As Fire Chief Mike O’Halloran, Steve McQueen saved helpless A-listers in The Towering Inferno. His second fire rescue came in 2016, but this time he was saved — or, more accurately, his watch was.
That’s just one anecdote behind McQueen’s Rolex Submariner, a “historically important and previously unknown” timepiece going up for auction at Phillips in October.
The auction house announced the acquisition and upcoming sale today, hyping the timepiece as a worthy follow-up to Paul Newman's “Paul Newman,” a Rolex Daytona which became the most expensive watch sold at auction when it closed at $17.8 million at Phillips’ New York “Winning Icons” sale last October.
In the press release for that auction, Phillips called the Paul Newman “arguably the most iconic collector's wristwatch of the 20th century.” In that case, let's argue why this McQueen Submariner is better.
As alluded to, this Rolex survived not just any ol’ blaze, but California’s devastating 2016 Sand Fire.
The story goes like this: during the two week wildfire — which killed two, ravaged 40,000 acres of land and destroyed 18 buildings — one of the homes reduced to rubble was that of McQueen’s former stunt double, Loren Janes. He thought everything was destroyed, including the Rolex McQueen gifted to him.
That is, until Michael Eisenberg, a real estate broker and developer who also deals in memorabilia, read a story about that particular loss and contacted them.
“I begged them to go back to the house and sift through ashes,” Eisenberg told Forbes. “A few weeks later, they called me back to say they had found it.”
Sure enough, the Rolex survived, though it had to be sent to the watchmaker’s HQ for refurbishing. And therein lies the provenance.
The caseback was saved, which is not only an important identifier, but also part of the lore of the timepiece, as it was engraved by McQueen to read: “LOREN, THE BEST DAMN STUNTMAN IN THE WORLD. STEVE.” As Forbes points out, this is the only watch that features the actor’s name.
Janes, who passed away in 2017, was McQueen’s personal stuntman and longtime friend. Not only did they work together on The Towering Inferno, Bullitt, The Thomas Crown Affair and 16 other films, they “were in contact directly before McQueen’s final trip to Mexico for medical treatments.”
Should you be interested in bidding, the Submariner will come with a signed letter of authenticity from Janes, as well as a letter and photos from the restoration, and the tome Steve McQueen: A Life in Pictures, which features photos of McQueen wearing the timepiece.
Another reason this has the edge over the Paul Newman? It's estimated to sell for a (relatively) affordable $300K-$600K.
Photos via Phillips