Steve McQueen, The Set Of ‘Le Mans,’ And A Surprising Cartier Tank
by Nick Gould
In the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair, Steve McQueen played the title character, a millionaire businessman and avid sportsman involved in a cat-and-mouse game with an insurance claims investigator played by Faye Dunaway, who was trying to prove Crown the mastermind behind a bank robbery.
Fitting the persona of the character, McQueen chose two of his personal watches to wear in the film. One was an elegant Cartier Tank Cintrée, perfect for a businessman, while the other was a Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox, a less formal-looking timepiece for more casual activities.
The Cintrée is an elongated version of the evergreen Tank designed by Louis Cartier, who based the iconic case shape on the form of Renault tanks from World War 1. This Cintrée was believed to be the only Cartier timepiece McQueen owned. And I thought this was the case as well until I spotted some surprising photos taken on the set of McQueen’s 1971 racing film Le Mans.
McQueen famously picked out a Heuer Monaco chronograph to wear on screen in Le Mans as highlighted in The Real Story Behind Steve McQueen’s Heuer Monaco: Exclusive Interview With ‘Le Mans’ Property Master Don Nunley.
McQueen wearing the Monaco in the beloved film propelled the popularity of the model. When on set but not filming movie scenes, McQueen wore his personal Rolex Submariner Reference 5512 Submariner.
An interesting fact is that McQueen’s Submariner makes an appearance right at the start of film, marking the first time he ever wore it on the silver screen.
In addition to the Monaco and Submariner, McQueen brought along two more watches to wear around the set.
One of these was a gold Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox on a white strap, which he wears while talking to race driver Derek Bell in this photo (below) taken by Le Mans prop master Don Nunley.
And the second timepiece I saw McQueen wearing in down moments on the set caught me off guard as I had never read anything regarding McQueen owning a Cartier Tank.
I came across a black-and-white photo of McQueen mingling with the drivers on set unmistakably showing one such timepiece on his wrist. I could make out the signature Roman numeral hour markers on a white dial but could not determine the case material. This sent me on a search to find a color photo.
I found a full-color shot of McQueen sitting on an equipment box that shows the watch in its full glory on his wrist: a Cartier Tank Louis Cartier in 18-karat yellow gold on a black leather strap.
He is wearing the same attire as in the first photo, leading me to believe that both photos were taken on the same day. The timepiece does not look out of place with McQueen’s casual clothes, and the gold case matches the hue of McQueen’s yellow flower-patterned shirt.
Who would have thought? Steve McQueen, the king of cool, on the list of notable Cartier Tank owners!
Quick Facts Cartier Tank Louis Cartier circa 1970
Case: 23.6 x 30.5 mm, 18-karat yellow gold
Movement: manually wound Caliber 78-1 (ETA base), 17 jewels, 21,600 vph /3Hz frequency, power reserve 44 hours
Functions: hours, minutes