Marlon Brando’s Rolex: Grail Watch or Overvalued Prop?

The timepiece, which was worn by the actor in “Apocalypse Now,” caused a sensation in 2019, but it’s already back on the market

Marlon Brando Rolex GMT-Master ref. 1675, which is headed to auction at Christie's in 2023 after selling through Phillips in 2019
Marlon Brando's "Apocalypse Now" Rolex is headed to auction just four years after it last sold.

When a Rolex GMT-Master once owned by Marlon Brando and worn by the actor in Apocalypse Now surfaced in 2019, after years of being considered lost, James Stacy wrote in Hodinkee that it was “among the most distinctive and downright cool movie watches of all time.” 

The watch, which was set to be sold by Brando’s family through auction house Phillips, set off a media frenzy. (Well, as big of a media frenzy as you can muster for notable timepieces.) CNBC predicted it could become “one of the most expensive [Rolex watches] ever sold,” citing experts who said it “could sell for millions.” When it finally did sell, it achieved a price not of $4 million, as GQ heard among estimates in the crowd at the auction, but $1,952,000, including fees. 

Now, Brando’s Rolex GMT-Master ref. 1675 is once again headed to the auction block, this time at Christie’s. Instead of inspiring impassioned essays and dollar signs in eyeballs, the relatively quick turnaround sale of the cinematic timepiece is leading to the question: does the original owner have a bit of buyer’s remorse? Did Stacy, who also warned back in 2019 to not “expect to see this bezel-free GMT-Master perform alongside watches like Paul Newman’s Paul Newman Daytona,” have the right attitude all along?

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The Rolex is part of a single-owner auction, dubbed “Passion for Time,” taking place in Geneva on November 6. The collector, Mohammed Zaman, is selling 113 pieces total, and Brando’s Apocalypse Now accessory isn’t even the highest value of the bunch. A Philippe Dufour and George Daniels have high-end estimates of $6.6 million and $2.6 million, respectively, while the GMT-Master has an estimate between $1.1 and $2.2 million. 

“Cynically, they could sense that now is the right time to sell,” Anthony Traina wrote at Hodinkee, referencing this and another upcoming single-owner auction. “The market has slowed down significantly over the past couple of years, and there aren’t signs that it’s getting any better.” 

That market slowdown has to be seen in context, as the pandemic ushered in an unprecedented boom in both luxury sales and auction prices. But estimating that this Hollywood-adjacent timepiece — which not only appeared in Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War epic but was hand-engraved on the back by Brando himself — will sell for as little as $1.1 million (in comparison to its much higher 2019 sale price) may also mark a cooling off in pop culture watch-collecting, where celebrity provenance has lead to huge hammer prices in recent years. 

Of course, as Christie’s predicts, this piece could also blow away the previous sale by hundreds of thousands of dollars. If not, well, Zaman has 112 other watches to fall back on.

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