Few factors can increases the value of a vintage watch quite like its once having belonged to a celebrity. Whenever a watch owned by a celebrity or historical figure goes on the block at auction houses like Antiquorum, Phillips, Sotheby’s, and Christie’s, bidding can be expected to go well beyond the estimated value. As we await the historic sale of Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona at the upcoming Phillips New York auction, we look at other notable “celebrity” watches, once owned by iconic entertainment and sports stars, sold at auction within the past few years.
1. James Dean’s Elgin pocketwatch
At its June 22, 2013 auction of “Important Modern & Vintage Timepieces” in Hong Kong, Antiquorum auctioned a pocketwatch belonging to legendary actor James Dean. The pocketwatch was made by American watchmaker Standard USA circa 1889 with an American-made Elgin movement. Dean had his initials engraved on the watch and considered it his good luck charm, wearing it while performing in TV and plays. The piece’s estimated price was around US $5,000, but after several bids from around the world, the watch sold for eight times that estimated value at about $42,000 (HKD $325,000).
2. Daniel Craig’s Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean
The Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean worn by Daniel Craig in the James Bond movie Skyfall was auctioned at Christie’s in London on October 5, 2012. The watch sold for $254,273, with all proceeds going towards Orbis, a non-profit organization that provides eye care in developing nations. It was the second highest price for a Bond watch, the highest being $255,565 for the Planet Ocean from Casino Royale, and the third highest being $196,056 for the Rolex from Live and Let Die.
3. Joe Dimaggio’s Bulova Accutron
At its April 10, 2013 auction of “Important Modern & Vintage Timepieces” held in New York City, Antiquorum auctioned a Bulova Accutron owned by baseball Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio. Joltin’ Joe’s Bulova Accutron watch is a rare asymmetrical model, with a water-resistant, stainless steel case and electronic movement. The watch sold for $20,625, over five times its high estimate of $4,000.
4. Charlie Chaplin’s Rolex Oyster
At the same auction, Antiquorum also offered a Rolex Oyster, made circa 1945, owned by silent film star Charlie Chaplin. The watch was notable not only for having belonged to Chaplin, but also for it’s rarity as one of the few left-handed models produced by Rolex during this period. The watch was accompanied by four vintage photos and various authenticating correspondence. The Rolex sold for $51,250, over four times its high estimate of $12,000.
5. Jean-Claude Killy’s Rolex Dato-Compax Chronograph
At a December 2012 auction, Antiquorum also auctioned a Rolex Dato-Compax Chronograph made in 1951, famously worn by, and nicknamed for, the Olympic skiing champion Jean-Claude Killy. The rare Ref. 6036, a round-button chronograph with three subdials and a triple date shattered the record for that reference at auction, going for a staggering $614,500, significantly higher than its $180,000 – $200,000 estimate.
6. Eric Clapton’s Patek Philippe Ref. 2499/100
At an auction held on November 20, 2012, in Geneva, Christie’s auctioned a very rare Patek Philippe Ref. 2499/100 from the personal collection of legendary guitarist Eric Clapton. The watch, manufactured in 1987 as one of only two platinum versions of this reference ever made, has a perpetual calendar, chronograph and moon-phase. It sold at $3,635,808, a new world record price for this reference at auction.
7. Elvis Presley’s Omega Constellation Calendar
A rare, black-dialed Omega Constellation Calendar produced around 1960, once belonging to Elvis Presley, was auctioned by Antiquorum in New York on June 12, 2012. The watch has an automatic chronometer movement with center seconds and date and a steel case with rose-gold plating. Antiquorum put the pre-sale estimate at $10,000 to $20,000, but bids for the coveted piece of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia quickly escalated to a final hammer price of $52,500. The winning bidder received, in addition to the watch, a letter of attestation from Charlie Hodge, the watch’s onetime owner, a longtime friend and confidant of Presley and a member of the so-called “Memphis Mafia.”
8. Babe Ruth’s Gruen pocketwatch
Long before Major League Baseball players were awarded World Series rings to mark their victories, teams celebrated championship titles by gifting their athletes commemorative watches. One of the most coveted of these World Series timepieces was owned by legendary New York Yankee outfielder Babe Ruth, whose Gruen Verithin 1923 World Series championship pocketwatch was auctioned on February 22, 2014, in New York City, by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions. The watch, significant in that it was “the first piece of championship hardware that Ruth ever won,” went for $717,000.
This article was originally published in 2013 and has been updated with additional material.
Interested in other celebrity watches? Take a look at these 7 Personalized Watches made for World Championship Athletes!