A star-lot of Antiquorum’s June 22nd Hong Kong watch auction was the wildly successful sale of the long-awaited Elgin pocket watch belonging to Hollywood legend James Dean. The sale of James Dean's Elgin pocket watch set a world record going for more than eight times its pre-sale estimated value of $5,000-10,000 USD.
The History Behind the Watch
Dean purchased his prized watch in late 1951 while still a struggling young actor working in New York. It was his first big purchase, and he was so proud of it he had his initials engraved on the gold cover. Dean considered the watch his good luck charm and wore it while performing in TV and plays. The charm worked, as he was soon summoned to Los Angeles to audition for 'East of Eden', his breakout film, where he met the author, John Steinbeck. While visiting Los Angeles, Dean visited his estranged father, who gave him his own gold watch chain to prevent his son from losing
his lucky watch. Dean wore it in his pants pocket, with the chain dangling from a belt loop, even throughout the filming of 'East of Eden' despite director Elia Kazan's protests. His performance in the film would earn him his first of two posthumous Academy Award nominations and two Golden Globes.
James Dean ultimately gifted the watch to Tillie Starriet, a Warner Brothers employee whom he befriended during the filming of 'East of Eden'. He bonded with Tillie from the beginning of his movie career in L.A. and called her Mom. She was older than Dean and acted as surrogate mother for the young 23 year-old actor —she was the only person he would allow to prepare his hair for 'East of Eden' and 'Rebel Without a Cause'. Tillie Starriet mentioned in a letter of authentication accompanying the watch: “My two favorite presents from Jimmy are the lucky gold watch and chain that he loved, and when he gave them to me he gave me a card that said To Mom”. Dean was quite superstitious and attributed his early success to the lucky watch, but perhaps he should have hung on to it a little longer —he was killed in a car accident at the age of 24, leaving behind relatively few personal items. His Porsche Spyder was scrapped in Texas decades ago, the red jacket he wore in 'Rebel Without a Cause' was given by him to Sammy Davis Jr. —whose widow has said she will never part with it— and there is, Dean's lucky pocket watch —an item that personifies his place in time and his contribution to film history.
Details on the Lucky Pocket Watch
Elgin, No. 3071580, case No. 4275904. 37 mm case made circa 1889 by Standard USA, with an Elgin movement. The gold filled case features 'bassine et filets', engine-turned back, a cartouche with the initials 'JD' engraved on the front cover, a coin-edge case
band and a hinged 'cuvette'. The dial is white enamel with radial Roman numerals, an outer minute track, sunken subsidiary seconds and blued steel spade hands. The movement is rhodium plated, with a 3/4 plate, five jewels, straight line lever escapement and a cut-bimetallic compensation balance with blued steel balance spring. The movement and case are signed. The time on Dean's watch is still set at 5:43, the time he lost his life in the tragic car crash.
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