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Steve McQueen Monaco on the block at New York motor racing auction

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There are two watches so intrinsically tied to Hollywood royalty that they trip off the tongue of every watch enthusiast.

One is the Paul Newman Daytona (reference 6239), a steel Rolex that set a world record for a vintage wristwatch when Phillips sold it for $17,752,500 in 2017.

The other is a Steve McQueen Monaco, the blue-dialed 1969 square TAG Heuer chronograph (reference 1133) that shot to fame when the king of cool wore it in the 1970 movie Le Mans.

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Having set one world record with the Paul Newman Daytona, Phillips in association with Bacs & Russo has another chance with one of only two known Monaco watches kept and gifted by Steve McQueen, in this instance to his personal mechanic, Haig Alltounian.

Phillips has not publicized a pre-sale estimate for the watch, but experts expect it to achieve upwards of $1 million when it goes under the hammer on December 12 as part of a motoring enthusiasts’ auction in New York titled Racing Pulse.

“The Heuer Monaco will always be associated with the glamor and thrill of auto racing. We are honored to offer this historic Heuer Monaco, worn by Steve McQueen and gifted to Haig Alltounian in 1970 during the filming of Le Mans, on behalf of Mr Alltounian. Preserved in superb, original condition with its fascinating caseback engraving remaining perfectly crisp, it can certainly be considered as one of the most important Heuer wristwatches of all time. Worn on McQueen’s wrist while driving the film’s Porsche 917 at speeds above 200 mph, its incredible provenance, wonderful state of preservation, and adrenaline-fuelled history make it an ultimate trophy watch for the connoisseur,” says Paul Boutros, head of Phillips Watches, Americas.

Frederic Arnault, who took over as TAG Heuer’s CEO earlier this year, adds: “We’re honored to witness the sale of such a spectacular piece of Heuer history. The Monaco is known the world over as an iconic wristwatch, but Mr Alltounian’s piece played an absolutely fundamental role in creating its legend. It is possibly the most important Heuer watch of all. Steve McQueen propelled the Monaco to fame in Le Mans and to this day, we continue to honor him and the light he shone on the brand. We’re very excited for our collectors and all lovers of exceptional watchmaking to have a chance to own this one-of-a-kind piece of Heuer mythology.”

Mr Alltounian says Mr McQueen offered him the watch as a “thank you for keeping me alive all these months.” He tried to refuse the gift and suggested Mr McQueen give it to his wife or son, but the movie star told him it was already engraved on the back with: “To Haig Le Mans 1970”.

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder