An actor, a handsome, brooding, and profoundly superstitious sort, considers his pocket watch a lucky charm and wears it, not in a vest pocket as any young swell over a half century ago might, but instead shoves it in his pants pocket, the chain dangling from his belt loop. His career ascending, he gives his pocket watch to movie studio employee who is kind to him. He dies within a year.
The actor was James Dean and the watch, made by American watchmaker Standard USA with an American-made Elgin movement was bought by Dean in late 1951. The watch was his first big purchase, and he was so proud of it he had his initials engraved on the gold cover. He wore it while performing in TV and plays and even throughout the filming of “East of Eden,” despite director Elia Kazan’s protests. His performance in the film would earn him his first of two posthumous Academy Award nominations and two Golden Globes. The watch will be auctioned by Antiquorum Auctioneers in its June 22nd auction of “Important Modern & Vintage Timepieces” in Hong Kong.
“We are delighted to be offering this important piece of Hollywood history in our upcoming June auction,” said Evan Zimmermann, President & CEO, Antiquorum Auctioneers. “This is a rare opportunity to own one of the few known existing items that belonged to the late legendary actor and cultural icon, James Dean.”
Dean ultimately gifted the watch to Tillie Starriet, a Warner Brothers employee whom he befriended during the filming of “East of Eden.” He called her Mom and she acted as surrogate mother for the young 23 year-old actor – she was the only person he would allow to prepare his hair for “East of Eden” and “Rebel Without a Cause.” The watch is being sold with a letter of authentication from Starriet explaining and is being sold now by a private collector. “Jimmy Dean was a person I loved,” Starriet says in her letter of authentication. “Not because he was a famous actor but because he really was a kind and tender person.”
James Dean’s keyless pocket watch was made circa 1889 by Standard USA, with an Elgin movement. The gold filled case has a cartouche with the initials “JD” engraved on the front cover. The dial is white enamel with radial Roman numerals, an outer minute track, sunken subsidiary seconds and blued steel spade hands. It carries a pre-auction estimate of US$5,000 – $10,000, due in great part to its celebrity provenance.