Once upon a time, Steve McQueen was one of the most famous actors in Hollywood, appearing in countless westerns and action/adventure films in the 1960s and 70s. It’s not surprising that the “King of Cool” became a legend during his lifetime: the charismatic actor wasn’t just a daredevil on the silver screen, but in real life, too. Outside the film industry, McQueen was a passionate sportsman and loved to race cars and motorcycles. In 1970, he finished second in the 12 Hours of Sebring, driving his Porsche 908. The most interesting aspect for us may be the fact that the actor was an avid watch collector. In this article, we’ll be taking a look back at the watches of Steve McQueen.
Two Racing Icons: Steve McQueen and Heuer Monaco
When watch fans talk about Steve McQueen, they can’t help but bring up the Heuer Monaco. The watch soared to cult status, alongside the actor, in the 1971 movie Le Mans. The rectangular timepiece may not be quite as timeless in design as the TAG Heuer Carrera, but it’s still a true watch icon, and remains in the TAG Heuer catalog to this day.
The chronograph only found its way onto McQueen’s wrist through a series of fortunate events. After the costly development of the Heuer Monaco, the manufacturer’s marketing budget was nearly exhausted, and Jack Heuer was looking for a cost-effective way to promote the watch. The clever entrepreneur solved the problem with the help of Formula 1 driver Jo Siffert, who at the time was looking for sponsors. From that point on, not only did Siffert wear the Monaco on his wrist but also promoted the watchmaker by having his racecar and overalls branded with the Heuer logo. The Heuer Monaco finally found its way to Steve McQueen in 1970 when, while filming Le Mans, he meticulously modeled his costume on that of his friend and role model, Jo Siffert, whom McQueen was supposed to embody in spirit. In 2012, the classic garment fetched no less than $650,000 at auction.
Learn more about the history of TAG Heuer and their involvement in motorsports from fellow Chrono24 Magazine author Jorg.
Was the Rolex Submariner Steve McQueen’s favorite watch?
Although he was a fervent racecar driver, Steve McQueen’s favorite timepiece may well have been a diving watch. The American actor was photographed wearing the Rolex Submariner ref. 5512 during both 12 Hours of Sebring and the filming of Le Mans. He can also be seen wearing the watch in his final film, The Hunter.
The actor owned and wore two Rolex Submariner references during his lifetime, the ref. 5512 and the ref. 5513. While he gave the ref. 5513 to his stuntman Loren Janes in the 1970s, McQueen’s Rolex Submariner ref. 5512 found a new owner in Jimmy Brucker, one of the actor’s closest friends, in 1980.
Although Steve McQueen, who died in 1980, is said to have also worn a Rolex Explorer II ref. 1655, this is most likely a myth. The actor was never seen wearing an Explorer II ref. 1655, and the rumor is believed to have been a publicity stunt by an Italian wholesaler.
Steve McQueen’s Black Forest Watch: Hanhart 417 ES
Steve McQueen wasn’t only keen on Rolex, he was also a fan of a certain German watch brand from the Black Forest, and owned a Hanhart 417 ES – the German military’s first pilot’s chronograph. How exactly the American actor became aware of this then rare German manufacturer, and how he came to possess a model limited to just 500 pieces, is still unknown.
The Hanhart 417 ES may have been one of Steve McQueen’s favorite watches, as he was spotted wearing it not only in the film The War Lover, but also in private moments, interviews, photo shoots, and car and motorcycle races.
After the model fell into oblivion in the 60s, Hanhart brought it back in 2021, which means that if you want to own one of the legendary actor’s favorite watches, you can! And with a price tag of around $2,000, the 417 ES is not only perfect for Steve McQueen fans, it’s also a great entry point for wristwatch newbies.