‘Apocalypse Now’ Was Not The First Time Marlon Brando Wore A Rolex GMT-Master Without Bezel: Phillips ‘Game Changers’ Auction’s Star Lot
by Nick Gould
On December 10, 2019, as part of its Game Changers auction in New York City Phillips will offer the iconic watch worn by Marlon Brando as he played Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.
This watch is a Rolex GMT-Master Reference 1675 that is missing its bidirectional bezel with the dedicated red GMT hand that helps the wearer keep track of a second time zone.
As Brando wore his watch on a rubber strap instead of the usual stainless steel bracelet, the missing bezel really gave the watch a unique, sterile look.
The Rolex GMT-Master was thought to be missing, but in fact Brando had given it to his adoptive daughter Petra Brando Fischer – the biological daughter of his assistant Caroline Barrett and novelist James Clavell – a year after her college graduation from Brown University in 1994 and not quite 20 years after the filming of 1979’s Apocalypse Now.
Brando, who passed away in 2004 at the age of 80, had 11 children, three of which were adopted.
Brando gifted the watch to Petra in the exact condition as seen in the film: sans bezel and on a black strap. While the rubber strap seen in the film had white stitching, the black strap currently on the auction house’s photos watch does not, so I deduce it is not the same strap (Phillips’ press materials declare it to be the exact condition the team received it from Petra).
Petra gave the watch to her husband, Russel Fischer, on their wedding night in 2003, who chose to not wear it, but rather keep it safely all this time.
Petra Brando Fischer has relayed to Phillips what her adopted father told her regarding the reason for the missing bezel, and I quote from the Phillips press release: “Brando told Petra that he wore the watch to the set of Apocalypse Now in the Philippines, and he was told that he had to remove it during filming, as it would stand out. Brando said that he argued, ‘If they’re looking at my watch, then I’m not doing my job as an actor.’ He said that the filmmakers let him wear the watch, but he removed the bezel, resulting in the unique-looking timepiece that is so closely associated with Colonel Kurtz.”
One surprising reveal was that Brando had engraved his name – “M. Brando” – on the case back himself.
Marlon Brando’s Rolexes and bezels
Upon doing a little research, I found something very interesting, however: the concept of a GMT-Master without bezel was not foreign to Brando even before the filming of Apocalypse Now commenced.
Two years prior to the start of filming in 1976, Brando attended the American Indian Development Association “First Americans” gala at the Waldorf Astoria in New York on November 26, 1974. At the event he sported a Rolex GMT-Master on an Oyster bracelet – but one missing its characteristic blue and red bidirectional bezel.
It is very clear in the photo below that the bezel is missing.
Fast forward to 1976. Brando was photographed arriving in Sydney in October of that year after leaving the Philippines, where he had filmed his scenes for Apocalypse Now. With some magnification, one can see in the airport photo that he was wearing the GMT-Master from the film under his sleeve – missing its bezel, of course.
No photos that I have found show Brando wearing the Apocalypse Now watch in public since this one.
A photo taken on November 6, 1977 shows Brando outside The Pierre in New York wearing another GMT-Master on an Oyster bracelet, but this time with its natural blue and red bezel. I surmise that it is highly likely he put the now-iconic Apocalypse Now watch away for safekeeping by this point.
I am not doubting the provenance of the timepiece coming up for auction at Phillips in December whatsoever. It is a highly interesting watch, and the lucky collector who ends up with it will have an interesting piece of history in his or her possession.
I am merely pointing out that Brando did indeed already wear a Rolex GMT-Master without bezel before this other watch got attention in Apocalypse Now for the same look.
Which makes me wonder what his fascination with removing bezels was!
For more information please visit: www.phillips.com.
Quick Facts Rolex GMT-Master Reference 1675
Case: 38 mm, stainless steel
Movement: automatic Caliber 1575, 25 jewels, 19,800 vph/2.75 Hz frequency, power reserve 48 hours; officially certified C.O.S.C. chronometer
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, second time zone