Luxury watch blogger Kyle Stults has alerted us to a questionable item up for auction this week at Christie's. It's a Patek Philippe Ref. 1463 watch, which the auction house estimates to be worth $150,000 to $200,000. It allegedly was once owned by Howard Hughes.
But based on the information provided by Christie's, this may not be the real deal. According to the auction house's description, the watch is owned by a man named Donald R. Woolbright, who allegedly performed freelance surveillance assignments for Hughes in the 1960s. According to Woolbright, Hughes gave him the watch as a token of appreciation for his work.
Not mentioned in the Christie's report is that Woolbright is best known to Hughes watchers as one of two men who purportedly came into possession of secret documents stolen during the famed 1974 burglary of the Hughes offices at 7000 Romaine St. in Hollywood, Calif. Woolbright was a petty thief and street hustler from St. Louis who, along with actor Leo Gordon, tried to sell the documents. After early attempts to unload the documents failed, Gordon turned on Woolbright and worked with authorities to set up his former partner in crime. Woolbright ultimately was tried for possessing the secret documents but never convicted.
This fairly crucial part of Woolbright's story is ignored in the Christie's report or perhaps unknown to the auction house staff. Perhaps more importantly, what is the evidence that Woolbright performed surveillance work for Hughes in the preceding decade? Quite a bit of information about Woolbright can be found in two books: "Empire: The Life, Legend, and Madness of Howard Hughes" and "Citizen Hughes." Neither mentions him having worked for the billionaire.
Long story short, I wouldn't advise anybody to buy this watch on the basis of its alleged connection to Howard Hughes.
Stults' coverage of this issue can be found here.