Antiqourum Auctioneers have a history of auctioning timepieces with special provenance, including Elvis Presley’s Omega Constellation , Sammy Davis Jr.’s Heuer Monaco , and Joe Dimaggio’s Wittnauer Electro-Chron, however this particular piece is the only timepiece owned by James Dean to ever cross the auction block.
Dean originally purchased the 37mm gold-filled timepiece while struggling as a young actor in New York City. He came to consider the watch a good luck charm, as his career took off shortly thereafter. He was particularly fond of the piece and was even known to wear it on set – as seen dangling from his belt loop in the classic film “East of Eden”- albeit with a second cover to hide his engraved initials.
At 37mm, the petite four body timepiece dates from around 1889, the golden era of American watch manufacturing. The Elgin features a very simple non-keyed movement with 5 jewels, a white enamel dial marked “Standard USA” and a subsidiary seconds register. The roman markers, blued steel hands, and coin edge finishing on the case are spectacular and give the piece a truly classical appearance, on par with anything being made in Switzerland at the time.
Before his untimely death at the wheel of his Porsche 550 Spyder, Dean had gifted the watch to his friend and colleague Tillie Starriet. A letter from Starriet confirming its provenance accompanied the watch at auction, along with its original wooden box, chain, and lamp pendant. The buzz surrounding the June sale was considerable, and attracted bidders from around the globe. Ultimately, the watch sold for over four times the high estimate to a private collector. It will undoubtedly be cherished as a souvenir from the life of a causeless rebel that ended far too soon.
Words by: James Lamdin - A vintage watch connoisseur and founder of analog/shift (www.analogshift.com), an online boutique for a curated selection of exceptional wristwatches.