Marlon Brando’s Rolex and the €40 million watch collection

Brando’s $5 Million Rolex is just one of the high value pieces held in Swiss dispute between Christie’s and Oman businessman

Rolex GMT-Master watch once owned by Marlon Brando. Photograph: Andy Hoffman/Bloomberg

A Rolex GMT-Master watch once owned by Marlon Brando that sold for more than $5 million is among some 100 timepieces frozen by a court order in a legal dispute between a collector and auction house Christie’s.

Mohammed Zaman, an Oman businessman and watch collector, filed a civil complaint in Geneva after Christie’s auctioned off 113 watches from his personal collection on November 6 for a total of $42,418,914.

A Geneva court issued an order that the watches remain under lock and key with the auction house pending resolution of the case, Christie’s said. Among them is the watch Brando wore in the film Apocalypse Now, distinguished by its missing bezel and the actor’s name engraved on the caseback.

Engraved caseback of Marlon Brando's watch worn in Apocalypse Now. Photograph: Andy Hoffman/Bloomberg

Christie’s has told winning bidders to withhold making payments for any watches won in the Nov. 6 auction until the matter is resolved.

“Mr. Zaman is regrettably blocking Christie’s from releasing watches to the successful buyers at the ‘Passion for Time’ sale,” a spokesperson for the auction house said in a statement.

“Christie’s has taken immediate steps to challenge this interference with the sale process and is hoping for swift resolution,” the auction house said. “We deeply regret the inconvenience caused to our valued clients pending that outcome.”

Rodolphe Gautier, the Geneva lawyer representing Zaman in the dispute, said he had “no intent to comment on pending proceedings and will address my explanations to the courts in charge.”

The claim has been filed under the Swiss Civil Code of Obligations that says an interested party may make “a claim for avoidance in respect of an auction whose outcome has been influenced by unlawful or immoral means.”

Christie’s, which is owned by the French billionaire Francois Pinault, said it denies any allegations and is looking to resolve the dispute so it can release the watches.

“We are sorry that Mr. Zaman fails to recognize the record commercial success of the ‘Passion for Time’ sale, which was the largest total achieved for a single owner watch collection at auction to date,” it said.

On the day of the auction, proceedings were delayed for nearly an hour after Christie’s said a “third-party guarantor” had made a reserve bid for each watch in the collection. A reserve bid guarantees a minimum price for the lots, and the guarantor gets a portion of the fees for any watches sold above that amount.

The low estimate on each watch in the sale was also changed, raising the total minimum bid price above 35 million Swiss francs (€37 million) from about 19 million francs previously.

That meant many potential bidders, who expected to be able to place bids at the low estimate prices printed in the auction catalogue weeks before, were out of luck.

“What happened with the Zaman auction was unprecedented for a watch auction,” said Eric Wind, a watch dealer in Palm Beach, Florida who previously worked at Christie’s.

A hearing regarding the case is scheduled for December 11 in Geneva.

Business Montres, a Geneva-based website that covers the Swiss watch industry, was the first to write about the legal dispute between Zaman and Christie’s.