She pulled the watch out of its pouch and presented it to them. “They kept looking at each other in fascination and I said, ‘What, what?” Petra said. “I was so green about watches that I said to them, “I don’t know if it’s too tarnished.’ And they laughed a lot about that cause they said said, ‘Um, that’s called patina.’” The numbers were yellowed, and the bezel had been popped off by Marlon Brando himself. In other words, the piece was exactly what sells in the world of watches, where collectors obsess over pieces that have lived incredible lives with their owners. According to Petra, it was her father’s favorite watch—the one he slept in, and brought out for special occasions. Petra described the watch as a “piece of him.”
Pre-auction prognosticating among people in the crowd at Phillips last night put the sale of the watch somewhere in the $4 million range.
Before the Brando watch, though, another famous timepiece owned by a famous man came up for auction. Lot 18 was a gold Rolex Day-Date owned and worn for the past 50-some years by the Golden Bear himself, golfer Jack Nicklaus. A pleasant back-and-forth between a man in the room and a number in Bacs’s book (an advance, absent bidder) ensued and the watch eventually sold for $1,220,000 to the book.
A gold Rolex Daytona, a Patek Philippe Nautilus, and a Vacheron Constantin that appeared to have come from the school of famous watch designer Gerald Genta (who created Patek’s Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak), came and went with a small handful of other watches before the watch everyone was waiting for—the Brando Rolex—arrived.
The bidding opened at $250,000 and quickly turned into a slow-motion ping-pong match. Over nearly 20 minutes, Bacs received bids at an excruciatingly slow pace. Even after the watch surpassed the $1-million mark, those trying to win the watch on the phone feebly hit back in relatively tiny increments of $10,000. “We might be here at midnight,” Bacs said, ribbing his bidders slightly.
Bidding from 1,300,000 up to 1,310,000 caused Bacs to do an impression of Don Vito Corleone from The Godfather: “Do you know that line?” he asked, “‘What have I ever done that you treat me so disrespectfully?”
Even Bacs’s good-natured ribbing soured slightly as time went on. “I’ll take your bid but please try to stick to reasonable increments,” he said to one of the snail-paced bidder as the numbers got into the $1.5 million range. “You do not set a good example here.” When the price reached $1.6 million, Bacs turned to pleading: “It would be a huge gesture to humanity if the next bid could be 1,650.” A bid of 1,610,000 came in.