Naomi Watts Admires Marilyn Monroe's "Great Strength," $225K Diamond Watch

Blancpain Opening a Marilyn Monroe Exhibit  - Main - Publicity_H 2019
Courtesy of Monica Schipper/Blancpain

Photographer-producer Lawrence Schiller, whose images of the screen icon are on view, along with the watch, at Blancpain’s New York boutique until Nov. 23, theorized that Frank Sinatra may have gifted Monroe with the timepiece.

Everyone sees something different when they look at a photograph of Marilyn Monroe. At “Timeless Elegance,” an exhibit that opened Thursday at watch brand Blancpain’s New York boutique, Naomi Watts couldn’t take her eyes off of Lawrence Schiller’s images of the late screen legend in the pool on the set of the film she ultimately wouldn’t finish, 1962’s Something’s Got to Give. (Monroe died at the age of 36 in August 1962, before filming on the remake of 1940’s My Favorite Wife could be completed.) 

“You see a great strength in her, which I like,” Watts said as she gazed at a trio of Schiller’s images, which include the now-iconic photograph of Monroe along the side of the pool, with one leg playfully out of the water. “The interest in her will never stop — we’ll just keep reinventing it, because there’s never been anyone like her.” 

Watts, wearing an asymmetrical lilac charmeuse gown by Australian label Bec + Bridge, and Schiller joined Blancpain execs and a crush of guests for a preview of “Timeless Elegance,” which is on view to the public at the Fifth Avenue boutique through November 23. The exhibit is built around an Art Deco-inspired diamond watch once owned by Monroe, purchased by Blancpain at auction in 2016 for $225,000.

“It’s part of our history, and we’re thrilled to be showing it to the public for the first time here in New York City,” said Andrea Caputo, vp and head of marketing for Blancpain, which was founded in 1735 and bills itself as the oldest watchmaking brand in the world. “Women’s watches are among the nicest and most emotional pages in our company’s history, and we love that this particular watch creates a link between us and one of the most legendary women of the 20th century.” 

In addition to the watch and Schiller’s images, the exhibit includes Monroe photographs by Sam Shaw, her costume and the lace fan she carried in 1957’s The Prince and the Showgirl, the director’s chair she used during filming of 1956’s Bus Stop, and a black cocktail dress she wore to an event with then-husband Arthur Miller in 1959. To add to the party vibe, Blancpain also parked two vintage red cars, a 1957 Plymouth Belvedere and a 1956 Plymouth Savoy, in front of the boutique for the night.

But it was the photographs that drew Watts’ interest most. “I’ve got some photos Eve Arnold took of Marilyn, as well as plenty of coffee-table books of her,” she said. “She tells so much story through those eyes. You can look at 30 images of her, all taken from the same position, yet she conveys something different in each one.”

Schiller, also on hand to sign copies of his 2012 book Marilyn & Me: A Photographer’s Memories, offered up his own theory on who originally gifted the Blancpain watch to Monroe. “I don’t think it was [Joe] DiMaggio or Arthur Miller,” he said, name-checking two of Monroe’s three husbands. “DiMaggio was too macho to give a woman a watch, and Arthur Miller gave her presents like a blouse or a scarf. But I remember that when Marilyn wanted to escape Brentwood, she would stay in an apartment in a white building on Doheny Drive in Los Angeles, and that building was owned by Frank Sinatra. He also would invite her to Lake Tahoe all the time. If anyone was the type to give her a beautiful watch, it would be Sinatra. He might have had someone buy it for him, but that’s the type of thing he did when he wanted to say thank you to someone.”

Following the preview, guests adjourned through a side door of the boutique, which led directly into the adjacent St. Regis hotel on East 55th Street for dinner and a live band with a Monroe look-alike as singer. Between courses of mushroom risotto and sea bass, Schiller summed up the appeal of a woman who continues to fascinate almost six decades after her death. “The first time I photographed her I was 23 years old, and among the things I immediately learned is that she knew more about lighting and photography than I did,” he said. “She knew what was right for her, and she was always in perfect control of her own image. That we’re still celebrating her and we’re still drawn to her image, that only proves she was a very smart woman.” 

“Timeless Elegance” is on view through Nov. 23 at Blancpain, 697 Fifth Ave., New York.