Lipstick, furs, legendary gowns… Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles is holding an exceptional Marilyn Monroe sale, this November 17th, 18th and 19th. Billing itself as “the auction house to the stars”, it promises nothing less than the largest ever collection of items once belonging to Marilyn, including the sequined dress, so tight she had to be sewn into it, which the blonde actress wore to sing “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy. Certain objects are being shown for the first time, including one of the few jewels which Marilyn owned: a Blancpain cocktail watch, one of the many possessions she bequeathed to her mentor, Lee Strasberg. It is now the property of Strasberg’s widow, Anna.
Bidding promises to set collectors’ pulses and bank accounts racing. “We’ve estimated the watch at between $80,000 and $100,000, but we expect it to go for much more,” says Darren Julien, founder and CEO of Julien’s Auctions. When prices reach these levels – this is the highest estimate in the sale – museums have little chance of staying the distance, which leaves the field open for rich collectors. The objects thus acquired are often resold in private transactions and all trace of them is lost. For Marilyn’s less wealthy admirers, the only chance of seeing them is if they reappear as loans to exhibitions. In the meantime, the different pre-sale viewings taking place around the world since June 1st, which would have been Marilyn’s 90th birthday, could be the final opportunity to marvel at these objects.
The watch could have been given to Marilyn by her third husband, Arthur Miller, who was known for his lavish gifts.
An (almost) unadorned beauty
On June 26th 1952, Marilyn testified before the court against Kaupman and Kaplen who had illicitly used her name to sell nude photos. Photographs and film footage of the trial show her wearing what appears to be the Blancpain watch. “Marilyn wasn’t known for owning a lot of valuable jewellery,” comments Scott Fortner, a lifelong collector of Marilyn memorabilia and an authority on the actress. This can only make the watch all the more desirable to collectors.
It was discovered among the star’s personal effects in a box from the now defunct Haimoff Jewelers in Los Angeles. No record of the sale – and therefore possibly the buyer – has been found. Nor is Blancpain able to confirm the precise origin of the watch or its specifications. According to Scott Fortner, the watch could have been given to Marilyn by her third husband, Arthur Miller, who was known for his lavish gifts.
Punctuality, a girl's best friend?
In My Story, Marilyn confesses that “I am invariably late for appointments – sometimes as much as two hours. I’ve tried to change my ways but the things that make me late are too strong, and too pleasing.” Fortunately for her, ladies’ watches of the day, in an Art Deco style, were designed first and foremost for their beauty and charm. “It’s a standard 1930 watch. Someone then had diamonds and a safety chain added,” Darren Julien explains.
Set with 71 round diamonds and two marquise diamonds, this cocktail watch reads Blancpain on the dial and Rayville Watch Co. 17 Jewels, Unadjusted Switzerland on the movement. At that time, describing the movement as “unadjusted” would have been a way round the heavy import duties levied on “very precise” watches. The “Rayville” inscription corresponds to the change in Blancpain’s name following the death in 1932 of Frédéric-Emile Blancpain. This marked the end of family management for the firm, which was sold to two members of staff, André Léal and Betty Fiechter, who took over the helm.
On November 18th in Los Angeles, Marilyn Monroe’s watch will find a new owner. Like the star herself, its mystery and aura will doubtless last for all eternity.