Steve McQueen’s and Magsaysay’s Rolexes
Rolex is the most iconic luxury watch in the world, partly because Rolex is easier to pronounce than the more expensive French or German trademarks. Then there is its celebrity endorser, the Swiss Roger Federer, who is currently ranked third in international tennis but has consistently stayed on the court long enough to win 20 grand slams while wearing his Rolex.
I wear and swear by Swatch, and cannot understand the allure of Rolex. It’s clunky and too sporty for stereotype historians who wear vintage watches with a simple face and leather strap. However, I visit Rolex outlets at the airport Duty Free to compare prices: between new and vintage, and the disparity between Manila, Hong Kong and other parts of the world.
I peer into the vitrines and recoil at the sight of the flashy yellow gold models. The ones with diamonds give me a visual peg for “ostentatious display of wealth.” Rolex boutiques, with their armed doormen and slick white-gloved personnel, made me understand why some Pinoys travel to Bangkok and Shenzhen for fake Rolex.
A piece of news that caught my eye last year was the Rolex Daytona, ref. 6263, often referred to as the “Paul Newman Rolex,” for the actor who endorsed it. A Rolex Daytona was sold at auction in Manila for a record P22,192,000. That’s roughly the price of three S-Class Mercedes-Benzes without the frills. But, as a friend who collects high-end watches once whispered to me with a wink: “You cannot bring a car into a boardroom, but you can wear an expensive watch to one.”
What puzzles me is that a car depreciates 30 percent as soon as you drive it out of the showroom; the same for a watch after you remove the attached tags and plastic seal to wear it. If, in principle, you cannot flip it next day for the price you paid, why bother?
Well, some watches actually appreciate in their vintage state, because of their rarity, desirability and association with celebrity. The Manila record of P22.2 million for a Paul Newman Rolex pales in comparison with the international record for the same Rolex model that stands at $17.8 million.
So, there was quite a buzz earlier this year when it was announced that a Steve McQueen Rolex was on the block. Loren Janes is a name that will not ring any bells, except for film buffs who know he was the stunt man who doubled for McQueen from the time he appeared in the TV series “Wanted Dead or Alive” (1958-1961) to his last film, “The Hunter” (1980).
This Rolex Submariner is engraved on the caseback with: “TO LOREN, THE BEST DAMN STUNTMAN IN THE WORLD. STEVE,” a line that appears in an autographed photo McQueen gave Janes in 1965. McQueen was known to have the habit of gifting friends with engraved watches. Or, sometimes he would take a watch off his wrist and give it away, but later ask for it back, have it engraved and return it in a gift box to the lucky person.
Since another Rolex Submariner allegedly owned by McQueen had previously sold for $234,000 in June 2009, this inscribed Submariner, ref. 5513, and made in 1964, was expected to fetch far more in 2018—except that its provenance was called into question. Worse, the watch was actually burned during the June 2016 California wildfire.
It was recovered from the rubble of Janes’ house by his son, and was restored, or should we say completely rebuilt, by Rolex, except for the original charred inscribed case. It was technically a brand-new watch with an incredible story. But, to cut a long story short, the McQueen estate challenged its authenticity, leading to its withdrawal from auction.
It has been suggested that the McQueen estate acted unfavorably because of an endorsement contract with Tag Heuer, a Rolex competitor; and the fact that Chad McQueen had two Rolex Submariners inherited from his father. Still, while those two Rolexes had indisputable provenance, they do not have the affectionate engraved caseback as the Janes Rolex.
It is this type of historical sleuthing that gets me excited, and I was happy to read an article by Aurelio Icasiano III about finding Ramon Magsaysay’s Rolex in the Magsaysay Foundation bodega. A Rolex Oyster Perpetual that Magsaysay wore daily, the simple watch was used to identify his charred corpse after the presidential plane Pinatubo crashed on Mt. Manunggal in Cebu.
This historical watch is literally priceless. It stopped at 1:53 a.m. of March 17, 1957, the exact time of Magsaysay’s date with destiny.
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