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Welcome to Watches of the Week, quarantine edition. With celebrities staying home, we’re calling in friends and experts to share their favorite pieces from pop culture’s past and present.
Paul Boutros, the head of watches in America for Phillips auction house, sounds like a fun guy to watch a movie with. Put yourself in the shoes of his former college girlfriend, who he watched Apollo 13 with as an undergrad. At the climactic scene, after an oxygen tank explodes on the titural spacecraft, Kevin Bacon’s character Jack Swigert is methodically timing out the exact moments the crew should burn the engine. One false move and the astronauts will go off course and float off into oblivion. Enter Boutros: “‘That's a Speedmaster! Look at that. Oh my God,’” he remembers shouting. “I was so pumped.” The instrument Swigert was using to pace out engine burns was, as Boutros excitedly pointed out, an Omega Speedmaster—the watch issued to every NASA astronaut.
Throughout Boutros’s life, movies have given him an opportunity to talk up his hobby to unsuspecting friends and girlfriends. Boutros remembers a younger version of himself gushing to his friends at school after watching Live and Let Die. But it wasn’t Bond’s heroics or even the film’s paramour Solitaire he wanted to discuss. “I would tell my friends in school, ‘Hey, [my dad and I] just watched this James Bond movie,” he says, “and there's a Rolex watch on the big screen.’ It really validated my passion for a while.” Movies and celebrities played a pivotal role in helping Boutros—and many others—get into watches. Here, he walks us through how the two have intertwined.
Paul Newman’s Rolex Cosmograph Daytona reference 6239
Boutros’s personal watch history starts with Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona. “I started collecting with my dad in 1986 when I was 10 years old,” he says. “This was in the mid-80s, when watch collecting really began. My dad was a coin collector at the same time and we would look at coin newspapers where, in the back classified ad sections, you would see ‘Wanted: Paul Newman Daytonas with exotic dials, paying top dollar.’ And I was totally fascinated. What is this crazy thing, a Paul Newman?”
That crazy thing would go on to become one of the most desirable watches in the world. The coveted “exotic” dial an outer minute ring in a contrasting shade set it apart from typical Daytonas. Driving up their desirability even more in the ‘80s was the fact that Rolex was about to discontinue the manually wound Daytonas (meaning wearers would no longer need to crank the crown in order for it to keep running).
“With the threat of them becoming discontinued, they became more sought after and the ultimate prize was those manually wound Daytonas fitted with the exotic dial,” says Boutros, “which became what is known now as the Paul Newman dial.” The most desirable of all was the very model worn by Paul Newman—Paul Newman’s Paul Newman—which Boutros helped sell at Phillips for a then-record of $17.8 million in late 2018. Talk about full circle.
Roger Moore’s Rolex Submariner 5513 from *Live and Let Die
“I can't think of any movie where a watch plays such an important role throughout the film as it does in Live and Let Die,” says Boutros. “He's wearing a reference 5513 Submariner with no date, a matte dial, and luminous hour markers. He was given the watch by Q—it’s able to be a hyper-magnetic field to deflect bullets or to attract things to it, and it can also be a buzz saw that spins and cuts through things.” The watch comes in handy again and again for Bond. The buzzsaw function is used at the movie’s pivotal moment when 007 uses it to cut through a rope just moments before he’s lowered into a tank of water and fed to sharks. It’s also used in less life-or-death scenarios: “In one scene, he turns it into a magnet and unzips the dress of the woman he's with,” says Boutros. “It’s so cool.”
The watch’s star turn in the movie was catnip to young Boutros. “It wowed me and validated my passion because there were so few people who loved watches when I was growing up, in the era before the internet,” he says. The biggest difference between the original Bond Submariner worn by Sean Connery and Moore’s 5513 is the addition of crown guards on the latter. This is the much more common version of Rolex’s Sub.
Boutros, naturally, helped facilitate the sale of the exact watch used in Live and Let Die and got an up close and personal look at how movie magic was made. “It had no movement,” he says. “They fitted the inside with, like, fan blades and compressed air was funneled through a pipe that cut through into the bracelet and allowed the whole dial and bezel assembly to spin.” The caseback was also signed “Roger Moore 007.” It sold for 365,000 Swiss francs back in 2015 (roughly $375,000).
Kevin Bacon’s Omega Speedmaster from Apollo 13
Here’s that crew-saving Omega Speedmaster Boutros noticed while watching Apollo 13. In the ‘60s, as NASA prepped its voyage to the moon, it tested a variety of watches, and only the Omega passed them all. Ever since, the Speedmaster has been etched into history in real-life NASA missions—and Hollywood reenactments of them.
The watch reappeared in Boutros’s life during a previous career, while he was working as an engineer at the firm Lockheed Martin. One of the company’s presidents played a video showing the scene from Apollo 13 and Boutros, now with disposable income, went on a search to find one for himself. “A couple of months later I would buy my first Omega Speedmaster,” he says. “It just planted the seed.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore End of Days from End of Days
This watch, which looks like an accessory one might unlock in Call of Duty: Black Ops, marked a historic moment in the world of watches. “The movie End of Days comes out in 1999 and a watch that Schwarzenegger designed with Audemars Piguet becomes the first Royal Oak Offshore limited edition,” says Boutros. “It’s also the first Royal Oak Offshore had a celebrity tie-in—it ushered in a whole new direction for AP. It was such a big deal because back then Schwarzenegger was an A-list celebrity—this was a mainstream movie with a mainstream actor who collaborates with AP. He told AP, ‘I want the watch to have a black case and yellow numerals and hands, and sure enough, they did it. They made a limited edition of 500 watches.”
In the ‘90s, the world of watches were ruled by action-movie stars like the future governor of California. And because of their turkey leg-sized wrists, watches were correspondingly huge. “At the time, in the world of watches, Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone had such a huge influence on the oversized watch trend,” says Boutros. “Stallone was with Panerai, Schwarzenegger with Audemars Piguet.”
Boutros says this watch helped put Audemars Piguet on the map and also gave them a successful blueprint for success they’d replicate many times over the years. Since the Schwarzenegger watch, AP has collaborated with Jay-Z, Shaquille O’Neal, and LeBron James. “Back then nobody was doing that, especially in the high-end,” says Boutros. “AP was very audacious to do it and to do something so weird: those colors, all black with yellow. They rolled the dice with Schwarzenegger on design and it worked.”
Marlon Brando’s Rolex GMT Master
Funnily enough, one of the most famous examples Rolex GMT Masters in the world looks almost nothing like a GMT. Brando’s version, which was thought to be lost for decades, doesn’t share the metal bracelet or the signature two-tone bezel the GMT is famous for. “We believe that as soon as Brando got it—because he was a watch guy and he liked to tinker with things—he asked to have the bracelet removed,” says Boutros. “There's hardly a trace of the bracelet having ever been attached. So we believe you immediately put it on a rubber strap and he chose a rubber strap because of spending time in [a tropical high-humidity environment like] Tahiti.”
The story of the missing “insert” (the piece the GMT typically gets its color from) is more dramatic: while filming Apocalypse Now, director Francis Ford Coppola asked Brando to take the watch off because it didn’t fit in the movie. Brando refused, so they came to a compromise: the actor pried the insert off to take attention off the watch.
The watch wasn’t just important because it belonged to a celebrity, but because it belonged to one who was a passionate collector—a fellow obsessive to folks like Boutros and the rest of the collecting community. “Brando loved watches,” says Boutros. “Watches meant a lot to him because he loved keeping track of different time zones. He had a house in Tahiti, he had a daughter living in London, and so he needed travel time watches to be able to keep track of multiple time zones. He would often wear two watches, one on each wrist: one set to L.A. time and another set to Tahiti time.”
This watch, too, is one that Boutros played a part in selling at Phillips last December. Shortly after the sale of the Paul Newman Paul Newman, he received a cryptic email from someone named Petra Fischer, who didn’t turn up on Google. On a call, he remembers, she said, “‘Hi Paul, my name is Petra Brando Fisher. I'm the daughter of Marlon Brando,’” Boutros remembers. “And before she could complete her sentence, I was hoping she would say what she ended up saying: ‘I have the watch that my father wore in Apocalypse Now.’ That was such a thrill to hear.” Maybe not as thrilling as the watch’s final auction price: $1,952,000.
Originally Appeared on GQ