Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on July 2, 2018.

A number of people have called the official Phillips story into question, most notably questioning the lineage of the watch on the block and whether or not McQueen actually wore the watch himself for years before giving it to Janes.

A photograph of the watch after the Janes house fire.

The caseback of the watch as it exists today.

Janes wearing presumably the Submariner up for auction at Phillips.

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For the two weeks since Phillips announced that it would be selling a Rolex Submariner reference 5513 given by Steve McQueen to his stuntman Loren Janes, the watch world has been buzzing. But for provenance to matter, it needs to be reliable and everyone needs to be on the same page. With the Loren Janes Submariner though, a number of people have called the official Phillips story into question, most notably questioning the lineage of the watch on the block and whether or not McQueen actually wore the watch himself for years before giving it to Janes.

 

What we know

The watch in question was born in 1964 as a reference 5513, likely with a gilt two-line dial. The watch was supposedly purchased by McQueen some time in the 1960s, worn for years, and then gifted to Janes some time in the 1970s. Janes was McQueen’s stuntman in 19 of McQueen’s 27 films.

In 2016, a wildfire called the Sand Fire swept through Janes’ Los Angeles neighbourhood, destroying his home. Collector Michael Eisenberg read about the fire and the destruction of Janes’ home in the Los Angeles Times and then reached out to Janes’ family, urging them to look for the watch in the rubble. Janes’ daughter Erika did go back to the site of the fire to search for the watch in the ashes. She was successful. The watch was in rough shape (to put it lightly) and was promptly sent to Geary’s in Los Angeles and then on to Rolex for repair.

Two letters accompany the watch at Phillips. One is from Janes, dated Feb 22, 2017, confirming it as a gift from McQueen. Janes passed away from Alzheimer’s disease on June 24, 2017. The second letter is from Rolex to the Janes family, thanking them for submitting their father’s watch for restoration. The watch today has a matte, four-line 5512 dial, despite being a 5513 from the mid-1960s. This is a replacement, but that’s only natural given the condition of the watch after the fire. The watch has a new bezel (with the pearl intact), new hands and a new bracelet, and it also received a thorough polishing. The watch is being sold with a period-correct 5513 dial and handset that are not original.

 

What we do not know

The two biggest questions seem to be: i) Is the watch currently in the same state it was in when Rolex finished restoring it, or has it been tampered with since; and ii) was this McQueen’s watch that he later gifted to a friend or was this a watch purchased separately for Janes?

We were able to gain access to the photographs provided to the Janes family by Rolex after the watch’s restoration. In them, the watch looks very similar to the state it’s in today, though we cannot tell for certain due to the quality of the photos. In our estimation, they confirm that the watch is being sold in the condition it was in upon leaving the Rolex service centre.

The only person who has responded clearly is the lawyer for the McQueen estate, who sent us this official statement: “The McQueen estate disputes the provenance attributed to the Submariner Rolex watch we understand will be offered for sale by Phillips.” It seems like the watch was almost certainly a gift from McQueen to Janes and that the watch was restored to its current state by Rolex after the fire. However, there is no proof that McQueen himself ever wore this watch — a major part of its supposed allure. — Bloomberg


Originally published on Hodinkee.