Sadly, we kind of saw this one coming…
When news first broke of this Rolex Submariner 5513, owned by Loren Janes and gifted to him from the mystical icon Steve McQueen, for many of us the watch raised far more questions than it provided answers. There were questions about whether or not it was McQueen’s personal watch that he had engraved and then gave to Janes, questions about its restoration after somehow magically surviving the massive Sands Fire that hit LA County in 2016, not to mention the photos from before and after said restoration occurred that even after repeated request Phillips Auctions never officially released (though they did eventually surface online). Now, three full months later, the vintage watch auction powerhouse has officially conceded defeat and pulled the Sub from its auction docket.
It seems the questionable history and several other plot holes weren’t the core reasons for the auction house pulling the watch from the December sale. Instead, the threat of legal action from the McQueen estate was at the forefront of the decision, per the official statement below:
After careful consideration, Phillips has decided not to offer at auction the Rolex Submariner watch given by actor Steve McQueen to his friend and former stuntman Loren Janes. We planned to offer the watch in good faith following extensive research by us and the larger watch community into the Submariner’s provenance. Since our initial announcement, however, the estate of Steve McQueen has disputed the watch’s provenance. While new information arose regarding the timing of McQueen’s gift and whether he wore the watch, we remain confident Steve McQueen gave the watch to Loren Janes based on further evidence and testimonials from people close to Steve McQueen and Loren Janes. Despite numerous attempts to engage in discussions with the McQueen family making clear that Phillips was committed to offering the watch with the corrected information, the family remains unsupportive of the sale. Phillips hoped the sale of this watch would celebrate the lives of two great men, but without the McQueen family’s support we are unable to proceed.
Leaving condition out of the equation, it was the initial statement that Phillips hung their hat on—the fact that it was McQueen’s personal watch that he gifted to Janes, rather than a watch he bought, had engraved, and then gifted to his trusted stuntman—that became the core red flag for the McQueen estate. Numerous expert reports have all backed up the fact that in the ‘70s McQueen was no longer wearing his Submariner, and beyond that the idea of a superstar at the peak of his career would gift a used watch simply sounds illogical, yet somehow Phillips ran with that as part of the connection between the timepiece and McQueen anyway. The push-back from the McQueen estate has been significant, and according to a recent Forbes article, they go so far as to state:
“We’ve made it clear from day one that Steve McQueen would not have written that inscription nor would he have the watch inscribed with that sentiment,” says Arthur Barens, attorney for the estate. When pressed about whether he was disputing more than the authenticity of the inscription, Barens was adamant: “We have no reason to believe that Steve McQueen ever purchased that Rolex watch,” adding, without offering any proof, “It may be a copy—as we all know, there is a whole history of counterfeit Rolex watches.” (Paul Boutros confirmed that the document from Rolex USA accompanying the refurbished Submariner was genuine and notes that the brand would not restore a counterfeit watch.)
At the end of the day, what’s most shocking in all of this is the timeframe. Given the SIGNIFICANT pushback from the editorial world and the collecting community at large, you would think that an auction house that sells itself on its integrity would have taken faster action to correct the situation. Immediately taking a step back, and even pulling the watch temporarily while further research was undertaken would have left a far greater impression on the watch community rather than forging ahead or an entire quarter before admitting defeat. That said, given the pace of watch industry news it won’t be long before the “next big thing” rolls into Phillips HQ, and people forget all about this questionable Submariner…