Phillips ran into an issue with the Rolex Submariner timepiece and ultimately removed the watch from its December 5 auction due to a dispute with the McQueen estate. The Submariner was a gift from the late actor to Loren Janes, his amazing stuntman. “LOREN, THE BEST DAMN STUNTMAN IN THE WORLD. STEVE,” is engraved on caseback and is also the only known watch to contain McQueen’s name.
Forbes initially broke the news in June regarding the McQueen Rolex going up for sale at the auction, which raised much skepticism in the watch world about the provenance of the Submariner.
The Rolex comes with an extraordinary backstory and really, the watch is truly lucky. In June of 2016, the Rolex was presumed lost in a historic California wildfire. The Sand Fire destroyed janes’ family home as well as janes’ movie memorabilia. With the help of Janes’ daughter, Erika and her brother, Eric, they were able to pull the Submariner from ashes of fire. Once found, they went to Rolex to have it professionally restored, which preserved the engraving.
The new issue for the timepiece is its authenticity. According to Forbes, Numerous watch sites, including Hodinkee and Quill & Pad, questioned the authenticity of the Rolex, particularly whether McQueen ever actually wore it and why it had a period-correct ref. 5512 dial despite being a 5513 Submariner. The reason behind the dial was that Rolex replaced the original dial when it refurbished the watch in 2016, after the wildfire.
“The dial was a condition issue, not an authenticity issue,” said Paul Boutros, Phillips’ head of Americas and an international strategy advisor for the watch division. Suspicions went as far as including the stuntmen, questioning how much Janes actually doubled for McQueen and if Janes was truly the actor’s favorite.
The largest problem Phillips was up against was that attorneys for McQueen’s estate challenged the provenance of the Submariner. The Rolex was purchased from the Janes family by memorabilia collector Mike Eisenberg, who was now offering it for sale.
“We’ve made it clear from day one that Steve McQueen would not have written that inscription nor would he have the watch inscribed with that sentiment,” says Arthur Barens, attorney for the estate. When questioned whether he was disputing more than the authenticity of the inscription, he said, “We have no reason to believe that Steve McQueen ever purchased that Rolex watch,” adding, without offering any proof, “It may be a copy—as we all know, there is a whole history of counterfeit Rolex watches.”
New information that was provided by Jake Ehrlich came from a multi-part investigation in the provenance of McQueen Rolex. Phillips timeline was quite unclear, but it came to light that the auction house asserted that McQueen had purchased the watch in the late ’60s, wore it himself and then gave the watch to Janes in the early ’70s. Ehrlich discovered Phillips did it fact have the wrong information, which carried doubt on whether McQueen even wore the watch himself.
“While we were eating,” Duhame wrote in a recent letter to Erika Janes, “Steve told a story about a gag that Loren did on the movie The Sand Pebbles, and Loren mentioned that Steve had given him a Rolex after the film in gratitude of his work, at which point Steve quickly added, ‘Man, you earned it on that show.'”
Further into this investigation, Ehrlich uncovered a photograph that McQueen signed for Janes: “To Loren,” it reads, “Crackers and cookies and the best damn stuntman in the world—Steve. The term “Crackers and cookies” refers to the fact he didn’t drink, would never smoke or do drugs, according to Janes’ friends, but loved eating chocolate chip cookies and crackers.
“Here’s the bottom line,” says Jake Ehrlich, “I believe that I’ve proven the provenance to be true.” He continues, “Based on all that new information,we went back to the McQueen estate, stating that we would rewrite the new provenance findings.”
Although, In a statement to Forbes, Phillips explained its reasons for withdrawing the watch from the auction, saying, “Despite numerous attempts to engage in the discussions with the McQueen family, making it clear that Phillips was committed to offering the watch with the corrected provenance information, the family remains unsupportive of the sale. Phillips hoped the sale of this watch would celebrate the lives of two men, but without the support of the McQueen family, we are unable to proceed.”
Boutros adds, “We still believe fully in the watch. And would have auctioned it if [the family] had supported the sale.”