During the last decade, the watch world has seen an auction boom the likes of which no one could have predicted. Both mechanically and historically significant timepieces have seen hammer prices reach ludicrous heights — at the top the list, a 2019 Patek Phillippe sold for over $31 million and a Paul Newman Rolex Dayton for just under $18 million — and arguably no single model tells this story better than Steve McQueen’s Le Mans watch.
The square-cased timepiece in question is a Heuer Monaco — designed in the late ‘60s back before the brand became TAG Heuer — six of which were known to have been used during filming of the 1971 racing classic. Watch blog Hodinkee notes that back in 2009 one of the six sold at auction for about $80,000, then another sold three years later for about ten times that amount. Then on Saturday, the last of the six to come up for public sale reached a record-breaking price of $2,208,000, or 27 times the one sold in ‘09.
As we detailed back in October, the watch was included in the Phillips “Racing Pulse” auction held in New York City, though bidders and attendees followed along online and over the phone. That digital element didn’t stop well heeled collectors from shelling out; while Phillips didn’t place an estimated selling price on the Heuer Monaco, experts estimated it would go for north of $1 million. But north of $2 million? That has made this reference 1133 the most expensive TAG Heuer ever sold at auction, as well as the most expensive wristwatch from the brand ever sold — period.
Besides this specific watch being worn by Steve McQueen in the film, and the Heuer Monaco in general being arguably the world’s first automatic chronograph, there is an additional level of provenance to this timepiece; the caseback features an engraving dedicated to heralded mechanic Haig Alltounian, who oversaw much of the driving and vehicle maintenance in Le Mans, that McQueen himself commissioned. To make the lot even more valuable, Alltounian himself consigned the watch for this auction.
Will this lead more TAG Heuer pieces to the auction block? And will the other five Heuer Monaco’s come back out of their temperature-controlled cases to sell once more? We’ll have to wait and see, but rest assured the market isn’t going to cool off anytime soon. After all, this isn’t even the most expensive watch sold last weekend.
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