On Saturday, December 12, 2020, this Heuer Monaco chronograph, worn by Steve McQueen in the filming of Le Mans, was sold for $2,208,000, a record for any Heuer or TAG Heuer chronograph. In this posting, we will consider some of the factors that contributed to this extraordinary result.
Phillips held its “Racing Pulse” auction on Saturday, December 12, 2020, in New York City. Phillips sold 130 watches in the auction, including three “celebrity watches” — a Heuer Monaco worn by Steve McQueen, a Rolex Daytona from Paul Newman’s collection and a Panerai Luminor ‘Pre-Vendôme’ from, Sylvester Stallone. Steve McQueen had worn this Heuer Monaco chronograph during the filming of Le Mans and then, after the completion of filming, McQueen gifted the watch to his friend and personal mechanic, Haig Alltounian. Alltounian had worn the watch for a brief time and then locked it away in his safe for almost 50 years. Here is the Phillips catalog listing for the Monaco, which was included as Lot 20 in the sale; the catalog for the Racing Pulse auction is HERE.
The Alltounian Monaco is one of the six blue Heuer Monacos known to have been worn by McQueen in the filming of Le Mans. After the last day of filming, McQueen gave the watch to Alltounian, as a “thank you” for keeping him same in the Porsche 917 during the filming. The case-back of the watch was engraved, “To Haig / Le Mans 1970”.
The Alltounian Monaco was included in the sale as Lot 20, and sold for $2,208,000 (final price, including the buyer’s commission), a record price for any Heuer chronograph. Previously, two other Heuer Monacos worn by McQueeen in the filming of Le Mans had been sold in auctions. In June 2009, the Monaco worn by McQueen in Le Mans and then given by McQueen to his management consultant, Bill Maher, as a gift, was sold at an Antiqourum auction for $87,600, as reported in this posting. In July 2012, the watch used for at Le Mans for still photography was sold for $799,500, in a “Legends of Hollywood” auction, as reported HERE.
$2,208,000 — Understanding the Price
It is far beyond the objectives of this posting to analyze the value of celebrity-worn watches. Over the past three years, we have seen two watches belonging to Paul Newman sell $17 million and $5.5 million, a watch worn by Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now sell for $2.0 million, and now this worn-by-McQueen Monaco sell for $2.2 million. To put these prices into some context, we would need to review the markets for racing memorabilia, Hollywood memorabilia and vintage watches, generally.
Instead of focusing on these broader markets, we will look at the McQueen / Alltounian Monaco chronograph, and suggest some of the factors that contributed to its success in today’s auction:
Michael Clerizo, writing in The Wall Street Journal, has traced the six blue Heuer Monaco chronographs known to have been worn by Steve McQueen in the filming of Le Mans. Of these six watches, only the Alltounian Monaco remained in the hands of the original owner, the person who received the watch from either Steve McQueen or Don Nunley, the property master of Le Mans. The Alltounian Monaco seems to have perfect provenance – known to have been worn by McQueen in the filming, with witnesses to the gift to Alltounian, and uninterrupted possession of the watch by Alltounian since then. In a world where we see watches moving around the globe, going from owner to dealer to customer to dealer, etc., the integrity of the Alltounian provenance was refreshing.
The McQueen Connection — More Than a Hollywood Prop.
The fact that Steve McQueen wore this particular watch on the last day of filming Le Mans and then gifted this watch to his friend and personal mechanic, Haig Alltounian, with the engraving on the case-back, provided the watch with a deep connection to Steve McQueen. This wasn’t just one of the watches that McQueen wore in the filming of Le Mans, a watch that might have been put on his wrist by the property manager, but this was a watch that Steve McQueen had worn, arranged for the engraving and then used as a gift to his friend.
This sense of McQueen’s engagement with this watch, and the effort that he went to to make it a gift to his friend, added to the appeal of the watch. Alltounian and McQueen remained friends, after the filming of Le Mans.
A Sympathetic Seller.
In events and interviews leading up to the auction, Haig Alltounian came across as a good guy. He started working at age 11, became a top mechanic in the endurance racing world, and spent his career working on cars and motorcycles.
When asked why he was selling the Monaco, Alltounian responded that he was seeking to provide security for his family. In a world of hustlers, flippers and dealers all trying to make the quick buck, Alltounian came across as a good guy who had been the faithful friend of Steve McQueen and a worthy steward of this special watch. Does the guy bidding over $2.2 million for this watch really care about the life story or character of the seller? I’m not sure, but all else being equal, we can imagine that the personality of Haig Alltounian and his association with the watch contributed to its value.
A Story Well-Told
The Alltounian Monaco had a compelling back-story, and Phillips and TAG Heuer did an excellent job of telling this story. The six pages dedicated to the watch in the print catalog were well written and illustrated, and it was fascinating to hear Haig Alltounian tell his life story, and the story of this special watch, in the webcast presented by TAG Heuer a few days before the auction. [Pages from the Phillips catalog are included in the Gallery, below.]
A Nice Watch
All of the worn-by-McQueen Monacos appear to be in excellent condition, and the Alltounian Monaco also meets this standard. Alltounian indicated that he wore the watch regularly for the first couple of years that he owned it, and then locked it away in his safe, and wore it only on special occasions. The watch appeared to be in “original” condition, with the kind of nicks and scratches consistent with Alltounian’s story.
One visible issue with the Alltounian Monaco is that the lume dot that originally was at the 45 minute position (nine o’clock) has come loose, and now sits on the dial, near the 43 minute marker. This could easily be addressed by a watchmaker.
If Not Now, When?
There are six blue Monaco chronographs known to have been worn by McQueen and used in the filming of Le Mans. Two are in the TAG Heuer Museum, one was owned by Haig Alltounian, and my ledger indicates that the other three are owned by “anonymous collectors”. The limited facts that I have assembled regarding these three anonymous collectors suggests that they are not likely to be offered for sale anytime soon. So if you wanted to have one of “The Six”, there is every reason to believe that today might have been your best and last opportunity to buy one of these watches.
Additional Reading / References
For an account of the dramatic bidding for the Alltounian Monaco at the Phillips auction, see Jon Bues’ posting on Hodinkee.
Here is a webcast published by TAG Heuer a few days before the sale.
Michael Clerizo’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “The Hunt for McQueen’s Heuers” and the OnTheDash posting that tracks the six Monaco chronographs known to have been worn by McQueen in the filming of Le Mans.
December 12, 2020