Hands-On With Andy Warhol’s Ultra-Rare Rolex Hitting The Auction Block This May
The artist’s rare Reference 3525 chronograph is going under the hammer at Christie’s Rare Watches event in Geneva in May.
Andy Warhol was a magnificent weirdo. His pop style redefined what art meant in the post-expressionist era. He predicted our influencer-obsessed culture. And he was a collector extraordinaire. During what has been described as an obsessive shopping spree that lasted decades, Warhol amassed 175 cookie jars, 313 watches, 57 Navajo blankets, 210 Bakelite bracelets, 1,659 pieces of Russel Wright pottery, and 170 chairs amongst other objects. Today we're talking about one of Andy's very special Rolex coming to Christie's this May.
Warhol was a well-known watch lover. When his estate was inventoried for the storied Andy Warhol Collection, Jewelry and Watches, Part II auction at Sotheby’s New York in 1988, the auctioneers counted 313 timepieces. The lots included a wide variety of makes and models, from Movados to a plastic Fred Flintstone quartz watch.
Just as he did in his art practice, Warhol’s watch collection mixed the high and low. Alongside Fred Flintstone, the auction listed almost 100 watches from Patek Philippe, Rolex, Cartier, and other luxury watchmakers.
In fact, Warhol assembled a quite canny collection of important calibers. Amongst the highlights of that legendary 1988 auction (also known in the trade as Andy Warhol’s Stuff) were a rectangular Patek Philippe Ref. 2503 from 1952 and a Patek Philippe Ref. 2526 — the manufacture’s first automatic wristwatch.
Other notable pieces included a Cartier Tank Cintrée that was purchased by Ralph Lauren, who later said, “I loved this great gold cuff on one piece. The watch it was attached to was nothing, but I purchased it and had the gold cuff sized to my wrist and put on this [the Cintrée]. It is one of my favorite watches. The combination is unique, and such a personal expression of a one-of-a-kind heirloom timepiece.”
So while Warhol knew a good watch when he saw one, he didn’t collect them for horological significance or their resale value. Rather he collected them like he did his celebrity friends: for their cachet.
Warhol was famously quoted as having said "I don't wear a [Cartier] Tank watch to tell the time. In fact I never wind it. I wear a Tank because it's the watch to wear."
In fact, he sometimes never wore them at all. As we got up-close with this 1943 pink gold Rolex Chronograph, one couldn’t help but notice the lack of scuffs and scratches that would be apparent in even the most carefully worn watch.
That’s because Warhol was a bit of a hoarder. He kept most of his stuff in his townhouse at 57 E. 66th Street. It has been whispered that the artist kept his favourite watches at the center of the canopy that hung over his bed. And, whilst preparing for The Andy Warhol Collection, Part I, two curators who were going through the artist’s archival material discovered a secret stash of jewelry and watches hidden between two filing cabinets.
There was so much it filled another complete sale at Sotheby’s that was titled, The Andy Warhol Collection, Jewelry and Watches Part II.
Even if Warhol didn’t wear this particular watch, as we examined it, we definitely got the sense that the artist was close to it. He admired all of his possessions, drawn to them by their craftsmanship as much as what they signified culturally.
As Fred Hughes — Warhol’s manager and executor of the estate — wrote in the introduction to the Jewelry Part II catalogue, “Why did Andy prefer to hide this jewelry in his house and not keep it in a bank vault? Possibly because he felt reassured by assets he could see and which were easily within reach. Possibly because of the tactile and aesthetic pleasure which he derived from his watches and jewelry, as with everything else in his collection. Possibly because he had inherited an old-world distrust of banks from his mother, and while he had kept some of the jewelry sold in [the May Sotheby’s 1988 auctions] in safe deposit boxes, and some in a safe in his house, he still felt the need for a hidden treasure. Possibly because he loved to have secrets, and this particular secret, to my knowledge, he shared with no one. Of course, this is all speculation, as Andy’s behavior was highly idiosyncratic and unpredictable.
And speaking of speculation, we can only guess how Warhol came to possess this particular Rolex. Manufactured in 1943, it’s unlikely that the young Andy Warhola of Pittsburgh bought it himself. Nor was it inherited. And there is no record of sale. Perhaps it was traded in payment for a work of art?
THE ROLEX OYSTER CHRONOGRAPHE REF. 3525
If it was a trade, it’s hard to say who got the better end of the deal. In 2013, Warhol’s “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)" sold for a record $105.4 million at Sotheby’s. The estimate for this piece is $200,153 to $300,230. The provenance is impeccable (it appears in the original catalogue of Sotheby’s, The Andy Warhol Collection, Jewelry and Watches, Part II and in John Goldberger’s 100 Superlative Rolexes), so it’s not unreasonable to expect it to go for more.
But this chrono is a treasure even without the Warhol connection. This two tone Oyster Chronographe is the rarest variant of the celebrated ref. 3525. In the original 1988 auction, it was fitted with a leather strap but now it comes with a perfectly matched, signed pink gold and stainless steel, expandable bracelet.
It’s signed on the dial, the case, the movement and inside the case back. And it still has its original crown — made during the intermediate production of this reference.
It’s also extremely attractive, with a magnificent, multi-scale dial with both tachymeter and telemeter. The dial has a soft, even patina and the whole shebang, including the steel case and gold bezel, are free of cosmetic enhancements.
WHAT BECOMES A LEGEND MOST
On its own, this Rolex deserves to be famous for more than 15 minutes. The fact that it once belonged to Andy Warhol elevates this object into a work of art. But for potential bidders, the biggest draw is the opportunity to live on forever as part of the timepiece’s fabled story.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)