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A Film Legend’s Timepiece Gets a Splashy New York Debut

Updated: Dec 1, 2019

This Blancpain diamond cocktail watch was once owned by Marilyn Monroe and was purchased by Blancpain at auction in 2016 for its archives.

Swiss watchmaker Blancpain unveiled one of its treasures to the public for the first time in New York on Wednesday night: a diamond watch once owned by Marilyn Monroe. The Art Deco-inspired timepiece is part of “Timeless Elegance,” an exhibit of costumes, personal items and other memorabilia once owned and worn by the star, open to the public at Blancpain’s New York boutique through Nov. 23rd.

Monroe’s lace fan from 1957’s “The Prince and the Showgirl,” among the items seen in “Timeless Elegance."

The legendary actress, who died in August 1962, had bequeathed the watch in her will to Lee Strasberg, the famed acting coach who was her mentor for many years. Following his death in 1982, the watch passed to his widow, Anna, who included the timepiece with other Marilyn Monroe personal items in a 2016 estate sale.

Eager to have the timepiece returned to its archives, at that event Blancpain paid $225,000 for the 1930s watch, which features 71 round diamonds and two marquis-cut diamonds. As Marc Hayek, president and CEO of Blancpain, said at the time, “We are thrilled to have this exceptional timepiece, which was once owned by America’s most iconic star, return to its original home in Switzerland.”

For almost three years, Blancpain has been waiting for the right moment for the watch's public debut. “Timeless Elegance” is the result of that careful planning, an exhibition that expands beyond the watch to include photography by Sam Shaw and Lawrence Schiller (more on Schiller in a moment), as well as costumes, personal wardrobe and other Monroe memorabilia. Blancpain worked with Authentic Brands Group, which oversees licensing of Marilyn Monroe’s name and image, as well as fan and collector Scott Fortner, who often authenticates Monroe items for auction houses and contributed many of the items seen in “Timeless Elegance.”

“We’re here to celebrate something very special,” Andrea Caputo, vice president and head of marketing for Blancpain, said on Wednesday evening. “A lot of thought and care went into the planning of this exhibit. We wanted to give both Marilyn Monroe and her beautiful watch the showcase they deserved.” Actress Naomi Watts also made an appearance at Wednesday’s preview, noting that she’s a fan of Monroe and collects both photography and coffee-table books highlighting the star.

A vignette featuring Monroe’s costume from “The Prince and the Showgirl."

Books from Monroe’s personal collection.

Monroe fans should find plenty to sate their passion, from both her key costume and the lace fan she carried in 1957’s The Prince and the Showgirl to a black silk cocktail dress she wore to a New York event with then-husband Arthur Miller in 1959. Another vignette features the director’s chair Monroe used during the filming of 1956’s Bus Stop, while a nearby vitrine showcases an assortment of her letters and books — the latter include such titles as Dr. Joseph Murphy’s The Miracles of Your Mind and F. Matthias Alexander’s Man’s Supreme Inheritance: A Revolutionary Technique for Helping Men and Woman to Develop Their Mental and Physical Potentialities in Full. Both books, the vitrine description notes, feature Monroe’s annotated passages throughout, further insight into the mind of a woman that still has yet to be fully revealed.

A black silk cocktail dress Monroe wore to an event with Arthur Miller in 1959.

Lawrence Schiller agrees with that idea. The producer and photographer is known for taking many iconic images of Monroe, including the now-legendary pool photographs taken during the filming of her unfinished final film, Something’s Got to Give, in 1962. Schiller was also a key draw at Wednesday night’s preview, where he was signing copies of his 2012 book, Marilyn & Me: A Photographer’s Memories, at a desk situated beneath a trio of his most famous photos from the set of Something’s Got to Give.

Schiller also offered up an intriguing theory about who may have gifted Monroe with the Blancpain watch in the first place. It wasn’t second husband Joe DiMaggio, whom Schiller pronounced “too macho” to give a woman a watch, nor was it third husband Arthur Miller, who tended to give Monroe practical gifts, he said, such as a blouse or a scarf. Instead, Schiller believes it may have been Frank Sinatra who gave Monroe the pricey timepiece, perhaps after she spent time with him in Lake Tahoe. “Sinatra was known for giving gifts like that to people he cared about,” Schiller said. “He might have had someone buy it for him, but that’s the type of thing he did to say thank you to someone.”

Ultimately, what does Schiller know about Monroe that would surprise fans the most? The man who first photographed Monroe on the set of Let’s Make Love in 1960, for publications that included Life and Paris Match, had a quick answer: “She was a very smart businesswoman, and she knew how to wipe Liz Taylor off the cover of all the magazines.”

The entrance to Blancpain’s Fifth Avenue boutique.

“Timeless Elegance” is on display and open to the public through Nov. 23rd at Blancpain’s New York flagship, 697 Fifth Avenue.

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