The actor’s watches were as wild and wonderful as everything else he did – and now you can own one, thanks to a charity auction taking place at Sotheby’s in New York
By Chris Hall
It was known to some that Robin Williams was into watches – certainly, if like us you have become the kind of people whose eyes flick to a person’s wrist as second nature, you might have spotted him wearing some serious watches in interviews and the like: an IWC Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph here, a Cartier Tonneau or Panerai Luminor there. But I don’t think many of us knew that his love of watches extended far beyond the buying habits of your average Hollywood star. He was far from that, and his watch collection is evidence of a practised eye for interesting, unusual watches that speak to a real horological understanding.
This October, 44 watches from Williams’ estate (and that of his second wife, film producer Marsha Williams) are going under the hammer at Sotheby’s New York, as part of a larger sale that encompasses art, film memorabilia, furniture and much more. A portion of the proceeds will go to charities championed by the couple. We have had a look at the catalogue, and while the intention was to pull out a few key highlights, the entire range of watches is so fascinating that it’s hard to know where to stop.
With a couple of exceptions, the watches listed for sale are a full-voiced hymn to watchmaking from 1995 to 2010, and while that is an era that is far from fashionable right now (hence some of the pretty low estimates), it is fascinating to see the buying habits of someone with the means to cherry-pick what would have been desirable and standout watches from the turn of the millennium. It is an eclectic range, running from Doxa and Luminox tool watches right up to a number of perpetual calendars and a minute repeater tourbillon from Franck Muller. While there are big brands represented – notably IWC and Panerai – there isn’t a Rolex or Patek Philippe among them. While there’s no suggestion every watch Williams ever owned is here (the IWC Double Chronograph is not, for one), it’s nice to see that he appreciated less well-known names like Daniel Roth and Urban Jurgensen when it would have been easy to spend that money at more predictable brands.
A large number of the watches listed are limited editions, from the IWC Aquatimer “Cousteau Diver” and the Panerai PAM 0001 Compass watch to his Girard-Perregaux America’s Cup World Time Chronograph (dating from the 32nd Cup, in 2007), a Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Diving Pro Geographic and a Corum Bubble featuring a winged skull motif on the dial. Others included Bell & Ross and Graham pieces, an Azimuth Pilot’s watch and a boutique edition IWC Portuguese Perpetual Calendar in titanium. If you’ve seen us refer to “the era of big watches” before and not had an immediate frame of reference: this is what we’re talking about. Chunky, maximalist designs in cases from 44mm-48mm, with pushers, crown guards and oddball protuberances that extend even further.
This is not to judge the late Mr Williams’ taste one bit: by the standards of the time, these were must-have watches. But there are also a number of pieces that have, shall we say, more universal appeal – not all of which we’ve pictured here, or we’d be showing literally the entire list, but among their number are a very handsome Reverso from 2000, a Breitling Montbrillant Datora, an Urban Jurgensen perpetual calendar and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Bumblebee.
I’d like to finish, however, by drawing attention to one watch in particular that leapt out at me the first time I scrolled through the list: this Alain Silberstein Triple Calendar Chronograph. Dated to 1995, it displays Silberstein’s classic combination of primary coloured hands (there has been some patina to the yellow chronograph seconds hand and running seconds hand) and absurdist shapes. It measures 38mm across and has a triangular crown.
Beyond the basic specs, this has an appeal that chimes so readily with Williams’ persona: comic yet serious, at first glance childish or even wacky, but worthy of your respect thanks to the quality and professionalism of production. For me, this is the one that says “Robin Williams’ watch” – even more than the Hamilton he actually wore for filming Dead Poets Society…