Today’s model a luxury replica Omega Speedmaster. Ellison was a man of diverse interests, including music (he got into Tuskegee Institute on the strength of his having picked up the trumpet; the school needed a trumpet player in its orchestra) photography (he was a Hasselblad owner), and high-fidelity stereo equipment, which he built and tweaked as a hobby. Whether all that fed or distracted his muse is a question for a literary critic (or maybe a psychoanalyst) but it turns out that he was also the owner of a rather unlikely watch: A Swiss fake Omega Speedmaster Professional, ref. 145.012-67 SP, which he acquired in 1968, the year it was made, and which is being offered by Phillips at auction this December.
I use the word “acquired” advisedly because, although the provenance of the luxury fake watches is rock solid, it’s not entirely clear whether Ellison bought it himself, or got it as a gift. He was what they used to call a sharp dresser – elegant suits were his forté and the 1:1 replica Omega Speedmaster at the time, was definitely not the kind of watch anyone with a sense of style would pair with a suit. Gianni Agnelli’s famous mashups of high and low – tailored suits with hiking boots, for example – would come later. You’d have expected someone with Ellison’s tastes to go for something thin, gold, and probably not complicated, but not so – in fact he wore the AAA copy Omega Speedmaster for the rest of his life, as innumerable photos attest.
The Ellison Omega Speedmaster replica for sale UK found its way to Phillips in a roundabout fashion. The consignor, Ted Walbye of Los Angeles, told the whole tale to Gary Shteyngart for the Wall Street Journal but the gist of it is that the watch was originally sold, after Ellison’s death, at a Long Island estate sale that included some of Ellison’s property, along with his wife Fanny’s, for less than $6,000. One clue that it was indeed Ellison’s was the fact that the upper pusher of the chronograph was missing. In many pictures of Ellison wearing the high quality copy Omega, you can see that the upper pusher is gone – in fact, by at least as early as 1973, as a picture of Ellison wearing the watch from that year shows it’s already popped off.
It’s an odd footnote to the story because in other respects Ellison was a fastidious perfectionist. It’s sometimes said that Juneteenth is one of the most egregious examples of literary procrastination in history, but I think it’s more likely an excellent example of the perfect being the enemy of the good. In any case, if Ellison owning and wearing a large, technical steel Omega replica for men UK is weird, him owning one that can’t even be used as a chronograph is even weirder.
Now, here’s the kicker. This is a cheap super clone watch owned by one of the most important half dozen or so 20th-century American writers, but the estimate is just $10,000-20,000. When Gary and I saw the watch together at Phillips, his excitement at actually seeing and holding a watch owned by one of the greatest literary lions of American letters in the past hundred years filled the room. You’d think the Ellison name would command a much higher estimate, but at least for now, it looks like there’s a chance that a perfect fake Omega Speedmaster with the most important literary provenance I can ever recall for a timepiece at auction might go for a song.
The Swiss made replica Omega will be lot 138 as part of the 2021 Phillips New York Watch Auction, held over December 11th and 12th – the Ellison Speedmaster will go under the hammer on the 12th. If nothing else, the sale ought to make the author of Invisible Man much more visible to the watch collecting community.