Jewelry & Watches

Marlon Brando’s Iconic Rolex Goes Up For Auction

Watch experts thought this GMT-Master, which Brando personalized himself and wore in Apocalypse Now, was lost forever.
IMAGE COURTESY OF PHILIPS, PHOTOSHOT / GETTY IMAGES
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When planning the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, director Francis Ford Coppola originally imagined one of his main characters, Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, a former Green Beret who has gone rogue in Cambodia, would wear no adornment besides his dog tags. But Marlon Brando, who famously played Kurtz, insisted on wearing his black strap 1972 Rolex GMT-Master.

But Brando had one adjustment: To make the watch feel more authentic to the character, he removed the bezel. When the filmmaker acquiesced, two classics were minted: the film, and the watch itself.

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The poster for Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, starring Marlon Brando.
Photo by UNIVERSAL HISTORY ARCHIVE / GETTY IMAGES.

For many years the watch was thought to be lost. But this October, the Rolex GMT-Master will be shown publicly for the first time in London as a part of Phillips' December 10th Game Changers auction, a sale dedicated to watches owned by highly notable and influential people. As part of the auction, the watch will tour from London, Geneva, and Hong Kong, ultimately arriving December 5 in New York, where the sale will take place.

So where has the watch been all this time? It’s actually not too mysterious. Brando gave it to his daughter, Petra Brando Fischer, after she graduated from Brown University in 1994, before she started law school at the University of Southern California.

Though she treasured the Rolex, Petra never wore it, and later gave it to her husband Russel as a wedding gift. Russel never wore the watch either, so the GMT-Master is perfectly preserved with all of its original parts and, to the surprise of the auction house, “M. Brando” hand-engraved by the actor himself on the case back.

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The watchface (left) is still missing the bezel that Brando removed for Apocalypse Now. He personalized the watch himself by engraving his name into the case back (right).
Photo by COURTESY OF PHILIPS.

Paul Boutros, Philips’ head of watches in the U.S., says the auction house assumes that Brando bought the watch himself in the early 1970s. The model is an update from an earlier generation GMT-Master, which was developed with Pan Am airlines to help pilots keep track of two time zones. Ironically, the new version that Brando wore featured the debut of a sturdy aluminum bezel—the same one he snapped off for the film.

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Brando with his daughter Petra Brando Fischer and her husband, Russel.
Photo by COURTESY OF PETRA BRANDO FISCHER.

Philips expects the auction to draw a lot of attention, comparing it to the sale of Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona in 2017, which at the time was the highest sale of any wristwatch at auction.

*This article originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com

*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

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