With only a few more days until the Phillips New York Game Changers auction, we thought we’d highlight a few of the timepieces that we had the privilege to see when they made a brief stop in Hong Kong in November.
There’s no doubt that themed auction are somewhat a thing for the Phillips Watch Department. If you rewind to Phillips’ first watch sale in partnership with Bacs & Russo in 2014, you’ll remember it was also a themed sale focused on the Rolex Day-Date.
It doesn’t always end up that way, but in the course of assembling Phillips’ third New York watch auction, Paul Boutros, Head of Watches in America, quickly realised they had a powerful theme running. At that time, Boutros had three incredible watches in his hand (not literally): the Rolex GMT-Master worn by Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, and two more watches that were found from the estate sale of Senator John H. Glenn Jr, who was also the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.
From that moment, he knew Game Changers had to be the theme. All the 75 lots in the upcoming New York sale are watches owned by extraordinary people who were “game changers” in their fields, as well as watches that are so special that they changed the course of watchmaking. Let’s take a closer look.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Lucky 13 (Lot 13)
This special watch formed part of the trio that convinced Boutros that the theme of the New York watch auction should be titled Game Changers. This watch, alongside Lot 14 which we will touch on later, were part of an estate sale of Senator John H. Glenn Jr, who was an American politician and more significantly, the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, successfully circling it three times.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre was found in his estate sale, and now consigned by the purchasers to Phillips. The most unusual fact about it is of course, that all the hour markers read 13. The dial is similar to the LeCoultre 24-hour dial watch that was given to all the astronauts on Project Mercury, manufactured in the United States by LeCoultre.
What is intriguing about the watch is the date engraving on the back of the watch, which read Friday April 13, 1962. Thorough research by the Phillips team revealed a document from the Congressional Records on the mystery date and the obsession over the number 13. On Friday the 13th, two months after Glenn orbited the earth, thirteen senators gathered at the Anti-Superstition Society in Chicago to present him with a special watch commemorating his spacecraft capsule number 13. Each of the selected Senator also had a special relationship to the number — be it in the number of letters in their names, or being the 13th child in a large family and so on.
It’s very rare that a backstory of this sort comes to light, and in a Congressional Record too. For this reason, Phillips also chose to honour the piece by making it Lot 13 in the auction.
Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute (Lot 14)
This Breitling was also amongst the watches found at the estate sale of Senator John H. Glenn, Jr.
The Breitling Navitimer was not only beloved by aviators, it was beloved by astronauts too. American astronaut Commander Malcolm Scott Carpenter was one of the first seven US astronauts known as the Mercury Seven who went into space. In charge of navigation equipment and already a fan of Breitling, Carpenter got in touch with the company to produce a Navitimer with a few alterations to make it suitable for space flight.
The watch, released in the early 1960s, was later dubbed the Cosmonaute. It bears the name “Navitimer” on the dial with the special reference 809 as well as the AOPA wings instead of the Breitling logo. This variation of the Cosmonaute was only in production for a few months in 1962, and features an all black dial sans the white subdials in the later versions, and is also fitted with syringe-style luminous hands.
Scott Carpenter wore a configuration of the Cosmonaute to space on his Mercury-Atlas 7 mission. Other Mercury Seven astronauts, like Gus Grissom and possibly Wally Schirra, also wore the same model. The current lot comes with the bill of sale which confirms that a fourth Mercury Seven astronaut, John Glenn, also owned and wore the watch; making this Navitimer Cosmonaute one of the most important Breitling watches ever to appear at an international auction.
The Jack Nicklaus Rolex Day-Date (Lot 18)
Jack Nicklaus is undoubtedly the greatest golfer of all time. And naturally, he probably has been gifted more watches than he cares to count – he wears only one after all. The winner of 18 major championships, Nicklaus faithfully wore his yellow gold Rolex Day-Date for 50 years, ever since he received it as a gift from Rolex in 1967. Numerous photographs have been captured over the years, Nicklaus always puts it back on his wrist after each tournament.
But now, he has decided to part with it in order to raise money for his charitable organisation, the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation. Phillips too, has announced that 100 per cent of the present lot’s proceeds will go to the organisation.
Rolex The Marlon Brando “Apocalypse Now” GMT-Master (Lot 30)
Says Boutros, “I received an email one day from a Petra Fischer who said she had something that would be of great interest to Phillips.” When he found out she was Petra Brando Fischer, Marlon Brando’s daughter, and that she was offering the Rolex GMT-Master worn by her father in Apocalypse Now, he almost fell out of his chair. And she uncovered a secret unknown to the world at that time. When Boutros opened up her email with photos of the watch, he discovered that the caseback was engraved with “M. Brando.” It was the greatest moment any auctioneer can hope for in their career.
The watch carries great emotional significance for its owners. Petra Brando Fischer was Marlon Brando’s adoptive daughter, and the watch was gifted to her following her graduation from Brown University in 1994. It is accompanied with a letter he wrote, which called the watch a tank. “You can do anything you want to it and it will keep on going. I want you to have it as a reminder of how proud I am of you,” he wrote.
Petra later gifted the watch to her husband on their wedding night, and he, appreciating the significance of it, chose to cherish it rather than wear it.
The Rolex GMT-Master ref. 1675 is offered as it was received by Petra, without a bezel; and fitted on a rubber strap. The watch not only has impeccable provenance, it is also exceptionally well-preserved, retaining all of its bevels and curves, and the luminous hour markers and hands have aged to a beautiful golden colour.
Some proceeds of the watch sale will go back to the Brando Fischer Foundation, established by Petra and her husband Russell to benefit children living through hardship due to abuse, neglect, poverty or disability. Causes, Petra believes, would have been very important to her father.
Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 “Pink on Pink” (Lot 64)
The Ref. 1518 is considered one of the most important wristwatches of the 20th century. It is the first perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch to be produced in a series by any brand, and it was the turning point for Patek Philippe, which then on out occupied the upper echelons of haute horlogerie.
The Ref. 1518 is not only important in the history of watchmaking, it is also extremely rare. There are only 281 examples of the watch known, with the majority of them in yellow gold, extremely limited in pink gold, and rarer still in steel — there are only four known models.
Before this lot appeared, there were only 12 known watches with the mythical “pink on pink” combination. The surfacing of this 13th timepiece, and in such well-preserved condition too, makes this a very worthy entry in the Game Changers sale.
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Dual Time Prototype (Lot 72)
Exploration and watches have always been closely tied; often, watches are made to endure the most hostile of environments and provide the explorer with reliable information despite the extremities.
When American explorer and mountaineer Cory Richards decided to climb Mount Everest for the third time in 2019, via the treacherous North-East Ridge from the Tibetan side, he partnered with Vacheron Constantin to create his perfect watch.
Richards needed a timepiece that could track the time on Everest as well as home time in United States. It also needed to be able to withstand the brutal elements.
The Overseas Dual-Time Prototype is housed in a 41mm titanium case, and features tantalum reinforcements beneath its bezel and for its crown guards. It’s designed especially for Richards, the 22K gold winding rotor is etched with one of Richard’s own photographs of the Everest.The Ventile cotton strap is a little worn on the edges, a precious mark of the time it spent on the Everest on Richards’ wrist.
The prototype watch is sold to benefit the National Geographic Society, which is a non-profit organisation close to Richards’ heart.
Urwerk UR-105 RDJ “Avengers: Endgame” (Lot 75)
And last but not least, this Urwerk UR-105 is a special unique timepiece that was made especially for Robert Downey Jr., who wore it in the blockbuster movie Avengers: Endgame.
Downey Jr. has long had a penchant for independent watchmaking, having previously reached out to Urwerk for the UR-110 he wore in Spider-Man: Homecoming. For Endgame, Downey Jr. wore the UR-105. The watch, created by Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei, really needs no more introduction; we’ve written about it several times and have even produced a special Revolution version in the past.
This version is extra special because it comes with the actor’s initials “RDJ” in place of the edition number, and “ENDGAME” is engraved in bold on the underside of the case top.
Proceeds from the sale will be donated to Random Act Funding, a charitable organisation founded by Susan and Robert Downey Jr. Fittingly, the Endgame watch forms the last lot of this exciting sale.
The Phillips New York Game Changers auction begins on December 10th, 2019. Viewing starts today at 450 Park Avenue, New York, with the auction starting on the 10th at 5 pm.