You might have grown up watching him on TV. Perhaps you were lucky enough to dine at one of his restaurants. Maybe you enjoy cooking recipes from one of his books. No matter how you knew him, Anthony Bourdain was pervasive force in kitchens across America. His blunt, no-nonsense approach to food and the culinary world at large was raw yet relatable. Bourdain was a straight shooter, which made him both memorable and a guy you could trust.
A Void That Simply Cannot be Filled
My parents were foodies before foodies were a thing. Shows like No Reservations were regularly on the family room television. Books like Kitchen Confidential were permanent fixtures on the coffee table. When Bourdain took his life in June 2018, I, like so many people around the world, felt I’d lost someone who was a meaningful part of my life. Even though I never had the pleasure of meeting him or truly knowing him, Bourdain had such a strong presence. His death marked an unfillable void in the culinary community. This void is still relatively fresh. Writing about him in the past tense feels strange. However, we’d be remiss not to celebrate another important part of Bourdain’s life and legacy: his watches.
Watches and Bourdain’s Legacy
Watches – timekeepers – are such unique objects when it comes to life and death. A watch that’s properly taken care of will likely outlive us. That’s why so many people pass down watches from generation to generation. In this way, a watch can help to memorialize life and the person who left it behind. Yet, a watch is also a constant reminder of our impermanence. Time goes on forever, and we don’t. In addition to his shows and books, Bourdain’s watches are some of the only tangible things we have left of him. These, along with a number of his other possessions, went up for auction in October 2019. A portion of the proceeds went toward a scholarship to Bourdain’s alma mater, the renowned Culinary Institute of America.
Bourdain was known for wearing a number of watches throughout his life. A majority of them were Rolexes, including a Datejust II, Explorer, and Milgauss. However, a very unique selection of eight watches were sold in the recent auction. There were two Rolex models: an Oyster Perpetual Date and a vintage model. The stainless steel Oyster, which sold for $39,000, features a blue dial and modest 33mm size. On the other hand, the 9k rose gold vintage model is a bit more distinctive. Bourdain likely inherited this watch from his father. It features a custom engraving on the caseback reading, “Presented to H. D. Bobbett by colleagues at the Sun Offices Birmingham 25-4-30.” Unfortunately, the significance of this inscription to Bourdain is unknown. This watch sold for $13,250.
There were three other standout models from Bourdain’s collection in the auction. They included a Panerai Radiomir, Patek Philippe Calatrava Isochronism Glass Back, and TAG Heuer Monaco. These models sold for $27,000, $21,000, and $16502 respectively. In addition, there were three lesser-known timepieces up for sale: a Ball Standard Fireman Storm Chaser DLC Glow Automatic Limited Edition Watch, C.C. Filson Co. Smokey Bear Wristwatch, and J Jacot Locle Coin Silver Pocket Watch. Of these, the pocket watch is the most intriguing. It also includes a personal engraving on the interior reading, “T. – My Only Love N.” Once more, we may never know the significance of this dedication.
A Piece of Him that Lives On
Bourdain’s eclectic collection seems to perfectly reflect him and the life he led. Some models, like the Rolexes, are strong and steady. Others, like the Panerai, are more in your face. Then, there are two more sentimental pieces with personal messages. Even if these messages are not to or from Bourdain himself, they acknowledge his softer side. To those lucky bidders who were fortunate enough to have the means to purchase the models, cherish them. These watches and the memories that live in them are a piece of Bourdain that can never be lost.