Phillips auction house has become a specialist at unearthing and promoting grail watches from history, most notably the Paul Newman Rolex Daytona that a collector paid $17,752,500 for in 2016.
In December, the watch world will hold its breath again for a Rolex with such iconic provenance that its price could be driven up to six, or even seven figures.
A Rolex GMT Master worn by Marlon Brando in the 1979 Vietnam War classic Apocalypse Now in his role as the shell-shocked Colonel Kurtz has not been seen in public since shooting of the movie ended.
But now it turns out the watch was never lost at all. Mr Brando, a well-known Rolex devotee, had given the watch to his adopted daughter Petra Brando Fischer in 1995.
According to the watch’s story, told by Phillips, Ms Brando Fischer recalled him telling her at the time: “This watch is like a tank. You can do anything you want to it and it will keep on going. I want you to have it as a reminder of how proud I am of you.”
In 2003, she gave the watch to her husband Russel Fischer, as a wedding present. He has kept it for the past 16 years without fully realizing its value to the wider movie memorabilia and watch collector world.
The sale of the Paul Newman Daytona in 2016 got the family thinking about the watch and they started discussions with auctioneers about putting it up for sale. Phillips has landed the whale, and the watch will go under the hammer in New York in December with a portion of its sale price funding a new charitable foundation for children suffering abuse, hardship and neglect.
The watch is a stainless steel GMT-Master, reference 1675, manufactured in 1972. Its unpolished case inscribed “M. Brando” by the actor himself, is said to be in excellent condition but its original strap has been replaced with a rubber strap.
Tampering with any Rolex is normally catastrophic for its resale value, but Mr Brando’s piece is likely to attract even more interest because its bezel has been removed.
The story goes that somebody in the Apocalypse Now production team told the actor that a Rolex would be too flashy for Colonel Kurtz. Mr Brando insisted the watch would be worn, but he removed its bezel to make it less recognizable.
Paul Boutros, the head of watches for Phillips’ American division says that the watch would be worth around $20,000 without its link to Mr Brando, but it is likely to be auctioned with a six-figure reserve price.