Marlon Brando’s prized Rolex among the gems in “Game Changers” auction

Phillips New York hosts a watch sale that’s well timed for the holiday season

Marlon Brando photographed on the set of Apocalypse Now in 1979, wearing the Rolex watch that will be auctioned by Phillips New York
Marlon Brando photographed on the set of Apocalypse Now in 1979, wearing the Rolex watch that will be auctioned by Phillips New York | Image: Mary Ellen Mark

The New York “Game Changers” sale presented by Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo – the watch department at the auction house – promises to be a horologist’s treasure trove. As the name asserts, several of the pieces set to go under the hammer are deemed game-changing, including the iconic Rolex GMT-Master (ref 1675) worn by the late Marlon Brando in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 epic Apocalypse Now.

The iconic Rolex GMT-Master (ref 1675) owned by Brando
The iconic Rolex GMT-Master (ref 1675) owned by Brando
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Its place in cinematic history withstanding, this particular timepiece is unique due to the never-before-seen “M Brando” inscription on the caseback, which the actor engraved personally. It is said that Brando was asked to remove the watch when filming in the Philippines, as it was considered too distracting on camera. “If they’re looking at my watch, then I’m not doing my job as an actor,” he is claimed to have retorted – and so the Rolex remained in the picture (although with its bezel removed), becoming synonymous with Brando’s rogue character, Colonel Kurtz.

The watch is unique due to the actor’s personal engraving on the caseback
The watch is unique due to the actor’s personal engraving on the caseback
Brando pictured with his daughter Petra and her mother, Caroline Barrett, at Petra’s graduation in 1994, when Brando gave her the Rolex
Brando pictured with his daughter Petra and her mother, Caroline Barrett, at Petra’s graduation in 1994, when Brando gave her the Rolex | Image: Courtesy of Petra Brando

The piece remained in Brando’s possession until 1995, when he gifted it to his daughter Petra on the occasion of her graduation from university. Brando included a hand-written note that read: “This watch is like a tank. You can do anything you want to it and it will keep on going. I want you to have it as a reminder of how proud I am of you.” The piece remains beautifully preserved with its original dial, hands, crystal, crown and case.

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