Offers you can’t refuse: watches owned by Marlon Brando, Andy Warhol and Jean-Paul Belmondo

As Brando’s Rolex, Warhol’s Patek and Belmondo’s Breguet come to auction in Geneva, New York and Hong Kong, we look at a selection of the many timepieces with celebrity provenance that have been offered at Christie’s — owned by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy and Albert Einstein

Marlon Brando’s Rolex GMT ref. 1675

The American actor Marlon Brando wore this Rolex GMT for his role as Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 epic Apocalypse Now.

Brando’s daughter, Petra Brando Fischer, explains that her father was asked to take the watch off during filming in the Philippines, as it might stand out too much. ‘If they’re looking at my watch, then I’m not doing my job as an actor,’ he responded.

Brando customised the watch by replacing the standard stainless-steel bracelet with a black strap, scratching ‘M. Brando’ into the case-back and removing the watch’s dual time zone bezel — stripping it down to its essential components in a way that his character, Kurtz, might have done. Despite his desire for the watch to go unnoticed, however, these now-legendary alterations made it one of the most recognisable ‘movie watches’ ever.

Once numbered among ‘the great missing watches’ by aficionados, it surfaced in 2019 when consigned to auction by Brando’s family. It realised $1,952,000. It is now being offered again, in Christie’s Passion for Time — An Important Private Collection of Watches and Timepieces in Geneva on 6 November 2023.

Eric Clapton’s platinum Patek Philippe ref. 2499

Ranked second by Rolling Stone in its ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time’ list, Eric Clapton is a prolific buyer of watches and is known for constantly evolving his collection. Consequently, his pieces have appeared several times at auction over the decades, most notably in 2003 when he consigned 25 watches to Christie’s. Among these was a super-rare prototype Rolex Yacht-Master Daytona that was never released to the public.

Arguably, however, the most impressive of Clapton’s watches ever to go under the hammer was his Patek Philipp ref. 2499, offered at Christie’s in 2012.

Only 349 examples of this legendary reference were ever made across the 35 years it was in production, and nearly all of them were in yellow gold. Around 10 were made with pink gold, while just two were issued in platinum.

This latter pair were personally commissioned by Patek Philippe’s honorary president, Philippe Stern. One is now a highlight of the company’s museum in Geneva; the other belonged to Clapton. Thanks to this combination of scarcity and rock-star provenance, it sold for CHF 3,443,000.

Elizabeth Taylor’s Vacheron Constantin ‘Lord Kalla’

In 1979, Swiss watch manufacturer Vacheron Constantin unveiled its ‘Kalla’ line of diamond-encrusted watches. It debuted with the Kallista, which was set with 118 diamonds. In 2001, the Lady Kalla was announced, featuring 122 diamonds. Then, in 2009, the Kallania arrived, which had 186 diamonds.

The watch below, known as the Lord Kalla, includes 26 rectangular-cut diamonds on the dial, another 24 on the bezel, and 266 more on the bracelet — 316 diamonds in total.

It belonged to Elizabeth Taylor, and was offered as part of the landmark series of sales from her estate held at Christie’s. Highlights of the collection, including jewels, film costumes, couture, luggage and fine art, toured Moscow, London, Paris, Dubai, Geneva, Hong Kong and Los Angeles before being sold in New York.

The most eagerly anticipated sale of the week came first — The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor: The Legendary Jewels. It realised a total of $115,932,000, more than double the previous world record for any single-owner jewellery collection. This watch, lot number 40 of the evening, sold for $362,500.

Andy Warhol’s Patek Philippe 3448

In 1988, a year after Andy Warhol’s death aged 58 following complications from surgery, a large portion of his estate was offered at auction in New York. Among the roughly 10,000 items were artworks, clothes, furniture and even the artist’s 1974 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.

Some of the most talked-about lots, however, were his watches. Warhol owned hundreds: the sales included everything from plastic quartz watches that retailed for just $26 a piece to examples by Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. Not one for safety deposit boxes, Warhol had hidden dozens of them in the canopy of his four-poster bed, while nearly 100 were discovered in a secret compartment at the back of an old filing cabinet.

Patek Philippe, automatic perpetual calendar wristwatch with moon phases, ref. 3448, movement no.1’119’511, case no. 332’869, 1977. Estimate: $350,000-600,000. Offered in Important Watches on 5 December 2023 at Christie’s in New York

The most expensive of all Warhol’s wristwatches to come to auction in the wake of his death was the Patek Philippe 3448 pictured above. Presented in almost immaculate condition, with sharp lugs, clear hallmarks and a well-preserved case, it realised $22,000.

The watch resurfaced in Geneva in 2014, selling for CHF 293,000. It’s now returning to Warhol’s adopted home, being offered as part of Christie’s Important Watches sale on 5 December 2023 in New York.

Jackie Kennedy’s Cartier Tank

Early in 1963, President John F. Kennedy challenged the American public to hike a distance of 50 miles in a bid to boost the nation’s fitness. On 23 February, J.F.K. organised a hike for some of his own family and friends at Palm Beach, among them his brother-in-law, Prince Stanislaw Albrecht Radziwill, a Polish aristocrat who had married Jackie Kennedy’s younger sister, Lee. Although Lee, Jackie and the President didn’t do the hike themselves, they did drive out to cheer on the prince and other walkers for part of the journey.

Besides taking regular cigarette breaks, the walkers radioed for steaks and champagne to help fuel their endeavour. They finished in a respectable 19 hours and 30 minutes. To commemorate the event, Prince Radziwill gave Jackie this Cartier Tank watch, which is engraved: ‘Stas to Jackie / 23 Feb. 63 / 2:05am to 9:35pm’.

The gold watch on a black lizard strap became one of Jackie’s favourites, visible on her wrist in many well-known photographs. Offered at Christie’s in New York in 2017 from the collection of the Radziwill family, it sold for $379,500. Not long afterwards, Kim Kardashian West revealed herself as the buyer, telling Vogue that she had worn the watch to a meeting with President Trump at the White House, and that ‘it gave me some power’.

Jean-Paul Belmondo’s Breguet triple calendar chronograph

The French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, best known for films such as The Professional, Breathless and Pierrot le Fou, often appeared on screen wearing desirable watches, including examples by Rolex, Cartier, Breitling and Panerai. Off screen, his personal collection was equally impressive.

One of the most notable watches he owned was this 18ct gold triple calendar chronograph by Breguet. It was made in 1972, and sold on 22 December 1973. The receipt lists the price as 3,500 francs and the purchaser as ‘M. Belmondo’ — either the actor or his father, the celebrated sculptor Paul Belmondo, who also happened to be a keen watch collector.

Breguet, no. 576 triple calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon phases, 1972, offered in The OAK Collection Part Ion 26 November 2023 at Christie's in Hong Kong

Breguet, no. 576 triple calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon phases, 1972. Estimate: HK$1,200,000-2,400,000. Offered in The OAK Collection Part Ion 26 November 2023 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

Whether the buyer was father or son, Jean-Paul was photographed wearing the same watch at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival. Thirty-seven years later, in 2011 — when the actor retired — he received festival’s highest award, the coveted Palme d’Or.

The Breguet was sold at Christie’s in Geneva in 2016 for CHF 75,000. It’s being offered again, at Christie’s in Hong Kong on 26 November 2023, as part of the OAK Collection (which stands for ‘one-of-a-kind’), ranked by experts as one of the top five private collections in the world.

In 2022, a selection of 160 highlights (including this watch) from the collection went on show at London’s Design Museum in what was the first ever curated exhibition of a private watch collection in an art museum.

Joe DiMaggio’s Patek Philippe ref. 130

Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio held on to his cherished Patek for more than half a century, from 1948 (the year he topped the American League Home Run leader board for the second time) until his death in 1999, aged 84.

The watch came up for sale in December 2017 at Christie’s in New York. That summer it had been a star exhibit at a Patek Philippe exhibition held at Cipriani on 42nd Street. Nearly 30,000 people viewed it over the course of 10 days. Offered with DiMaggio’s original strap, it sold for $281,250.

Ernest Hemingway’s L. Leroy & Cie pocket watch

On 25 August 1944, according to legend, Ernest Hemingway pulled up outside the Hôtel Ritz in Paris in a Jeep mounted with a machine gun. ‘Where are the Germans? I’ve come to liberate the Ritz!’ he announced to the hotel’s manager. ‘Monsieur,’ the manager replied, ‘they left a long time ago.’ Hemingway then supposedly proceeded to run up a bar tab for 51 dry martinis.

Hemingway had been a regular patron of the Ritz since his arrival in Paris in 1921 as a young reporter for the Toronto Star. He developed a close friendship with the hotel’s owner, Charles C. Ritz, the son of its founder, César Ritz.

In 1946, to commemorate the writer’s marriage to Mary Welsh, Charles presented Hemingway with the pocket watch pictured above right. Hemingway etched his initials in the back of the watch, which he is said to have enjoyed using to time horse races. After his death in 1961, Welsh returned it to Charles as a memento of their friendship.

The watch was offered at Christie’s in New York in 2019, together with a Vacheron Constantin pocket watch also owned by Charles Ritz. The pair achieved $43,750.

George H.W. Bush’s Patek Philippe 3445

In 2019, Christie’s sold a gold Patek Philippe that once belonged to the 41st president of the United States, George H.W. Bush.

Bush acquired the watch on 20 February 1971 from the Patek Philippe boutique in Geneva. It was a pivotal year in his political career: President Richard Nixon had appointed him Ambassador to the United Nations, where he took his seat in office nine days after making this purchase.

Patek Philippe. A gold automatic wristwatch with date, formerly belonging to 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush. Ref. 3445, movement no. 1'127'156, case no. 323'934, manufactured in 1968. Sold for $62,500 on 12 December 2019 at Christie’s in New York

The watch was offered together with a letter typed and signed by Bush on 28 March 1997 — four years after the end of his presidency — confirming the provenance. Alongside this was a photocopy of the original invoice and a photograph of the President and First Lady Barbara Bush. It realised $62,500.

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Albert Einstein’s pocket watch

It’s well known among watch collectors that patina can add value. On a fundamental level, it suggests age and authenticity. But it can also build an object’s story, indicating how it has been displayed or handled over the years.

A Swiss silver open-face pocket watch, circa 1900, belonging to Albert Einstein. Sold for £266,500 on 13 July 2016 at Christie’s in London

In 2016, Christie’s offered a pocket watch with a particularly exciting patina. It had belonged to Albert Einstein. Purchased in 1900 — when the 21-year-old graduated from the Federal Polytechnic School in Zürich and published his first paper on intermolecular forces — it remained in his possession until he died in 1955. It was one of just three confirmed timepieces that he would ever own.

The watch’s rose-coloured gilt casing had developed a rich, mottled colour thanks to years of continuous use by the theoretical physicist. At auction it sailed past its estimate of £15,000-20,000 to achieve £266,500.

Explore Luxury at Christie’s in Hong Kong, Geneva, London and Paris, November and December 2023

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