It’s fair to say that Steve McQueen was the epitome of masculinity on the big screen. His tough upbringing made him an elusive, taciturn presence on film sets, where he had the habit of tearing fistfuls of pages from his scripts to minimize his lines. Off-screen he was virtually no different, a loner among the Hollywood set who preferred spending time with his vast collection of motorbikes, cars, and planes. This, along with his tragically early death, ensured that McQueen has become one of the all-time icons of cool. His wardrobe was no less important— from his suits and casual wear to his shoes and accessories (but especially his watches), McQueen managed to make looking good look effortless.
Steve McQueen

The star has always been associated with watches – he clearly had a real passion for them and would frequently wear timepieces from his own collection in his films. This of course was long before Hollywood leapt on the product placement bandwagon, but you can see why watch manufacturers loved being featured on-screen— a good watch can really pull an outfit together, and is made for close-ups.

McQueen’s personal watch of choice was a Rolex Submariner, always worn on his right wrist, but the watch he’s most closely associated with is the Heuer Monaco 1133. Perhaps it’s because the story of how he came to wear it in his tribute to the world’s oldest endurance motor-racing event, Le Mans, was so interesting.

Here’s a brief rundown of the man, the films, and the watches…

 

The Watch

Heuer Monaco 1133

The McQueen Connection

Le Mans (1971)

Le Mans Movie Poster

Although he was never known to have worn it once production ended, the Heuer Monaco 1133 is the watch that will always be linked to Steve McQueen. As such, it will always carry with it a certain cachet. Jack Heuer launched the square-cased, water-resistant Monaco at Basel in 1969. Always ahead of the pack, Heuer forged a strong partnership with racecar driver Jo Siffert to promote the brand within Formula One. On hearing that his friend McQueen wanted an authentic wardrobe for his new film Le Mans, Siffert naturally suggested he wear a Heuer.

Jack was invited to the set to display several models, and you’d think the producers would go with an Autavia, Siffert’s favored model. But they needed three the same, and the only model Heuer had three of on that day was the Monaco. Thus, film (and watch) history was made.

Steve McQueen in Le Mans

The Heuer Monaco 1133 was revolutionary for its time, not only because it incorporated an automatic chronograph, but because it was encased in a square frame that was also water resistant. Although the watch didn’t meet with much enthusiasm on launch, over the years it has become incredibly sought-after, not least because of the McQueen connection and the various re-editions that have followed.

 

The Watch

Rolex Speedking

The McQueen Connection

The Great Escape (1963)

The Great Escape Movie Poster

One explanation for why McQueen wore a Rolex Speedking in The Great Escape, the movie that cemented his superstar status, goes as follows: When British servicemen arrived in German POW camps, they routinely had their watches stolen by the guards. Rolex learned of this and began replacing them, often sending the watches with Red Cross packages straight into the camp. At least one officer who took part in the mass escape from Stalag Luft III in 1944 wore a Rolex as he crawled through the tunnel, and it’s even been suggested that the escape was timed using a Rolex Oyster.

 

The Watch

Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox

The McQueen Connection

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

The Thomas Crown Affair Movie Poster

McQueen actually wore three different watches while playing ‘The Boston Wrangler,’ Thomas Crown. In the opening scene he pulls out a gold Patek Philippe pocket watch, while later on he alternates between a gold Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox and a Cartier Tank Americaine.

Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair

McQueen’s role as the bored millionaire who turns to pulling heists for excitement was later reprised by Pierce Brosnan, who of course played another legendary style icon, James Bond, and has also been long-associated with watches.

 

 

The Watch

Gruen Precision

The McQueen Connection

The Getaway (1972)

The Getaway Movie Poster

Sam Peckinpah’s classic noir thriller cast McQueen as paroled bank-robber ‘Doc’ McCoy alongside Ali MacGraw as his wife, Carol, looking for a big score along with a slice of revenge.

McQueen’s wardrobe for this action-packed movie was minimalist and functional throughout, befitting a character with little time to spare. One of his only concessions to style was the gold Gruen Precision he wore during the bank heist, as ever worn on his right wrist. Gruens are innovative, stylish watches, and compared to the other watches on this list, can be picked up quite inexpensively. Why? It may be because when the company went out of business in the 70s, all its pre-1958 records disappeared, making it near-impossible to date or price them.

 

 

The Watch

Rolex Submariner 5512

The McQueen Connection

The Towering Inferno (1974); The Hunter (1980)

The Towering Inferno Movie Poster

Like his long-time rival Paul Newman, McQueen had a Rolex named after him, an Explorer II. Yet in The Towering Inferno, the blockbuster where he finally shared billing with Newman, McQueen wore his personal Submariner. The watch saw plenty of screen time since McQueen’s fire chief made a lot of phone calls in close-up.

The Submariner was also on McQueen’s wrist while shooting The Hunter. The action-comedy about an aging bounty hunter would be his last film.

Steve McQueen's Rolex Submariner in The Hunter

In 2009, McQueen’s Submariner ref. 5512 would be sold for over $230,000. The 5512, which dates from the mid to late 50s, always carried more value than the later 5513 because it had been certified by the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute for its accuracy and precision.

 

Despite his affinity for his Rolex Submariner, no other watch is so often connected to McQueen than the Heuer Monaco 1133, which goes by the shorthand “the McQueen Monaco.” Steve McQueen will always be remembered for his watches, which is somewhat ironic, since his screen performances are so timeless.

 


Images ©: Header; LIFE/Getty Images. 2; William Claxton. 3-4; Solar Productions/Cinema Center Films. 5; The Mirisch Company. 6-7; Mirisch-Simkoe-Solar Productions. 8; Solar Productions. 9;Twentieth Century-Fox and Warner Bros. 10; Rastar Pictures.

Latest comment
  • unless i’m mistaken, The Cartier tank americaine wasn’t introduced until 1989, a full 21 years after the release of the thomas crown affair. looking at the proportions, isn’t the cartier in that film more likely to be a tank cintrée?
    the americaine is essentially a cintrée but with a flat caseback as opposed to the earlier model’s curved caseback

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