Peter O'Toole's classic watches

Find out about the man behind the watches...


Excitement has stirred at Dawsons with the news that two watches belonging to Peter O’Toole are going up for auction in our November Jewellery, Silver & Watches sale.

One of the most recognised actors of his generation, no doubt many will remember O'Toole's striking blue eyes and bronzed skin in his career-shaping performance as Lawrence of Arabia, that made him a household name across the world.

Born in 1932, O’Toole grew up in Leeds before being evacuated during the second world war. Upon leaving school, he briefly began training to be a journalist until he was called up for national service as a signaller for the Royal Navy. It was there that an officer asked him what he wanted to do in life, to which he responded that he had always had ambitions to be a poet or actor. 

Less than a decade later, his hopes were realised as he found his name appearing regularly alongside many of the biggest stars of his generation, including Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Lawrence Olivier.

From Lawrence of Arabia and The Lion in the Winter to Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice, O’Toole was a star on both stage and screen, but it wasn’t just his acting presence that received global attention. A renowned ‘hell raiser’ alongside his good friends, Richard Harris and Richard Burton, their laddish personas were mostly derived by their enjoyment of drinking and the entourage of beautiful women that they surrounded themselves with.

With a defining sense of style, O’Toole had a zest for the finer things and a sophistication that he expressed most obviously through his wonderfully tailored suits and love of luxury watches.

Now, nearly a decade after his death, we are lucky enough to be bringing two of his most iconic watches to our November Jewellery, Silver & Watches sale.


Honorary Academy Award winner, Peter O’Toole’s Baume & Mercier watch

Estimate £2,000-£3,000

One of which is a Baume & Mercier Riviera Swiss-made quartz watch (above), regularly worn by O’Toole throughout his career but perhaps most memorably during the 75th Academy Awards in 2003, where he was presented with the Academy Honorary Award for his career achievements and lifelong contributions to the industry.

Prior to this, O’Toole had held the record for the most Oscar nominations without a win, leading to his famous acceptance speech declaration: “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride my foot!”

The other of the two watches (below) is a spectacular Audemars Piguet with a particularly fascinating background story.

Whilst O’Toole was in the Middle East having finished shooting Lawrence of Arabia, an Arab Sheikh gave him the choice of a single watch our of a selection to keep as a gift, having been impressed by the film and his performance. O’Toole chose the Audemars and was often pictured wearing it publicly.

Honorary Academy Award winner, Peter O’Toole’s Audemars Piquet watch

Estimate £20,000-£30,000

Both watches featured in several television appearances, including his Letterman interview in 1983 where he iconically wore one on each wrist. When asked for the reason behind this style choice, he comically declared that life was too short for wasting ‘precious seconds’ glancing at the wrong wrist.

Our watch expert Edward Langmead, was lucky enough to interview the vendor, who kindly shared some of his fondest memories of Peter and the watches. A truly authentic star in both his life and career, we are delighted to be able to share these fascinating stories. See the full interview below:


Firstly, thank you so much for speaking with us, we’ve had some really exciting responses to the watches already and we’re very much looking forward to discussing them a bit with you.

To start off, do you have any early memories of seeing the watches?

I’ve known the family for years through Peter, and he always wore them. A lot of the time he would wear the Audemars, but sometimes he would wear both! I distinctly remember it was around 1980, and we were in the west of Ireland, walking over Rabbit Warren when I first saw him wearing the Audemars. I commented on what a fabulous watch it was and he told me it was given to him by the Arabs after he filmed Lawrence of Arabia. They gave him the choice of several watches, including the Audemars, and that was the one he chose and wore thereafter.  

Peter was very much into his watches, and although he wasn’t one-hundred percent sure which one was the best to choose, he had an idea and ultimately he chose the one he liked the look of.


It was an excellent choice; Perpetual Calendars are very clever watches. So, was the Audemars Piguet gifted to him in recognition of his film work?

Yes, it was to do with his performance in Lawrence of Arabia, I remember him saying it was gifted to him by one of the Saudi Arabian Sheikhs, although I can’t recall which one it was.

It had to be someone of great wealth though, because to spend that amount of money on a watch in those days was a big thing, and it was worth a lot of money even then. We’re talking about the 1970s and in those days, you probably could have bought a house for the money it was worth!


Maybe a small continent! Tell me, what do you remember of the other watch? I have seen Peter photographed wearing the Baume & Mercier a lot in day-to-day scenarios.

Yes, I suppose you could say that watch was his ‘working watch’, so I remember him wearing it a lot. I don’t know where he got that one, but for as long as I can remember, that was his everyday watch and one he was regularly seen wearing. It is very personal to him.

You can see him wearing both of them in his interviews on American chat shows and there's photos of him wearing the Baume & Mercier whilst holding his Honorary Oscar with Meryl Streep.


That Baume & Mercier watch is particularly unique because it has no bezel and from what we can see in photographs, such as those taken at the Oscars, Peter happily wore it without one. Is there a story behind that?

I couldn’t say for sure, but I would imagine that he probably knocked it and it fell off somewhere, and Peter, being the person that he was, probably wouldn’t have cared to replace it!   

It is interesting though, that we have talked about Marlon Brando before, and his watch [in Apocalypse Now] which he purposely removed the bezel from because he didn’t like it. He and Peter were such good friends and although there's no evidence to suggest that there is any connection with the lack of bezel on Peter's watch, it is certainly a funny coincidence that his was also missing. I wonder if it could have been a gift from him. It's definitely the sort of thing the two of them would do, they were notorious gift givers. Marlon once gifted Peter a plot of land in Mexico just because he wanted him to spend more time with him out there, so you never know. 


Can you imagine? It's an exciting prospect. Now, we’ve heard pieces of a story about the Audemars being bitten by a horse, could you recount that story to us?

Right, yes! It was the Connemara Pony Show, held in the little town we used to live in called Clifden, in County Galway, and was a really popular show amongst the locals. Peter was exhibiting two horses, a mare called Daisy, and a huge stallion called Dr Slattery.

It was while he was in the ring with young Slattery, that the stallion started playing up in the show line. Peter tried to control him as he reared up, but the more he tried to pull him down, the more he was rearing, and the horse ended up lifting him into the air and flipping him right over. Somehow, as he lay on the floor, one of the ponies in the line-up managed to bite through his watch strap.

Amidst all this, the watch had obviously fallen off his wrist, unbeknown to Peter, and when we got home after the show, he suddenly realised that it was missing and started to panic. We drove back to Clifden, where we knew the Head Sergeant at the local police station, Sergeant Kelly, and when we told him of the missing watch, he put all the alerts out.

He called us back later to tell us that someone had found the watch and Peter requested that the man who found it, also come to the house with the Sergeant to bring it back, as he wanted to thank him personally. So, Sergeant Kelly brought the man to the house with him, who turned out to be a French tourist, and Peter gave him his autograph and a reward in US dollars.

And that is the story of how the Audemars strap got bitten off by a horse!


Photo by The Irish Times

Peter O’Toole with his colt, Dr Slattery, at the Connemara Pony Show in Clifden, in 1985. Photograph: Peter Thursfield


That’s fantastic! With our London Valuations Office being in Hampstead, we’re curious to know more about Peter’s own personal connections with that part of London. Can you tell us anything?

He lived on Heath Street for quite a long time, he lived there with both of his daughters and stayed there for many, many years. He absolutely loved Hampstead, it was very much his home. He later moved from Heath Street to Brondesbury Park which is where he eventually died. Most of the time he was living in London as an adult, Hampstead was where he would be based. He had very strong connections to it.  


It's a beautiful part of London. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Well, they are just really fascinating watches and they have been everywhere. He wore them all the time, everywhere he went, and in the presence of some extraordinary people, especially the likes of Marlon [Brando] and Richard Burton, who were his best friends. So, as you can imagine, they have a lot of famous ties and have seen a thing or two.


Absolutely! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today, this has been such a fascinating conversation.