Found! The Dramatic Case Of Pablo Picasso’s Jaeger-LeCoultre Triple Calendar Moon Phase
by Nick Gould
In 1954, famed photographer Yousuf Karsh took a portrait of Spanish artist Pablo Picasso – which is not that unusual as Picasso was one of the most photographed artists of his time. In this particular photo, however, Picasso is wearing a late 1940s Jaeger-LeCoultre Reference 141.008.1 triple calendar with moon phase and gorgeous teardrop lugs. And that makes it noteworthy for our story today.
You can see that famous photo at karsh.org/photographs/pablo-picasso.
Since the photo is in black and white I couldn’t determine the case material, but considering the era I thought it was most likely 18-karat yellow gold (which was later confirmed).
Picasso was seen wearing the watch periodically until approximately 1956 but it had not been seen after that. Hodinkee founder Ben Clymer put it on his list of Twelve Of The Greatest Missing Watches.
Where did the watch go after Picasso passed away in 1973? I have recently deduced that the timepiece ended up with one of his daughters.
Paloma Picasso, born in 1949, is the youngest daughter of the painter and his then-partner, artist Françoise Gilot.
Paloma, who last saw her father as a teenager – the artist barred Gilot and her children from his home after the publication of Gilot’s 1964 book Life with Picasso – fought for a share of his estate after his passing in 1973 as Picasso did not leave a will. The then-24-year-old Paloma was successful in obtaining a share of the 45,000 works he left behind, likely worth billions and divided between seven heirs at the time. She went on to make a name for herself as a designer.
Her collection of Picasso artworks is estimated to be worth as much as $400 million. Some of the artworks are pieces she chose herself – a 1999 Guardian article claims that some even had huge emotional significance to her – so perhaps it is not out of this world to think she may also have picked out the Jaeger-LeCoultre watch to keep as well. Manufactured between 1946 and 1949, it may even share the same birth year with her.
Pablo Picasso’s Jaeger-LeCoultre Reference 141.008.1 triple calendar resurfaces
Paloma first met Rafael López-Cambil, an Argentine playwright, after her father’s passing. Introduced by a friend, she first worked for him designing his production sets before their relationship became personal.
Paloma married López-Cambil on May 5, 1978, who sported a Jaeger-LeCoultre triple calendar with moon phase on the day of their black-and-white-themed wedding. It appears to be the same model as the one Picasso owned and would have stuck out with its gold-and-red color scheme.
The likelihood of it being the same watch is extremely high. What are the odds that Paloma Picasso’s husband had the exact same (30-year-old) watch as her late father?
Here are some theories as to why this watch may have ended up in their possession. Paloma may have wanted to keep the JLC because of the red accents on the watch, a signature color for the designer that has even been called her “trademark.”
Or it may have been manufactured in the year of Paloma’s birth (1949) and Pablo may have gifted it to himself in honor of his youngest daughter’s birth.
Or it could have been gifted to the world-renowned painter by Paloma’s mother – the only one of Picasso’s mistresses to leave him – thereby being of extreme significance to both the artist and his daughter.
López-Cambil wore the watch periodically afterward the wedding, and a color photo clearly shows the red numbers and letters of the day and month disks in addition to the same style numerals and moon phase as Picasso’s watch.
The watch was not seen again after 1980 on López-Cambil’s wrist that I was able to find.
Paloma and López-Cambil suffered an acrimonious divorce in 1998, but it is highly likely that this lovely Jaeger-LeCoultre triple calendar is still in López-Cambil’s possession today.
Thanks to vintage expert Eric Wind for his assistance in identifying the watch’s case metal.
Quick Facts Jaeger LeCoultre Triple Calendar Moon Phase Reference 141.008.1
Case: 36 mm, 18-karat yellow gold
Movement: manually wound Caliber 494, 15 jewels, 40-hour power reserve, 2.5 Hz/18,000 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds, date, day, month, moon phase
Production years: 1946-1949
Last known secondary market price: an example sold at Sotheby’s in April 2019 for approx. $7,200