The Thomas Crown Timepieces

Steve McQueen's "Thomas Crown" style didn't stop with the clothes, it extended to all facets of the film including the unusual and distinctive watches. The horological picks are certainly as successful as the outfit selection and present Mr Crown as something of a trail blazer – in the 1960s it was unusual for men to have a collection of wristwatches and rotate them to suit a particular time or occasion. (Read more about how The King of Cool was crowned here).


Steve McQueen's "Thomas Crown" style.

Early in the film we see Crown in his natural environment – the meeting room – where he sports a gold Patek Philippe full hunter (hinged case lid) pocket watch with subsidiary seconds dial, classical ’Breguet’ style hands and Arabic numerals. Somehow this very traditional pocket watch set up works brilliantly well with the quintessentially modern flavour of his Prince of Wales check three-piece suit. The waistcoat’s straight cut hem forming the perfect backdrop for the watch chain arranged in the double Albert style with the winding key hanging centrally. (Read more about waistcoats here).



Crown in control

Pulling out a pocket watch, opening the case to check the time is a theatrical act which draws attention to the user and the overall effect here is patrician. He has the power in the room and gives the impression that in any situation Crown is obviously in control. The quality of the shot makes it hard to make out exactly what model he is wearing but it looks to be a double signed version, with the retailer’s name applied. Tiffany was the main US Patek retailer of the period so it’s most likely their name featured.


Patek Philippe full hunter pocket watch

The watch does more than signal power or just look good though - the key doubles as his worry beads or fidget spinner. He is seen contemplatively playing with it in more than one scene – a rather humanising counterpoint to his otherwise supremely confident demeanour; another glimpse into the complexities of the character.


Pretty face, hands and crown

Later in the film and out of the office, Crown has a day together with Vicki Anderson, the insurance investigator who is seriously blurring the work and play boundaries. It’s clearly a dress down day, and Crown naturally wears a more discreet timepiece in the form of a gold Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox model. It’s far less ostentatious than the Patek, but still a perfect choice for a man of business. Beneath the stylish simplicity of the dial is a complicated movement allowing the Memovox to offer an audible alarm function. Setting the rotating inner dial to a desired time will ensure a pleasing chime sounding when it’s time to make that vital call or draw a meeting to a close.


Stylish and elegant but complicated below the surface

Contrary to popular belief Jaeger-LeCoultre had not been the first to incorporate an alarm into a wristwatch, that honour fell to the Vulcain company in 1949, but the Memovox was launched just two years later, and its beautiful design is a classic of 1950s horology. The distinctive case with two winding crowns is a result of assigning the time and alarm functions two separate barrels which ensured that the watch’s power reserve was not reduced when using the alarm function.


Steve McQueen wearing his own watch

The Memovox watch worn by Crown in the film was actually Steve McQueen’s own timepiece, while the Patek and Cartier (which we'll cover next) were product placements.


Jaeger LeCoultre Memovox ref.E855

Next we see Crown on a dinner date with Vicki and what better accompaniment to an elegant dining spot than a stylish gold Cartier wristwatch. The watch is only glimpsed on one or two occasions, leading to some confusion over exactly what model it was.


Dinner Time

Although it is only seen briefly, the pronounced curve of the case is clearly visible. The wrist hugging case is a feature of the Cartier Tank Cintrée and Tank Allongée. The watch design was incredibly radical when launched in the 1920s. Its overlarge arched shape and bold dial with elongated numerals are an art deco tour de force that creates an almost disturbing optical illusion. The watch looks impossible – how can a watch have a curved movement – and who could possibly make one? The answer was friend of Mr Cartier, Edmond Jaeger, who created a brilliant engineering trick by developing an incredibly thin and small movement which could sit just behind the apex of the curved dial.


A rare glimpse of a rare watch

Crown's example is often cited as being a Cartier Tank Cintrée but the watch is in fact a rarer Cartier Tank Allongée in 18kt gold plate, with a manual winding ETA 2541 movement. Retailed only by Cartier New York, these were sold in the American market for a short time in the 60s and 70s.


Cartier Tank Allongée ref.21612

Of all of Crown’s carefully chosen watches, the Cartier Tank Allongée with its seemingly impossible design, seems to best embody Thomas Crown’s complex personality - it is stylish and expensive as we would expect but it is so much more – distinctive, daring, playful and like the man himself, it’s playing a trick on you.


The impossibly cool Thomas Crown

We would like to thank vintage watch researcher, authenticator, valuer, author, and long-standing Mason & Sons customer and contributor, Martin Skeet, for writing this article.

← Older Post Newer Post →