If you’ve never caught yourself singing along to “American Pie” by the legendary Don McLean, then you’re doing it all wrong. If you are unfamiliar with the American ballad, stop what you’re doing, Google it right away, and take a listen. McLean wrote the iconic song back in 1971 and it spent nearly two months at the top of the Billboard charts before going on to collect innumerable accolades, the most recent being selection for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress (not to mention being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004).
Since the stratospheric success of “American Pie,” McLean has had a few more hits, such as “Vincent,” and “Driedel,” and he continues to tour the world performing today. A few decades ago, McLean discovered a love of watches and began to build his collection, buying his first watch while on tour in London around 1990, a gold-plated Rolex that he used to lull his baby daughter to sleep. Later, he added to his collection, which now ranges from elegant Patek Philippe Calatravas to sporty Rolexes to a more robust Chopard “Mille Miglia” chronograph. He likes picking up watches from his local dealer in Palm Desert, California, as well as scouring pawn shops for unexpected finds. No matter where the hunt takes him, he’s always sure to be a wearing a watch on stage while he performs. So, without further ado, this is Talking Watches with Don McLean.
Blancpain Villeret Complete Calendar 6595
When chatting with McLean about some of his favorite timepieces, he was quick to point out that he likes watches that are both a little dressy and easy to wear. He immediately pointed to this early Blancpain Complete Calendar with moonphase in two-tone steel and yellow gold as one of his most beloved. This complication is a staple of the Blancpain brand and one that has seen many iterations over the decades.
Cartier Tank Française
Another favorite of McLean’s is the Cartier Tank Française in stainless steel. First released in 1996, this classic watch is one that McLean frequently wears on stage due to its legibility and its traditional look. In fact, it’s the watch he chose to wear on stage while performing at the Lincoln Memorial Gala in Washington, D.C., at the turn of the 21st century.
Chopard ‘Mille Miglia’ GMT Chronometer Ref. 8954
Despite leaning toward more vintage-inspired watches, this Chopard “Mille Miglia” GMT Chronometer ref. 8954 is frequently on McLean’s wrist because it’s lightweight and durable. Chopard has been sponsoring the Mille Miglia since 1998 and this limited edition piece was made in a limited series of 2004 pieces. Measuring 42mm, this is the only truly large watch you’ll find in his collection, as he has really fallen in love with smaller dress watches (haven’t we all).
Girard-Perregaux Vintage 1945 Triple Calendar
This Girard-Perregaux Vintage 1945 Triple Calendar reminds McLean of watches from the era in which he was born (the 1940s). This square wristwatch is one of his daily wears along with his other Girard-Perregaux 1945 in steel (pictured below). McLean’s first memory of watches was his father’s Elgin square wristwatch, which influenced his collecting habits later on in life.
Patek Philippe Calatravas, References 2463 And 2555
More recently, McLean has ventured into dressier wristwatches with a focus on Patek Philippe Calatravas, such as the reference 2463 that you see here (above). This watch measures 33mm across and is run by the hand-wound caliber 10‴ 200 movement. Like most collectors, McLean discovered that sometimes the smaller the watch, the bigger the statement. The Calatravas in his collection are worn frequently and he enjoys the ritual of winding up the movements by hand each morning.
However it’s this Patek Philippe ref. 2555 that is by far McLean’s most prized watch. It measures 32mm in diameter and is powered by the caliber 217 SC. As I mentioned earlier, McLean recently discovered his love for small, manually-wound dress watches and enjoys their simplicity. I can’t say I blame him.
Rolex Bubbleback Ref. 3131
This pick up was inspired by none other than Clark Gable, who McLean remembers seeing with a similar model years ago. Gable was known to wear a reference 6011 that was auctioned off at Bonham’s back in 2013 and fetched over $28,000. McLean admires this timepiece as one of the first automatic Rolex watches and one that is still as easy to wear and enjoy today as it was when it was first made almost a century ago.
Baume & Mercier Calendar Chronograph
McLean, like many collectors, has his favorite local dealers and pawn shops, and he stumbled across this Baume & Mercier Calendar Chronograph during one of his usual trips to browse watches. When McLean found it, the watch was in rough shape, but he had it serviced and brought back to life so he could continue to give it more years on the wrist.
Rolex Datejust Ref. 16013, Day-Date Ref. 1803, And Datejust Turn-O-Graph ‘Thunderbird’ Ref. 1625
No collection would be truly complete without a few vintage Rolexes. Here, McLean has a beautiful trio of Rolex watches including an exotic dial Datejust, a Day-Date, and Datejust Turn-o-Graph “Thunderbird.” While many watch enthusiasts focus solely on the movements and the technical side of watchmaking, others are drawn more to aesthetics and the experience of wearing a given watch. McLean picked up each of these watches in a different place because he saw them and simply liked how they looked.
The Datejust Turn-o-Graph ref. 1625 (below) is a cool choice, and not one you see too often. It’s basically a standard Datejust fitted with a bi-directional bezel (a yellow gold one in the case of McLean’s), and it was produced from 1959 to 1977. Given the nickname “Thunderbird” after it was seen on the wrists of pilots on the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbird aerobatics team, this two-tone example is unusual because of its sharp handset and index configuration. McLean loves it for its reliability.
This 1950s Movado Kingmatic is another daily wear of McLean’s. The compact and simple case design is reminiscent of McLean’s Patek Philippe Calatravas (both the reference 2555 and the reference 2463) and it measures in at 35mm across, making it a nice middle size. Additionally, the watch is automatic, meaning it’s easy to just pick up and wear. McLean appreciates it for its durability and understated elegance.