A mystery collector bought Adolf Hitler’s watch. Who would do that?

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Do inanimate objects have a memory? Can they store experiential information in some metaphysical form? I’m not posing this cosmological head-scratcher for my own benefit, you understand. It’s more for the mystery buyer who bought Adolf Hitler’s wristwatch last month for $US1.1 million.

From left to right: JFK’s Omega Slimline, Paul Newman and his Rolex Daytona, Adolf Hitler’s Huber wristwatch.

From left to right: JFK’s Omega Slimline, Paul Newman and his Rolex Daytona, Adolf Hitler’s Huber wristwatch.Credit:Getty Images

Made by the Swiss brand Huber, with a swivelling caseback similar to a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, the watch isn’t shy about its ownership. The case is engraved with a bold swastika lacquered in red, white and black. Stamped directly below this are the initials of the man responsible for orchestrating the systematic murder of six million Jews.

Alexander Historical Auctions in Maryland in the US, which sanctioned the sale of Hitler’s watch, has refused to disclose the buyer’s identity. All it has revealed is that it was bought by a “European Jew” – info presumably shared to reassure people that it wasn’t snapped up by some goose-stepping loon.

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The sale of Hitler’s watch is hardly surprising given the crazed market for watches with famous provenance. Over the years, auctioneers have hammered off everything from Albert Einstein’s Longines ($US596,000 in 2008) to JFK’s Omega Slimline ($US350,000). Prospective buyers of celebrity wristwear do tend to need deep pockets, though. The Rolex Daytona belonging to Paul Newman sold in 2017 for $US17.8 million.

Such head-spinning prices stem from more than basic rarity value. They’re also propelled by that same emotive power that can turn a watch into a family heirloom, passed down from one generation to the next. What fosters this sentiment is the fact that a timepiece is an unusually intimate possession. Nestled against warm skin, ticking alongside the wearer’s pulse, it bears witness to its owner’s daily life, facilitating their adventures and misdeeds. So it’s not such a mental stretch to entertain the possibility that a watch could retain some residual trace of the previous owner’s spirit.

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The buyers of storied watches, I suspect, aren’t blind to this transfigurative notion. The person who acquired Anthony Bourdain’s Rolex Oyster Date ($US39,000 in 2019), for example, must have hoped to inherit some vestige of his loose-limbed, renegade swagger. Just as the owner of Newman’s Daytona would expect to see an improvement in their ability to make salad dressing. The idea of psychic contagion may fill hard-headed rationalists with scorn, but it’s hard to entirely shake off.

After all, would you honestly be comfortable with Hitler’s watch on your wrist?

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.

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