When the Oscars Gifted Winners With Watches

WATCH OUT: Lasseter’s Bulova watch in its original case, an Oscar-emblazoned box in molded clamshell form

Pixar chief John Lasseter is among the collectors of the hard-to-find vintage Bulovas licensed by the Academy more than 60 years ago.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's second annual Watch Issue.    

Back in 1949, long before the swag bag became Hollywood’s preferred method of bestowing high-end gifts on stars who don’t really need them, the seemingly staid Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences signed a contract with the Bulova watch company for an item of awards-season significance. The deal, instigated for a duration of just three years, was to create a line of watches that would be given to Oscar winners and also sold to the public.

“The board of directors felt a reluctance to commercialize our name and symbol,” Academy records from November 1949 note, “but our reluctance was softened by the fact that Bulova is to pay us $120,000, which will enable us to cancel the indebtedness on our Academy building.”

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Bulova is believed to have created at least 40 different models — including women’s watches in 14-karat gold with diamonds —  that came in elaborate boxes. One displayed the watch set in what looked like a stage with a red curtain opening to reveal an Oscar statuette. Promotional mailers touted both the watches and some stars’ movies, such as Broderick Crawford for Born Yesterday and Linda Darnell for Trumpet to the Morn. Original prices ranged from $49 to $115. Today, they’re collectors’ items, some going for as much as $2,000 on eBay.

“It’s a fascinating piece of Academy history that no one knows about,” says Pixar chief creative officer and Academy first vice president John Lasseter, who recently bought one of the Bulovas. He was made aware of its existence by publicist Tony Angellotti of the Angellotti Company, who handles Disney/Pixar’s awards campaigns. Angellotti heard about the watch through a former Bulova employee.

Says Lasseter: “It’s a gorgeous watch, really cool and simple and clean and beautiful. You just don’t see things like this anymore. I had a chance to buy one in mint condition in the case.” Lasseter has the piece sitting between his two Oscars and tells THR he plans to wear it to the next Academy Awards.