Steve McQueen’s Watch Profile

‘Defiance of authority, nonchalance and macho style – these are the defining traits of Steve McQueen. An undisputed idol of the 1960s pop culture, McQueen was a trendsetter whose fame and influence lives on.’

Defiance of authority, nonchalance and macho style – these are the defining traits of Steve McQueen. An undisputed idol of the 1960s pop culture, McQueen was a trendsetter whose fame and influence lives on.

There are few Hollywood big-screen style icons who have inspired us to the same extent as Steve McQueen. Popularly referred to as the King of Cool, the racer and 60s cinematic superstar rose to fame from a troubled youth. A perpetual rebel, he shattered and reestablished the definition of stylish masculinity. Importantly for us, McQueen recognised that a good watch is an indispensable item which completes any look. His cult timepieces carry on his legacy and effortless style which makes him still relevant today.

Steve McQueen on a motorbike

Steve McQueen on set of The Sand Pebbles, 1966


McQueen cemented his stellar status after starring in the 1963 World War II epic – The Great Escape. The film was based on the fascinating story of escape by British Commonwealth war prisoners from a German POW camp. By playing the role of the courageous and collected Cooler King, the popularity of big screen persona transferred onto his offscreen identity.

He is forever remembered for the classic scene which featured his famous leap over the barbed wire on a motorcycle while being pursued by Nazi troops. In fact however, the stunt was performed by his close friend – stunt rider Bud Ekins. Nevertheless, it was this role that catapulted him into everlasting fame.

In The Great Escape, McQueen’s wrist attracts much camera attention. This is because it is adorned with the unmistakable Rolex Speedking. The prominent presence of an Oyster watch in the movie is no coincidence. It alludes to the true story of British servicemen in German POW camps, who had their Rolex watches routinely stolen by Nazi guards. Rumour has it, that upon learning about this, Rolex had sent replacement watches in Red Cross packages straight into the camps. The importance of the timepiece can be stretched as far as to suggest that the escape was timed using an Oyster watch. 

Motorbike rider jumping through a barbed wire

Practice jump for The Great Escape, 1963


In the 1971 film Le Mans, McQueen wore a Heuer crest on his racing suit and a matching square-shaped Heuer Monaco (TAG had not yet been purchased) on his wrist. The blue-dialled, water-resistant watch became an instant bestseller and the most recognisable watch of the brand. Ever since the film, the company and McQueen were inherently linked. With his love of speed, and unmistakable composure in heart racing moments, he is the very embodiment of TAG Heuer’s slogan: ‘don’t crack under pressure’.

Steve McQueen in Le Mans

Steve McQueen in Le Mans, 1971


Like his silver screen personas, privately McQueen was also an avid racer who enjoyed the thrill of motorsports. However, his personal watch choices deviated from the tastes of the characters he played. Truth is, that once production of Le Mans ended, he was not once seen wearing the Heuer Monaco 1133, with which he is so closely connected. Interestingly however, the original steel sport’s watch worn by McQueen in the film was sold several years ago for $800,000.  

Similarly to Paul Newman, his friend and all-time rival, McQueen also had a Rolex named after him. The ‘McQueen Rolex’ was the sleek Explorer II.

This watch was McQueen’s go to. His particular Submariner, was available exclusively in the UK and produced from 1959 through 1978.In blockbuster movies such as The Towering Inferno, the actor can be seen wearing his personal watch of choice – the Rolex Submariner. As it was most often seen on his wrist, it can be considered his favourite everyday personal watch. In 2009, McQueen’s Submariner ref. 5512 sold for over $230,000. 

Despite McQueen’s evident liking for Rolex timepieces, Heuer’s powerful marketing campaign positioned the Heuer Monaco 1133 watch from Le Mans as the ultimate McQueen watch, which is also referred to as ‘the McQueen Monaco.’

38 years after his tragic death, the memory of Steve McQueen lives on. This is not only due to his many charismatic roles, but also thanks to his effortless style and incredible watch collection.

Images ©: Header. MR PORTER  1. Morrison Hotel Gallery 2. MCN 3. The Watch Spot