Joe DiMaggio's vintage Bulova
Vintage & Auctions

At Auction: Joe DiMaggio's Vintage Bulova Chronograph Hitting The Block At Christie's

The Yankee Clipper's World War II worn Bulova chronograph is coming for auction at Christie's June 6th New York sale.

By Josh Shanks

Baseball memorabilia always draws a crowd, from baseballs to uniforms, fans young and old covet anything worn or used by their favorite players. There is perhaps nothing more personal than a wristwatch and boy do we have something to show you. New York Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio's circa 1944 Bulova chronograph. During his life, DiMaggio transcended the very sport of baseball. Marrying Marilyn Monroe in 1954, mingling with the Rat Pack, and eventually becoming a paid spokesperson for a variety of companies and causes. Even though he passed away in 1999, the legend of DiMaggio is alive and well today.

A few years back, one of my first assignments for Watchonista was to cover DiMaggio's vintage Patek Philippe ref. 130 Chronograph. The watch ended up realizing $281,250 USD at Christie's and sparked a conversation about DiMaggio and his timepieces. Turns out, over the course of his 84 years on earth, DiMaggio owned a wide variety of watches. From Patek Philippe to Rolex, DiMaggio had an affinity for all things mechanical. Most of the pieces in DiMaggio's collection were gifts from high society, the New York Yankees, friends, family, and even the occasional corporatation.

Joe DiMaggio's Vintage Bulova

Today, we're going hands-on with this vintage Bulova Chronograph gifted to Joe DiMaggio in 1944. This 32mm manually wound chronograph even has military provenance. As DiMaggio famously missed the 1943, 1944, and 1945 seasons when he voluntarily served in the 7th Air Force. The watch was consigned to Christie's by DiMaggio's family and is accompanied by DiMaggio's original military orders.

It's unknown if DiMaggio purchased the watch on his own or if it was gifted. Christie's believes the watch was given to DiMaggio prior to him beginning his military service. The caseback is engraved '7th Air Force, J.P. DiMaggio, Baseball,1944." The reason for this engraving is likely due to the fact that DiMaggio was mostly relegated to a patriotic post during his service. Some of his official duties included playing exhibition baseball games with amateur and fellow professional players.

DiMaggio officially signed up for the Air Force February 17, 1943, but he wasn't officially assigned his military orders until August 25, 1944. My guess is this watch was given to DiMaggio shortly before or after his military service began. The watch comes with a Letter of Provenance signed by DiMaggio's two granddaughters. They indicate the watch came from DiMaggio's personal collection. It's no secret that vintage Bulova has been seeing a bit of a renaissance as of late (read HERE), and this piece is further proof of the importance of these formerly American Made timepieces

As you can see from the images, the watch's hands and dial have developed a deep patina. The hands have begun to oxidize and the dial, likely paper on steel applique has aged greatly. Based on the known history, the watch was later owned by DiMaggio's chauffeur – his uncle – Mike Agnew. The watch was certainly worn extensively. This piece represents a good opportunity to pick up a celebrity worn timepiece at a fraction of what his Patek Philippe ref. 130 chronograph hammered for.

To recap, Joe DiMaggio's Bulova, circa 1944 is coming to auction June 6 at Christie's New York. The auction house has set an estimate of $25-50,000 USD for this manually wound chronograph. The watch comes on an expandable stainless steel bracelet and includes a bevy of original documents showing the provenance. This is a watch sure to entice baseball fans and watch collectors. You can view more information about this piece on Christie's website (HERE). 

(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)

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