Heuer Monaco, Worn by McQueen -- Part Three

I am aware of four Heuer Monacos said to have been “worn by McQueen”, as follows:

  1. worn by McQueen during the filming of the movie, Le Mans; sold by the property master in the early 2000s; now in the TAG Heuer Museum, in Switzerland.
  2. worn by McQueen during the still photography / promotional shots for Le Mans; sold by the property master in the early 2000s; has been in the hands of four different collectors since then; to be auctioned July 31, 2012.
  3. worn by McQueen while at Le Mans and then given by McQueen to his management consultant, Bill Maher, as a gift; sold at an Antiqourum auction in June 2009, and now in private hands.
  4. worn by McQueen . . . further details not known, at least for the moment.

The story of the “worn-by-McQueen” Monacos is mysterious, with conflicting versions of the facts and as many twists and turns as the Le Mans circuit.  Thus it is fitting that we start this series of postings with “Part Three” — the third Monaco listed above, the one given as a gift by Steve McQueen to his business consultant, and sold at auction in June 2009.

Summary.  The story told in the auction catalog — copied below, at the very bottom of this posting — boils down to a fairly simple story:  McQueen wore only one Monaco during his work on Le Mans, and this is the one.   After the filming of Le Mans, when he returned to Los Angeles, Steve McQueen gave the watch to his business consultant, Bill Maher, as a gift.

On June 11, 2009, this Heuer Monaco was sold for $87,600 (including the buyer’s premium; $73,000 without premium).

What I Believe.  I believe that Steve McQueen gave this watch to Bill Maher, as a gift.  As such, it gets high marks for reliable Steve McQueen provenance.


What I Don’t Believe.  I don’t believe the suggestion that Steve McQueen wore only one Monaco during the filming of Le Mans, and that this is the one.  This would run entirely contra to the story told by the property master (and greatly diminish the provenance of Samples 1 and 2, in the list above) and also contra to the way that props ordinarily work in the movie business.   I also doubt that McQueen walked into Maher’s office and on an impromptu basis, and handed him this Monaco.  We have never ever seen any photo of McQueen wearing a Monaco, other than at Le Mans.   So I just don’t believe that McQueen was wearing this watch as his “daily wearer” when he returned to Los Angeles, after the filming.

What I’m Unsure Of.  Yes, I believe that Steve McQueen once owned this watch and gave it to Bill Maher, but I don’t know how we can connect the watch to the action at Le Mans.  Did Steve wear this Monaco during the filming or did he simply ask the property master for a Monaco at some point, to have as a spare or for his personal collection?  Maybe Steve wore it a lot and maybe he didn’t.  Accordingly, I give this watch all the points for having a McQueen connection, but I don’t know how we tie it to the filming of Le Mans.

The Watch Itself.  Putting aside issues of history and provenance, this is a decent looking Monaco, but nothing exceptional.  We see ordinary wear on the case, with a couple of medium-sized dents.

Best point of the watch is probably the beautiful color of the lume dots on the dial, and we should also mention that 11 of the 12 dots are present and accounted for.

The main negative on this watch is the hands.  The description in the auction catalog indicates that the watch was sent in for servicing over the course of its life, and there is no doubt that the hands have been replaced (or relumed in a poor manner).

Seeking Additional Information / Corrections.  If you have any additional information about this watch, or would like to correct any of the information in this posting, please write to me at onthedash@bellsouth.net.

Jeff Stein
July 27, 2012

Auction Catalog Description from Antiquorum.

This “Monaco” wristwatch was previously owned by Steve McQueen and worn by him during the filming of the 1971 movie “Le Mans.”

The photograph of Steve McQueen wearing the Heuer Monaco during filming the movie “Le Mans” is one of the most iconic images of both actor and watch.  He is not seen wearing the watch again in any candid photographs taken post filming, yet those that worked with him and recall his penchant for leaving the set with souvenir “goodies” will testify he would never have returned the watch to the property master at the close of filming.  This has always led to the question: what happened to his Monaco?

Although McQueen chose to wear the Monaco model during the filming of the movie (he was offered a number of watches from among the Heuer production of the era) he can clearly be seen wearing his favorite watch, the Rolex Submariner, in a number of photographs taken while relaxing on set (his Rolex is offered as lot 416 in the sale) and we can presume he returned to wearing his Rolex as soon as filming ended.

Prior to leaving for France to film his “passion project” movie “24 hours of Le Mans” Steve McQueen contacted W.J. (Bill) Maher, a management consultant in New York, for advice on his business operations and personal financial management.  After a few months’ auditing, and only days before Steve was to leave for France, Bill told Steve he (Steve) was financially insolvent and he (Bill) preferred to return to his well-paid job rather than try to unravel his finances in LA.  At this time Steve was a heavyweight in the film industry and probably not used to taking “no” for an answer.  Realizing he was in trouble and desperate to begin filming in France, he convinced Bill to stay on and help him resolve his immediate financial problems while he was away.

Bill visited Steve on the Le Mans set to inform him and his wife Neile that the immediate cash problems were solved.  He agreed to stay on to restructure the management of Steve’s career and Steve’s production company, Solar Productions, Inc.   During filming at Le Mans, Bill returned once more along with Freddie Fields, whom he had retained on Steve’s behalf to manage his career. Freddie was the leading movie star talent agent of the time and head of CMA, the major talent agency.  Bill restructured Solar Productions, Inc., probably saving it from bankruptcy.  He also reorganized the management of Steve’s personal finances, hiring a new team of professional service providers.  He became a friend of Steve and Neile and proved an honest and trustworthy advisor, something Steve admired and no doubt a rarity in Hollywood.

When he returned to Los Angeles, Steve McQueen felt he was beginning a new chapter in his life. Visiting Bill at the Solar offices, he ceremoniously removed his Heuer Monaco watch and presented it to Bill in appreciation of his friendship and loyal services during what had been perhaps the most troubled time of his adult life.  Thanking him, Bill remarked that the timing was perfect, since he had just lost a gold Girard Perregaux.  Steve promised to have Bill’s name engraved on the reverse of the watch, and a week later a small box arrived containing the newly engraved Heuer Monaco. Bill was Steve’s primary advisor for eleven years and after Steve’s untimely death he was trustee of the estate.

Bill kept the watch until he gifted it to his seven year-old nephew.  His nephew’s mother had the boy’s name and birth date engraved on the reverse. The nephew took great care of the watch.  It has been serviced at Heuer US three times since 1974.

The TAG Heuer archives reveal that four Monacos (three blue watches and a gray one) were given by Heuer for the filming of”Le Mans”.   This is the first time one has appeared at auction.  Its indisputable provenance – it was not a back-up watch kept on the set, but was worn by Steve McQueen personally – makes it highly important and desirable.

This is a unique opportunity to own a true icon of horological, automotive, and cinematic history.