In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan’s Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan’s Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

The watches both owned and coveted by famous people interest me, as they do most people who would call themselves timepiece enthusiasts. In the last 15 or so years, luxury industry marketers have been a bit "too involved" in the game of what celebrities are wearing what timepieces as well as other fashion items. That's a bit of a shame because at the end of the day that has probably done more harm than good to consumers being authentically influenced by the public figures they follow. So, with that in mind, let's flash back to the year 1999, when in February of that year, watch retailer Tourneau and watch auction house Antiquorum held a special event in New York City called "Famous Faces, Watch Auction For Charity." This event was easily one of the most interesting watch-related auctions ever held, and nothing like it will ever happen again.

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

I learned about this watch auction from someone who was there, Mr. Tom Flynn, who wrote the herein pictured news article for the Antiques Trade Gazette in the UK after his experience. Clearly, the headline of the article is timely given that Donald Trump is the President-Elect here in the United States. I'm not going to make this article political, and I don't have any political motivations behind it. My only interest is in discussing the event in the context of watch auctions and a bit of history in an industry that I am a part of. There is also the interesting fact that Ronald Reagan wore this watch (at least at times) and that in 1999 Donald Trump bid for it and won it at auction.

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

To learn more about the event, I interviewed Andrew Block, who was running Tourneau back in 1999 and who helped produce the event. He recalls the event fondly, even though it was a ton of work to produce. It was a combined effort not only of his team at Tourneau, but also of the auctioneer Antiquorum. The TimeMachine venue was located right next to the Trump building in New York. Block remarked that he didn't work with the Trump people much in the sense that they were not typically buying watches. I've been trying to determine whether or not Donald Trump is a "watch guy." I am pretty sure he isn't - not in the sense the typical aBlogtoWatch audience member is.

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

The wrist watch world back in 1999 was quite different than it is today. The late 1990s - as far as I can recall, as I was in high school - was both economically optimistic and prior to the development of the watch industry's modern coming of age. This was before the first tech industry bubble in the early 2000s, and also before many of today's major watch brands were gobbled up by big corporate parents. It was also a time when wrist watch values were markedly less than they are today. In fact, one of the major things that happened in the watch industry from the very late 1990s until about 2015 was a dramatic increase in retail prices. It was also prior to the recent vintage watch craze which saw the value of some rare vintage watches skyrocket thanks to some clever auctioneers and enthused collectors who often hailed from East Asia.

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 01: A general view of atmosphere as Emmanuelle Chriqui joins Baume & Mercier to benefit Love146 at Tourneau TimeMachine on December 1, 2011, in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Baume & Mercier)

One of the auctioneers for Antiquorum at the time, and taking the helm at the 1999 auction, was Mr. Osvaldo Patrizzi, whose career was as controversial as it was colorful. In the mid-2000s, Antiquorum started having legal issues and later ousted Patrizzi. The latter attempted to form his own auction house dedicated to watches, but ultimately failed. Many cited the fact that his Patrizzi & Co. business was not sufficiently able to implement online bidding which they banked on as a primary technique to attract clients.

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

That is quite ironic because the auction event of February 1999 which I am referring to was touted as being the first live auction event to include bidding from participants on the internet. Apparently, the idea did work, but not perfectly. People who attended the event report that the evening went extremely slowly given the wait for online bidders to respond, and it seemed to take forever to get through the 87 lots. The auction catalog itself starts with various instructions on how to bid online, which is sort of amusing since today we would not assume that the instructions for how to use a website would be in print form.

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

While watch auction technology and overall business savvy has arguably been refined since the late 1990s, the crowd and public attention they are able to gather has perhaps not gotten better. I've never been too quiet on my less than enthusiastic sentiments on much of the activity of the modern watch auction business which I feel has done less to democratize sales, and has done more to misinform collectors and inflate prices. I wrote more of my thoughts on watch auctions here. Looking at the results of the 1999 Famous Faces auction, the entire event yielded $544,200 - which is just over $6,200 per watch on average. Which actually sounds very reasonable given the clever theme of the event.

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

The idea behind the Famous Faces watch auction was pretty neat. Take a bunch of celebrities, ask them to donate a watch, and the have other celebrities bid on those watches. The proceeds of the sales would go to a charity that the donating person actually got to choose. The notion was a joint effort of watch retailer chain Tourneau and Anitquorum. This was a golden time for Tourneau, well in advance of their current and severe issues. In 1997, Tourneau opened their flagship "TimeMachine" store in New York City, and were riding high near the top of their game as a company. The 1999 event would be held at the store, basically between it and the Trump building.

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

The watches were each donated by celebrities, but not all were their own watches. Looking in the auction catalog it takes a keen eye to determine what timepieces actually represented the taste of the donating people, and which were given to them by brands specifically to be auctioned off. For example, the description in the catalog would say "Donated by X person" when it was their own personal watch, and "Donated by X person and X brand," when it was a collaboration between the two. Block recalls that about half of the 87 watches were actually representative of the celebrity's own tastes. Even with those numbers, nothing like this event has taken place since, as the majority of celebrity/brand relationships - especially when it comes to watches - are the result of marketing or endorsement relationships.

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

Prior to the February 1999 auction, Antiquorum toured the world with the 87 watches, in a practice that is often continued today with "major auction events." The idea was to show off the timepieces to bidders they hoped would be participating in the event from afar. Here is the actual press release Tourneau issued at the time:

NEW YORK, Feb. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- Tourneau, America's leading watch retailer, and Antiquorum, the world's leading watch auctioneer, are pleased to announce the "Famous Faces Watch Auction for Charity," which will be held on Wednesday, February 24, 1999 at the Tourneau TimeMachine. The "Famous Faces Watch Auction for Charity" will sell more than 75 timepieces to the highest bidders and 100% of the proceeds will go to a charity personally selected by each donor.

Some of the world's most recognizable celebrities, such as George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Elton John, Madonna, Mark McGwire, Paul Newman, Rosie O'Donnell, Ronald Reagan, Robert Redford, Christopher Reeve, Jerry Seinfeld, Darryl Strawberry, Elizabeth Taylor, Cindy Crawford, Joe Torre and Oprah Winfrey, have donated their own personal timepieces, to be auctioned off for numerous charities worldwide. The timepieces range from classical to the unusual -- by Audemars Piguet, Breguet, Breitling, Cartier, Chopard, Franck Muller, Omega, Rolex and Vacheron Constantine to name a few.

Organizations benefiting from the auction include World Health Organization, Salvation Army, Special Olympics, Association for the Blind, Children of Chernobyl, The Leukemia Society, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
This auction will provide a first time opportunity for buyers all over the world to acquire a piece of contemporary history while simultaneously supporting many worthwhile causes.

Tourneau and Antiquorum will tour the world with this collection prior to its sale. The collection will travel to Geneva, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Tourneau locations in California, Florida and Texas before arriving at the Tourneau TimeMachine in New York for the auction. A full-color commemorative auction catalog ($50.00) including photographs and biographical sketches of the
celebrities, a photograph of the watch and a precis on the benefiting charity will be available mid-January.

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

As I noted, I was actually able to find one of the "Famous Faces, Watch Auction For Charity" catalogs and purchased it. Almost 20 years later, and it cost a lot less than the $50 asked at the time for it - well worth the effort of buying it since the catalog is quite amazing as a time capsule. Some people are content with just getting auction catalogs and never bidding, which many people know are typically the result of enormous effort and production. Big names showed up for the 1999 event which comprised business and entertainment industry elites from New York City and elsewhere.

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

The guest host was Dr. Ruth Westheimer (Dr. Ruth) - the outspoken sex therapist who was popular at the time. A decade earlier, she was at Donald Trump's release for his book "Trump: The Art Of The Deal" in 1988. According to Flynn's report of the event, the atmosphere was light. Dr. Ruth herself donated a watch to be sold, and apparently announced in the context of her watch that was up for sale, "whoever bids $10,000 dollars is going to have 10,000 orgasms." Block confirms that Dr. Ruth's participation was a highlight of the night.

In 1999 Donald Trump Bought Ronald Reagan's Wrist Watch During One Of The Most Interesting Watch Auction Events Ever Sales & Auctions

When bidding of her watch only reached $7,000 Dr. Ruth continued to flirt with the audience, and even referenced Mr. Trump directly who reportedly smiled in response (see Flynn's article for more details). Though, in the end, Trump passed on her watch, having a different acquisition in mind that evening. At the time, Donald Trump was a regular at high-profile New York City social events. Even though his actual political experience is only now beginning, statements by Trump going back to the 1980s more than hint at his political ambitions. The watch he was interested in that evening was one owned by former US President Ronald Reagan.

  • The Victorious Boogur T. Wang

    Interesting article and a good story Mr. Adams

  • SuperStrapper

    Interesting.

    I’d be most interested in the Oprah Winfrey watch, because it’s 36mm now, but next month is might be 44mm, then 40mm, then 48mm, then 39mm, then 50mm, then 42mm… you just don’t see that in many watches.

    Regardless, now that Trump is president elect, many of these watches are apparantly going to move up here to Canada, and should hen be more accessible.

    • mtnsicl

      Ironically, Canada won’t take them because they actually enforce their borders.

      • TrevorXM

        We sure do! Canadians would never stand for that ludicrous southern US border situation. It’s preposterous.

        • mtnsicl

          I don’t blame you guys. That’s about to change here.

          • TrevorXM

            It’s just good sense! Good fences make good neighbours.

      • SuperStrapper

        Which suits me just fine, as we don’t need a steaming pile of American pussies migrating away from their country because they hate democracy and simply didn’t get what they want, like so many snot-nosed 3 year olds throwing tantrums because they can’t have candy before supper.

        They were all just blowing smoke anyway, none of them actually have the balls to do anything other than whine about not getting their way.

  • Marius

    I found this to be a rather convoluted article. The author cites two people who attended that event, yet, the article itself goes on a lot of tangents. The actual auction doesn’t really take the forefront of this article. The auction itself was presented in a rather parsimonious manner, considering that Block was actually involved with the organization of said event.

    Furthermore, some of the arguments in this article are about as insightful as arguing that it’s brighter during the day than during the night. For example, the author explains why Trump paid $7,000 for a quartz watch belonging to Reagan, arguing that: “In my opinion, this was a passion purchase by Trump, not because of the watch, but because of the owner.” Well, yes, I would say that that’s pretty obvious.

    Lastly, looking at the watches themselves, I can safely say that they are pretty underwhelming. Considering that we are talking about multimillionaire actors, most of those timepieces were rather low-rent. A lot of entry-level Breitlings, Cartier, Ebel, and a few steel Rolexes — that’s not exactly mind-boggling. What IS mind-boggling, though, is that some watches were a joint donation from the celebrity and the watch brand. Seriousely? Couldn’t Tom Hanks, for instance, donate a Cartier all by himself?

    • David Bidwell

      Spot on.

    • Ariel Adams

      I discussed what I found interesting about the auction and the thoughts that I had while researching it. You can always hope for me but the facts and details I or anyone researching something like this will always be in many ways limited. For me the real value was as a commentary on modern watch auctions. In my opinion you rather missed the point of what I was aiming for. More so, some of the opinions you feel are obvious are not obvious when read by people who aren’t as deeply into watches as someone like you or myself are.

  • Berndt Norten

    Fascinating. I was engrossed in Derek Walcott’s The Prodigal, thinking how lucky I was to be alive and to be able to somewhat follow his rich but challenging writing, but isn’t it always a life-enhancing affair to read about the tastes of the lettered Donald Trump and people who read other people’s’ lines for a living? O thespian Tom Hanks with your new edgy Euro long haired look, do share!

  • Andrew Hughes

    This was pretty interesting for people who remember the early days of the internet. What we take for granted now with fast speeds and instant bidding must have been an interesting affair with dial-up modems. It was cool to see the stars and the watches associated with them even if they were not all Pateks or Rolexes. That was not the point though and my favorite was General Schwatzkoff’s Seiko. I think the best thing about this article is that is opened my eyes to the highly desirable auction catalogs available. Ebay here I come…

  • Robin Williams had some jaunty taste in watches. Burt Reynolds, not so much.

  • Oliver Stone, what a pinko!

    • IG

      Nowadays he wears Elon Musk watch.

  • TrevorXM

    I found this article very revealing about the celebrities involved. When people are wealthy enough to afford any car or watch they want and have been wealthy enough for several years so that things aren’t just bought on a rush but there is time for item to reflect more deeply on them, we do see what’s really going on there. I have to say that there are no real surprises for me here. Certainly the article isn’t focused on politics, but we can really see how this works here. The “small c” conservatives or “small l” liberals have pretty authentic choices for their watches — they don’t care if it’s “the best” or if it “projects the right image” they have them because they like them. While the “big C” conservatives are very un-curious about their timepieces mostly and they are dull, and the “big L” liberals are all about putting on a show for others — either a show of image or one of false modesty. And we can tell the celebrities who are obviously completely fake when they obviously never wore the watches being put up with their images associated with them.

  • DanW94

    Nice Sunday morning read. Thanks for the article, Ariel. And for those unfamiliar with the American game of baseball, Mark McGwire’s choice is a strikeout, a big whiff, denoted with a K in the box score. Something he did regularly in his career. I like Seinfeld’s Breitling. I believe I read he’s quite the Breitling aficionado.

  • mtnsicl

    Is it acceptable in journalism to include pictures and text like that from another publication? That is someone’s intellectual property.

    • Shinytoys

      not as long as the original source is credited…

    • Ariel Adams

      We are not passing the work off as our own. Rather, we are commenting on the work of another. In essence, you are aware who is the source of the base intellectual property is, as well as that we are commenting on it. Such commentary is typically deemed “fair use” as it would otherwise, as you pointed out, likely be an infringement. This is an exception to the rule.

      • egznyc

        Good to see your legal education occasionally comes in handy 😉

  • Lincolnshire Poacher

    How the prices have changed. It prices a lot of people out of buying nice watches. Interesting article. I would have thought someone could do it again, if they had enough celebrity pull power. Raise a lot more money too.

  • cg

    How about watches of famous criminals? You can include quite a few politicians in those ranks! I want to see Monica Lewinsky’s watch she wore under the desk in the Oval Office… Anthony Wiener anyone?

  • Ebels out the backend! Oh how the mighty have fallen.
    That goes for Madonna too.

  • Cosco Metas

    Was Ebel ever a big brand, or this was some sort of big marketing push for them?

  • IG

    Hmmm, 1999, the calm before the storm, the Big Mechanical Revival of the 00s! When Panerai’s ruins just been discovered by some Hollywood meatheads and the Chinese made only fake Rolexes for the Canal Street!

  • cluedog12

    Very interesting feature! Speaking of hindsight, if Antiquorum knew then what it knows now, I’m sure they would have reached out to more musicians like Eric Clapton.

    PS – I like how you incorporated Donald Trump’s name into feature for the hook. It worked…sadly.

  • Mark

    Ariel, I really enjoyed this article. I just wished that Bilal would have gone in this direction with his article. I remember this auction. The big deal they made here about it was that there was internet bidding. The tech companies were all abuzz about it. I loved the Royal Oak that Arnold donated. And I if memory serves me correctly, the SKX009 that “Stormin Norman” donated was the watch he wore on his right wrist that he kept to his home time zone when he was in Operation Desert Storm.