Wrist Watching: My 7 Favorite Historical Watch Spots Of 2019
by Nick Gould
As the resident Quill & Pad watch spotter, I spend many hours on random searches looking for interesting horological finds. Generally I end up finding nothing, but occasionally I find nuggets of gold. And 2019 was quite a fruitful year for me in terms of unearthing some interesting Wrist Watching stories.
Topping the list is the high likelihood of having found the whereabouts of Pablo Picasso’s missing Jaeger-LeCoultre triple calendar moon phase – seen in the possession of his daughter Paloma’s ex-husband, Rafael López-Cambil.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the watch came up for auction in 2020?
Marlon Brand’s Rolex GMT-Master
Another watch that was thought to be missing resurfaced this year: Marlon Brando’s Rolex GMT-Master, which he famously wore without a bezel in the iconic film Apocalypse Now. The watch was in the possession of Brando’s daughter, Petra Brando Fischer, who was given the watch by Brando himself.
She decided to put it up for sale after seeing Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona Reference 6239 sell for $17,752,500 in 2017.
Brando’s GMT-Master sold for $1,952,000 at the Phillips Game Changers auction on December 10, 2019 in New York, setting a world record for the most expensive Rolex GMT-Master ever sold. A portion of the sale will be donated to the Brando Fischer Foundation, which helps children in poverty.
I unearthed the only known photo thus far of Brando wearing the Apocalypse Now Rolex GMT-Master after he finished shooting the iconic film in the Philippines: it shows him at the airport in Sydney.
The next spot caught me off guard but for entirely different reasons.
Dan Gurney’s vintage Breguet diver
I noticed in a photograph taken in 1965 that American race driver Dan Gurney was sporting an ultra-rare Breguet diver’s watch. I have seen these watches come up at auction before, but I hadn’t seen someone wearing one until I stumbled upon the photograph of Gurney at the 1965 British Grand Prix.
What makes the photograph so perfect is the position of Gurney’s wrist, which shows the watch in vivid detail, including the Bakelite bezel, extra-large luminous hour markers, and Breguet signature on the dial.
Cosmonaut Andriyan Grigoryevich Nikolayev wearing a pre-1964 Rolex GMT-Master
The Omega Speedmaster chronograph, the only flight-certified watch of NASA, holds the distinction of being the first watch on the moon. But many of the NASA astronauts owned Rolex GMT-Masters as their personal timepieces, some of whom even wore them during Apollo missions to the moon.
I discovered that a Russian Cosmonaut owned a Rolex GMT-Master long before any of his American counterparts started wearing them.
In 1962, Andriyan Grigoryevich Nikolayev became the third Russian cosmonaut to fly in space during the Vostok 3 flight. Nikolayev went on to become the deputy director of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.
I stumbled upon a photo of an older Nikolayev in uniform and noticed a Rolex GMT-Master with pointed crown guards under his left sleeve.
This piqued my curiosity as Rolex stopped making pointed crown guards on the GMT-Master in 1963/64, during the height of the Cold War. Searching further, I finally came across photos of Nikolayev with his GMT-Master in 1965.
Nikolayev is pictured in a photo dated October 1965 (above) with his wife, Valentina Tereshkova, and daughter. Tereshkova was a cosmonaut herself and holds the distinction of being the first woman in space.
In that photo, Nikolayev is wearing his GMT-Master with pointed crown guards, which would indicate he obtained the watch himself or received it as a gift sometime in 1963 or 1964.
Dizzy Gillespie’s Patek Philippe Reference 1463
Someone else closely associated with the Rolex GMT-Master is legendary trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie. Gillespie owned the first GMT-Master, a Reference 6542, and was first seen wearing it in 1958 as pointed out on Rolex Magazine.
I came across a photo of Gillespie at the 1968 Newport Jazz Festival and what he was wearing on his wrist grabbed my attention: a Patek Philippe Reference 1463, which is a two-register chronograph with a water-resistant case.
I’ve never read about Gillespie owning this Patek Philippe anywhere, so seeing it on his wrist was most unexpected. The whereabouts of both his Rolex GMT-Master and the Patek Philippe chronograph are unknown.
Ken Miles of ‘Ferrari v Ford’ fame and his Breitling
The next spot I came across was connected to the world of motor racing: British-born race driver Ken Miles, who, in addition to being a successful endurance racer, was a test driver for famed car designer Caroll Shelby.
The blockbuster film Ford v Ferrari tells the story of Miles and Shelby’s involvement in the success of the Ford GT-40 finally beating Ferrari at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.
The lead actors in the film – Matt Damon (Shelby) and Christian Bale (Miles) – were wearing vintage Heuer chronographs supplied by TAG Heuer as pointed out by our friends at On The Dash.
I discovered that in real life Miles wore a Breitling Co-Pilot in the 1960s. The specific model is a Reference 765 AVI Mk 1, which vintage Breitling expert @watchfred helped me to confirm.
Watch spotting: always a guilty pleasure
My final spot of 2019 is a sight watch lovers may encounter (or be guilty of!) on many occasions: the cheeky act of sneaking a peak at a person’s timepiece over their shoulder.
This photograph (above) from the 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans shows two spectators taking a peek over the shoulder of Argentinean driver José Froilán González to get a glimpse at his timepiece.
It just goes to show people have been peeking at – and spotting! – watches for more than 50 years.
Quick Facts Marlon Brando’s 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
Auction price hammered: $1,952,000
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
Quick Facts Breitling Co-Pilot 765 AVI Mk 1
Case: 41 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manually wound Venus Caliber 178, 17 jewels, 45-hour power reserve, 2.5 Hz/18,000 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; chronograph
Quick Facts Patek Philippe Reference 1463 Chronograph
Case: 35 mm, 18-karat yellow gold
Movement: manually wound Caliber 13-130, 23 jewels, 39-hour power reserve, 2.5 Hz/18,000 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; chronograph