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Ernest Hemingway’s Pocket Watch Is Coming Up for Auction at Christie’s

And it was gifted to him by Charles C. Ritz, owner of the lauded writer's favorite Parisian haunt.

Ernest Hemingway's Split Second Chronograph Pocket Watch by L. Leroy & Cie Courtesy of Christie's

Ernest Hemingway was such a fan of the Paris Ritz, the hotel named a bar in his honor. He lived in the hotel off and on, and once wrote, “When I dream of afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz.”

The American novelist formed a warm friendship with the hotel’s owner, Charles Ritz, son of the founder and famed hotelier Cesar Ritz. As a token of that friendship and to celebrate Hemingway’s 1946 wedding to journalist Mary Welsh, Charles Ritz gifted the author with a pocket watch, an 18-karat gold 53 mm manual movement split-second chronograph pocket watch by L. Leroy & Cie. The watch, rich in sentiment and symbolism, will be included in Christie’s New York’s “Important Watches and American Icons” auction on December 12.

“Hemingway was fond of racing and used the stopwatch function to time the horses,” Rebeca Ross, Christie’s watch specialist told Robb Report. “He supposedly inscribed his initials on the watch’s couvert, although they are no longer visible.” Frequent use could have worn away any fine etching, Ms. Ross speculated.

The author’s fourth wife and widow, Mary Hemingway, returned the watch to Charles Ritz following Hemingway’s death. In another gesture of friendship, Ritz passed it along to his friend, the American entrepreneur, editor and philanthropist Henry Dormann.

After Dormann died last year, his widow reached out to Christie’s. “She called and said ‘I may have some things for you,’” Ms. Ross, explained. Did she ever. The widow continued, “My husband had a watch that belonged to Ernest Hemingway.”

Charles C. Ritz's Vacheron Constantin Pocket Watch

Charles C. Ritz’s Vacheron Constantin Pocket Watch  Courtesy of Christie's

Charles Ritz had also gifted Mr. Dormann with a Vacheron Constantin 18-karat gold open face pocket watch made in 1914. He presented the two watches inside a gold frame with burgundy velvet matting and a photo of himself sitting in the Paris Ritz’ garden on which he wrote, “With warm regards and great friendship, Charles C. Ritz.”

Charles C. Ritz and His Pocket Watches

Charles C. Ritz and His Pocket Watches  Courtesy of Christie's

The two watches, sold in their frame with the signed photograph, are estimated to fetch $15,000 to $25,000, but Ms. Ross believes the bidding will go much higher. The lot, #107, holds appeal to those who love Paris, the Ritz, Hemingway, and, Ms. Ross concludes, “friendship.” 

Elsewhere in the auction, you’ll find watches once owned by an astronaut and a US president. But there are less obvious but no less wonderful examples as well. Here, Christie’s watch specialist Rebecca Ross selects here top five timepieces to keep an eye on:

Lot 27: Rolex Chronograph

Rolex. A Very Fine and Extremely Rare Stainless Steel Chronograph Wristwatch Signed Rolex, Anti-magnetic, Ref. 3330, Case No. 047'521, Circa 1940

Christie's

“This early 1940s chronograph is one of the largest pre-Daytonas ever made, before the watches were even called Daytona. It’s in steel, and I’ve probably seen only one other in my time. The condition is outstanding, you can still see the serial number on the back. I don’t believe it’s ever been polished. It’s only had two owners, so it hasn’t gone through a ton of hands. It’s extremely rare and I would consider it a trophy for every serious collector.”

Estimate: $100,000-$200,000.

Lot 150: Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar

Patek Philippe. A Very Fine and Rare 18k Gold Automatic Perpetual Calendar Wristwatch with Moon Phases and Leap Year Indication

Christie's

“Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar (the watch that scored the cover of the auction catalog.) It has a double-signed dial, with Patek Philippe on top and Tiffany & Co. in the moonphase. There are only five of these watches that have been identified in the market, only five ever made since the launch of the reference in the 1980s. Its condition is exceptional—you can still see the hallmark on the side of the case.”

Estimate: $250,000-$500,000.

Lot 17: Rolex Explorer II

Rolex. A Fine and Very Rare Stainless Steel Automatic Dual Time Wristwatch Date, Center Seconds and Bracelet

Christie's

“This watch has been getting a lot of attention in previews. It was retailed by Tiffany & Co as well, and the name is on the dial. I don’t think it’s ever been worn, its condition is immaculate. The bezel is usually the first thing to get scratched, and this one is clear. I think it forecasts a trend for the future. Everyone knows the Submariner, but this model has not had its moment in terms of sports watches. But to have a Rolex Explorer II, the Steven McQueen model, but with the Tiffany association and in this condition, that’s rare.”

Estimate: $30,000-$50,000.

Lot 20: Rolex Sea-Dweller

Rolex. An Extremely Rare Stainless Steel Automatic Wristwatch with ''Rail'' Dial, Date, Gas Escape Valve and Bracelet, Made for COMEX

Christie's

“Back in the 1980s, Comex, a dive company, turned to Rolex for watches, and only 300 examples of this reference were supplied. Comex is on the dial. We found the invoice going back to 1981. It sold for 175 GBPs. The bezel has turned purple-y because of aging. It’s all original and it’s a beautiful watch.”

Estimate: $70,000 to $100,000.

Lot 139: Breguet Desk Clock

Breguet. A Very Fine and Unique Stainless Steel, Chrome and Glass 30 Days Desk Clock

Christie's

“This Breguet desk clock is unique; there’s not another one out there. It comes with an extract from Brequet. It was sold on 1938 for 22,000 CHF, a considerable sum in those days, to the grandson of the founder of the Solvay Institute in Brussels, a science institute where Marie Curie and Albert Einstein attended conferences. The clock itself looks so modern; with its glass and chrome and stainless steel, it has Art Deco elegance. It has 30-day power, which was a feat in the 1930s. Working with these timepieces for so long (Ms. Ross has spent a half year preparing this auction) you get attached. I hope this clock goes to a very special home.”

Estimate: $200,000-$400,000

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