The Steve McQueen/Loren Janes Rolex Submariner 5513 Coming To Auction: How Long Did He Own It, How Often Did He Wear It, And How Much Survived The Fire?
by Nick Gould
When the news broke on June 4, 2018 that Phillips was going to auction off a Rolex Submariner purportedly owned by Steve McQueen, which he had gifted to his friend Loren Janes, a stuntman who worked with him on various films, I was interested to read the back story of the timepiece – a watch that had survived the notorious California Sand Fires of 2016 during which Janes had lost all other worldly possessions.
When I first saw the picture of the Rolex Submariner coming up for sale, I thought the auction house, Phillips, had made a typo since it was listed as a 1965 Rolex Submariner Reference 5513; the watch pictured showed a Reference 5512 dial featuring the depth rating and the words “Submariner” and “chronometer certification” printed underneath.
Phillips reported that the watch was indeed a Reference 5513, but at some point had ended up with a tritium dial from a 5512 and that the consignor had bought a 5513 gilt dial with matching hands to go with the watch.
Phillips does not know when this dial fitted, only that it was already present during the 2016 restoration by Rolex. From the limited photographs found of Loren James, it is apparent that there was a 5513 dial on the watch before the 2016 fire.
Jake’s Rolex World posted photos of the Loren Janes Submariner from his daughter showing what the watch looked like after the fire, and from the printing of the words “Swiss- T<25” I surmise that that original gilt dial was replaced by a matte dial at some point before the fire, too, perhaps during a service.
I have obtained a few photos of Loren Janes from 2004 and 2007 respectively, which appear to show a matte 5513 dial on the watch (see below).
What piqued my interest to investigate the matter further was that the auction house stated that McQueen had worn the timepiece himself in the 1960s before gifting it to Janes.
Left-handed McQueen was photographed many times wearing his Rolex Submariner Reference 5512 on his right wrist in day-to-day activities and in some of his films such as The Towering Inferno and The Hunter. I could not recall seeing any photographs of him wearing a Rolex before 1970.
I decided to start my research using my trusty friends Getty Images and Google.
As the watch was listed by Phillips as a 1965 Rolex Submariner Reference 5513, I decided to start looking at pictures from 1963 to establish a timeline. And while I found quite a few images of McQueen wearing a Hanhart Bi-Compax Chronograph and an unknown watch with a white dial, I found none of him wearing a Rolex Submariner or any mention of him owning or wearing a Rolex Submariner before 1970.
In 1963 an image shows McQueen resting in the back of a truck after some motorcycle racing with his good friend, stuntman Bud Ekins. Ekins was the one who performed the memorable motorcycle jump as McQueen’s character in The Great Escape. McQueen is wearing a white-dialed watch on a leather strap on his right wrist. This is too early for the Submariner, but it establishes he wore watches even when motorcycle riding.
Also from 1963: in an image taken by photographer John Dominis, is an iconic image of McQueen photographed in his home. He is wearing his signature Persol sunglasses while pointing a revolver. Sitting prominently on his right wrist is a black-dialed Hanhart Bi-Compax Chronograph on a bund strap. In my opinion, this watch plays an important part for the following timeline.
An image from 1964 at the International Six Day Trials (ISDT), where McQueen represented the USA along with his buddy Ekins, his brother Dave Ekins, Cliff Coleman, and John Steen clearly shows McQueen wearing a black-dial chronograph (most likely the Hanhart) during a period of rest. A picture from September 1964 shows McQueen in Paris again sporting a while-dialed watch, while one from 1965 shows McQueen attending the Monaco Grand Prix wearing a white-dialed watch on a metal bracelet.
In 1966 McQueen is photographed at a racetrack in Riverside, California with a white-dialed watch, but this time on a black strap. And on March 21, 1967 McQueen gets his hand- and footprints cast outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles – and no sign of a Rolex Submariner as the same white-dialed watch makes an appearance once again.
While filming Bullit in 1968, McQueen was seen signing an autograph for a young fan wearing a black-dialed watch on leather strap.
And this brings me to an article from 2011 in which Janes was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about his participation in Bullitt, “When the filming of Bullitt ended, McQueen offered Mr. Janes one of the three tricked-out Mustangs used in the film. Mr. Janes passed, fearful he would always want to drive it too fast. ‘Besides, I already had this,’ he said, removing a 1964 Rolex Submariner from his wrist. On the back was an inscription: ‘To the best damn stuntman in the world. Steve’.”
In this interview, Janes stated that he already had the Rolex Submariner BEFORE the filming of Bullitt. I think that this supports the basis for Steve McQueen never owing a Submariner in the 1960s.
Jake Ehrlich of Jake’s Rolex World interviewed Stan Barrett, a former stuntman and best friend of Paul Newman, in his article on this particular Submariner in Loren Janes’ Submariner: The Rolex Phoenix That Rose From The Flame.
Barrett said, “Back in 1968 I was working with Loren Janes, and I noticed he was wearing a Rolex Submariner. Being a huge Rolex fan myself, I was checking out his Submariner and I remembered commenting it was pretty thick. Not only do I not recall seeing an engraving on the back of Loren Janes’ Rolex Submariner, but trust me, if it had an engraving that read: “LOREN. THE BEST DAMN STUNTMAN IN THE WORLD. —STEVE” I would have remembered it – for sure!!! Also, if the engraving was on the watch from Steve McQueen it’s certain Loren would have shown it to me.”
Therefore, we might assume the engraving on the back of the watch wasn’t present on it back in 1968.
In 1970, McQueen was seen wearing a Rolex Reference 5512 while racing at the 12 Hours of Sebring before the filming of Le Mans.
Le Mans and the visible dial of McQueen’s Reference 5512 Submariner
During the filming of Le Mans in 1971, McQueen was very regularly seen with a Rolex Submariner on his wrist with the four lines of engraved text visible.
We briefly spoke via e-mail to the prop master from Le Mans, Don Nunley, who revealed this: “McQueen was an actor who did all his own stunts. At least he did on the set of Le Mans. There was no stunt double used in this film. But McQueen did wear a Rolex Submariner as his personal watch.”
“If McQueen actually gave it to Loren, the stunt man, it was for some other reason. And it probably wasn’t a watch he ever wore. He may have bought it or had it bought as a gift,” Nunley summed up in the June 2018 e-mail.
In 1972 McQueen was photographed wearing his Submariner again – and who else is with him in the photo? A man by the name of Paul Newman.
The first time a Reference 5513 appeared on his wrist was during the filming of Papillon in 1973. The two lines of verbiage featuring the depth rating and the word Submariner on the dial are visible.
From the timeline, it is clear McQueen did fairly religiously wear watches in the 1960s, particularly his Hanhart and the unidentified white-dial watch.
Did he wear a Submariner in the 1960s? I sincerely believe he didn’t wear one until 1970, just before the filming of Le Mans, leading me to conclude that Janes’ own Submariner (which he stated himself is of a different year) was possibly gifted to him by McQueen, but never owned by him.
If someone can produce a photograph from between 1965 and 1969 of Steve McQueen wearing a Rolex Submariner Reference 5513, it would answer some questions.