“Dude, I want Steve McQueen’s other watch!” was my exclamation upon meeting Hanhart’s co- managing director Felix Wallner at the 2017 Basel Fair. He immediately chuckled in amusement and replied, “Wei, everybody wants Steve McQueen’s watch. We have hundreds of requests each month to recreate the 417 Flieger Chronograph.”
OK, just in case you’re not sure what exact timepiece Wallner and I were losing our collective minds about, let me clarify. Steve McQueen is correctly identified with two other watches, in particular, the iconic TAG Heuer Monaco 1133 B, which was on his wrist during his 1971 film Le Mans in an on screen partnership that continues to be one of the most evocative even to this day.
Then there is the Rolex 5513 Submariner, which he was photographed with, most famously, by legendary paparazzo Ron Galella. This watch is prominently featured on McQueen’s wrist as he drinks a cup of coffee with a surly expression aimed at the uninvited photographer, while on location for Papillon. Apparently, his words to Galella upon seeing him arrive at principal photography in Negril, Jamaica were, “I’ll give you five minutes on the condition you take the first boat out of here.”
McQueen’s third most conspicuous watch — he also owned a Cartier Tank and a LeCoultre Memovox — was the one he wore engaged in his favorite activity beyond being the unassailable “King of Cool”, and that was while riding his motorcycles. The watch that he religiously wore when astride one of his bikes and very frequently off them, was his Hanhart 417 ES Chronograph.
Who is Hanhart?
Who is Hanhart, you ask? OK, let’s go back in time to 1882 when one Johann A. Hanhart set up his eponymous brand in Diessenhofen, Switzerland. He relocated to Schwenningen in south Germany near the idyllic Black Forest in 1902, and by 1924, the Hanhart brand had gained a reputation for making highly precise yet affordable stopwatches. At the time this type of complication was only available with a staggering price tag. Hanhart, seeing the popularity of competitive sports, wanted to democratize these timing devices, achieving great success as a result.
In 1935, the company, helmed by Johann’s son, Wilhelm Julius Hanhart, added to its achievements the creation of a split-seconds stopwatch. In 1938, Hanhart launched its first modern chronograph powered by the legendary Calibre 40. This was a monopusher movement which was utilized to create watches for the German Luftwaffe and Navy. By 1939, officers in both these branches would wear chronographs typified by a thin fluted rotating bezel, and a large matte black dial with luminous cathedral hands and large luminous markers. Interestingly, from the beginning, these watches were made in both stainless steel and chrome-coated brass.
1941 saw the introduction of the brand’s first two-button flyback chronograph movement, the Calibre 41, a column-wheel-powered engineering masterpiece. Following the war, Hanhart produced Type XX watches for the French military under the name Vixa.
In 1956, Hanhart resumed production of its legendary pilot’s watches, now with the updated Calibre 42. These watches are quickly distinguished from the WWII-era timepieces by having modern pencil-shaped hands.
By 1958, however, Hanhart had ceased production of pilot’s watches. During the two-year period in which the company manufactured the 417 Flieger or Pilot’s Chronograph, it is believed that only 1,000 watches were made; 500 with the designation ES for stainless steel and 500 more with no additional designation, which were brass watches that were chrome-plated. There was a further minuscule number of these watches made with white dials for medical professionals.
The 417 was one of the most handsome and most pragmatically designed military chronographs ever created. These watches eventually became sought after by anyone interested in performance sports, thanks to their reliable movements, high visibility due to the 42mm case size and clean dial design, and their shockproof and antimagnetic status, which is proudly proclaimed on the lower half of the dial.
McQueen's 417 Chronograph
How McQueen came to own his watch is something of a mystery. Though what is clear is that he had exemplary taste in everything, including motorcycles, Bud Ekins- tuned Triumphs and Nortons in particular; cars, the 1958 Porsche 1600 356 Super Speedster, Ferrari 275 GTB/4 and Jaguar XKSS; bespoke suits, as evinced by his collaboration with Douglas Hayward in The Thomas Crown Affair; and women, Jacqueline Bisset, Candice Bergen and Ali MacGraw. So, it is no surprise that he naturally gravitated to the strikingly masculine and highly reliable Hanhart 417 (his watch is believed to be an ES), which he wore most frequently on a Bund or “fat strap” style bracelet.
His affection for his Hanhart 417 was made conspicuous when McQueen went to East Germany in 1964, along with motorcycle racing specialists the Ekins brothers, to represent the United States at the International Six Days Trial (ISDT). Often described as the Olympics of enduro motorcycle racing, the ISDT was first established in Carlisle, England and invited five-man teams from countries around the world to a showdown in off-road motorcycle skills. It is well-known that McQueen was at this time one of the United States’ most skilled motorcyclists.