features a platinum bracelet, which is correct for this particular example.
Estimate: $US 100,000 – 200,000
There are many additional timepieces worth exploring, including a lot donated by U2’s Bono, as well as a pair of pocket watches owned by Andy Warhol and John Lennon. While the lots available are certain to pull the heartstrings of watch enthusiasts, it is also important to note that Phillips and numerous consignors have shown a great deal of heart in the assembly of this catalogue. Multiple charities will benefit from the donated lots. Phillips has also waived the buyer’s premium in many cases. The recipient charities include those mentioned earlier (One Drop and Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation) as well as Give Peace a Chance, SeriousFun Children’s Network and the Safe Water Foundation. Check out the outcome of bidding on December 12.
For more details, visit Phillips right here. All images: Phillips