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Poignant anecdotes dominated the news that emerged in the days following James Gandolfini’s death in June 2013: how he worked with wounded veterans both in front of and behind the camera (most famously when producing the 2007 HBO doc Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq) or his quiet support for numerous charities. Almost three years later, we’re reminded of Gandolfini’s death not because of what can emerge from the best of humanity, but rather how it’s revealed the worst.
On Tuesday multiple news outlets reported the impending trial of 43-year-old Claudio Bevilacqua, one of the paramedics treating Gandolfini in his hotel room following his fatal heart attack. Bevilacqua is charged with allegedly stealing the 40mm stainless-steel Rolex Submariner Date Gandolfini was often seen wearing, either from the actor’s suite at Rome’s Boscolo Exedra Hotel or, even more egregiously, from his wrist. During a hearing on Monday in Rome, the trial’s start was postponed until November; Bevilacqua was not present and therefore did not enter a plea.
“It’s one of the dark sides of our business that we absolutely deplore,” says Rob Ronen, co-founder of Material Good, a New York watch and jewelry boutique that specializes in vintage Rolexes. “A watch is really a piece of your personality; at that lowest point, to steal anything is horrible, but something that’s also so reflective of your personality? That’s pretty despicable.”
The value of Gandolfini’s Rolex has been estimated at $3,000, a figure likely derived from the insurance form submitted when the theft was reported. A new Rolex Submariner Date in stainless steel retails for $8,550 — but even used, experts question the value cited for Gandolfini’s watch. “That $3,000 figure is obviously an understatement,” says Ariel Adams, founder and editor-in-chief of the popular site A Blog to Watch. “The vintage market can be very emotionally driven, but Rolexes do hold their value very well. And for valuation purposes, because it was a watch belonging to James Gandolfini, it would have been worth a lot more.”
ONE TO WATCH: The Rolex Submariner Date, the same style owned by Gandolfini. (Courtesy of Rolex)
Ronen and Adams agree that thieves target Rolexes precisely because it’s such a globally popular and well-regarded brand — though that doesn’t mean you should be squirreling your favorite away in a safe. “The serial number is your best safeguard,” Ronen says. “If it’s stolen, there’s a good chance at some point it’s still going to find its way back to a Rolex service center for repair. The serial number is checked and, if it’s reported as stolen, that piece is automatically flagged. A case proceeds from there.” Until the trial unfolds, such a process could very well be what led police to Bevilacqua, Ronen surmises.
Of course, given Italy’s judicial system, widely regarded as clogged and convoluted, resolution of the case could take up to five years, if at all. “It’s not surprising that [Bevilacqua] didn’t show up for the hearing; if that happens two more times, the case very well could go away,” says Alessandro Ciani, a Beverly Hills antiques dealer who specializes in rare and collectible watches, including vintage Rolexes. Born and raised in Italy, Ciani is ambivalent about a quick or successful resolution to the case. “One of the reasons I left Italy is because I was robbed of $200,000 by two people who worked for me; even at that amount, my lawyers told me, ‘Let it go, or you’ll be in court for 10 years.’ That’s why you have a lot of small crime in Italy, because they know the chance of prosecution is also small.”
If there’s any aspect to emerge from this story that doesn’t inspire Tony Soprano-level fury, it’s the reminder that the watch Gandolfini favored indeed mirrored his personality. His most famous character sported a flashy Rolex Oyster Perpetual Day-Date President in 18-karat yellow gold, but a stainless-steel Submariner for the actor? “It’s a sensitive, conservative, timeless choice,” notes Adams. “It’s a watch for someone who approaches luxury in a casual way. You like nice things, but you don’t want to look pretentious or like a snob.”
Ciani concurs. “It’s an understated piece and shows a personality that goes for value and not price,” he says. “James Gandolfini could have worn any watch in the world — that he wore this watch, and wore it often, shows a consistent personality, and someone who looks at things for what they are. It seems right that this was his choice.”
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