From Rolex to Tag Heuer and Back Again: The Watches of Steve McQueen
In the world of watches, there’s a handful of individuals who loom large — men who made certain watches cool or were made cool by certain watches. Either way, they understood the power of having the right timepiece on their wrist.
Steve McQueen was without question one of those men. Throughout his life and his acting career, he could consistently be found wearing all the right watches. From the Rolex Speedking he wore as a British soldier in The Great Escape to the Heuer Monaco he elevated to icon status in Le Mans, to the 5512 Sub he wore in The Towering Inferno and daily in his personal life, McQueen brilliantly illustrated the degree to which a man could, in a sense, become one: never showy but always effortlessly stylish, almost as if neither could not exist without the other.
The UK-based watch and jewelry shop ROX recently published an article chronicling the life and style of the actor, so we spoke to them about some of the more noteworthy watches he wore throughout his career. Find those six tickers — as well as our best guess on where you might be able to score one, if it’s even possible — below.
Hanhart 417ES, The War Lover (1962)
When taking on the role of Buzz Rickson in The War Lover, only one timepiece would do for Steve McQueen. An air force ace who thrives in the middle of any battle, Rickson is widely disliked but admired by fellow fighter pilots for his commitment and tenacity in the sky. With that in mind, McQueen donned the Hanhart 417ES — a model by German manufacturer Hanhart who specialized in creating chronographs for the German Air Force, including the Luftwaffe in WWII and the West German Airforce in the 1950s. The Hanhart 417ES was a rare model, with only 500 made. McQueen’s model featured a black dial and brown leather faststrap.
Rolex Speedking, The Great Escape (1963)
We’ve all seen Captain Virgil Hilts make his iconic bid for freedom while wearing a Rolex Speedking in the 1963 box office hit The Great Escape. It’s no secret that McQueen had close ties to Rolex, but that relationship has nothing to do with why the brand appeared in the film. During World War II, Rolex founder Hans Wildof offered British servicemen in a German prison camps the chance to order their own Rolex in a bid to boost morale, and the Speedking was the most commonly requested model.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox, The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
A man known for his uncompromising style and attitude, McQueen was hailed by many as the original King of Cool. Never was that more evident than in the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair. McQueen takes on the role of self-made Boston millionaire Thomas Crown, who grows tired of being part of the establishment — quite fitting really. Always suited and booted with his Jager- LeCoultre Memovox watch on the wrist, he masterminds a bank heist in the hope of leaving his troubles behind.
Heuer Monaco 1133, Le Mans (1971)
“Racing is life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting”. The words of Le Mans’ Michael Delaney were more than just another line for Steve McQueen – they were a way of life. A well-known petrol head with gasoline practically running through his veins, racing for McQueen was ‘the ultimate test’ and a passion he proudly shared with the world in the 1971 film. This was also the movie that first established his ties with Heuer. The blue eye actor and blue-faced Heuer Monaco have been inextricably linked since, with the iconic square dial watch going down in both racing and horological history.
Gruen Precision, The Getaway (1972)
Minimal, functional style was key to McQueen’s role as paroled bank robber Doc McCoy in the 1972’s The Getaway. But the Gruen Precision he wore on his right wrist during the famed bank heist was the exception to this rule.The golden timepiece managed to be both innovative and stylish. The company went out of business in the 1970s and all records from before 1958 vanished, making the watches harder to date or price.
Rolex Submariner 5512, The Towering Inferno (1974); The Hunter (1980)
Steve McQueen was a well-known Rolex fan. In fact, like long-time rival Paul Newman he had a Rolex named after him – the Explorer II. However, it when the pair shared the silver screen in Towering Inferno McQueen opted to wear his own personal Submariner timepiece. He also wore the watch whilst shooting his final film The Hunter.
Lead image courtesy John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images; Hanhart photo courtesy @mikwatch_enthusiasts; Heuer Monaco photo courtesy Bob’s Watches;