Marlon Brando's "Holy Relic" Rolex Hitting the Auction Block

Marlon Brando - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Mary Ellen Mark

When Paul Boutros received a cryptic email from Petra Fischer saying she had "something of interest" for the auction house Phillips, he "tried googling her, but nothing came up," recalls the Watches division head for the Americas. "On the phone, she used her full name: Petra Brando Fischer. Once I heard her maiden name, my heart started beating a little faster." The item of interest was her father's Rolex, a 1972 GMT-Master ref. 1675 that Marlon Brando wore while filming 1979's Apocalypse Now. Despite the director Francis Ford Coppola's apoplexy that a Rolex would be too noticeable, the actor had insisted on wearing it in the seminal film, conceding only to popping off the distinctive bezel, "something he easily could do himself with a butter knife," points out Boutros. Brando's feelings were that if people were looking at his watch, then he wasn't doing his job as an actor.

Since 2014, Brando's watch has been categorized, in a story on the watch website Hodinkee, as among 12 missing timepieces sought by collectors, alongside a Patek Philippe of John Lennon's and the Omega Speedmaster that Buzz Aldrin wore to the moon. L.A. collectors will get to see the Rolex, still without its bezel, when Phillips previews it at West Hollywood's L'Eclaireur Nov. 15 and 16, before its sale Dec. 10 in New York (as part of the auction house's Game Changers watch sale) with some proceeds going to charity.

Unknown to fans of status timepieces, the GMT-Master had been living in a drawer after Petra gave it to her husband, Russel Fischer, a producer on 2002's Bend It Like Beckham, when they married in 2003. (Brando gave it to Petra after her graduation from Brown in 1994.) Says Brando Fischer, whose mother was Brando's longtime personal assistant Caroline Barrett and who was adopted by the actor in 1981: "I was visiting [my father] in L.A. and one night he was sitting in the TV room, and he asked me to come in and talk to him. He told me he was really proud of me, and then he picked up the watch and said, 'This watch is like a tank — you can do anything you want to it, and it will keep on going.'" Adds her husband, "I always treated it like a holy relic, something I would never dream of wearing." Last year, while the couple considered starting a nonprofit foundation to help children's charities around the world, Fischer learned that a 2017 auction of Paul Newman's 1968 Rolex Daytona fetched a record $17.8 million, with a portion of proceeds going to charity. Given the provenance of Brando's watch, it could also grab a large philanthropic sum. Brando "cared about certain things very deeply — the environment, civil rights, Native Americans," says Petra, a London-based attorney. "He would love that this watch could make a difference in our charity work." 

What kind of price might the watch fetch on Dec. 10? Given its provenance, pristine condition, historical value — and the fact that Brando himself had hand-engraved his name on the back of the watch — the piece already has drawn intense interest in previews that have taken place in London, Singapore and Geneva. But an auction estimate? Watch collectors will have to wait until the night of the sale. “Only then will people know where the bidding will start,” Boutros says.

A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.