TIME TO SAVE THE WORLD AGAIN? – The wristwatches of James Bond

Posted on September 7, 2015

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Omega recently announced the release of their new Spectre Seamaster 300m – which follows up on the Seamaster Aqua Terra that was announced earlier in the year – both of which will adorn Daniel Craig’s wrist in the upcoming James Bond film, SPECTRE.

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Interestingly, both the Aqua Terra and the Spectre Seamaster have a decidedly retro look and feel to them, with the Spectre Seamaster in particular evoking the days of Sean Connery’s Bond wearing his Rolex Submariner on a military strap.

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So, with the whiff of nostalgia in the wind, I thought it might be fun to look back at the previous timepieces that have been strapped to Bond’s wrists over the years.

It’s fairly safe to say that James Bond is probably the cinematic hero most associated with his particular timepiece of choice. For many, that still means the Rolex Submariner, but Bond hasn’t worn a Rolex in over 20 years. In fact, he wears a Rolex Submariner in only eight of the twenty-four Bond adventures, equal (as of SPECTRE) to the number of times he’s worn an Omega.

The very first watch we see Sean Connery wearing as Bond in Dr. No is, in fact, not a Rolex Submariner at all, but a Gruen Precision, a gold dress watch on a black fabric strap that has become known as the Sylvia Trench watch.

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The “Sylvia Trench” Gruen Precision in Dr. No

However, Bond is soon seen wearing his Big Crown Rolex Submariner, Ref: 6538. Due to a continuity error, Bond is wearing the Gruen when he arrives in Jamaica, but by the time he is being driven to Government’s House, he is wearing the Submariner.

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This watch first appears in Dr. No and has been said to be either director Terence Young’s own Rolex or producer “Cubby” Broccoli’s, depending on which story you read. Whatever the case, the watch was not Connery’s, and the stainless steel bracelet was replaced by a black leather strap.

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Bond uses the Rolex Submariner’s radium dial to test the Geiger Counter in Dr. No

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The Gruen Precision in a publicity still for From Russia With Love

The Submariner with the black leather strap is then used again by Bond in From Russia With Love (with the Gruen making an occasional reappearance).

Bond is seen wearing the Gruen in publicity stills from the time, but in the scene where Bond steals the Lektor from the Russian Embassy he is clearly wearing the Rolex Submariner.

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The Rolex Submariner in From Russia With Love

By the time of Goldfinger, the strap had been replaced by what appears to be a poorly fitting 16mm military strap.

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The Goldfinger Rolex Submariner on the infamous “NATO” strap.

This strap has often erroneously been identified as a NATO strap, but is, in fact, a simple three-colour RAF-style nylon fabric strap. NATO (or more accurately G-10) straps didn’t even exist at the time Goldfinger was being shot.

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A closer look at the detail on the strap. Clearly not a NATO.

Interestingly, the Gruen makes yet another appearance in Goldfinger and can be seen on Bond’s wrist during the Fort Knox sequence.

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The Gruen Precision during the showdown with Oddjob

The Rolex on the RAF strap features once again in Thunderball, in which Bond is also issued with a modified Breitling Top Time, fitted with a Geiger counter.

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The modified Brietling Top Time from Thunderball. This was found decades later in a car boot sale and purchased for £25.

Incidentally, the character of Major François Derval is given a Brietling Navitimer in the film, and Bond removes it from his (or rather his double’s) corpse. However, the character in the book (named Giuseppe Pettacchi rather than Derval) wears a solid gold Rolex.

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Bond hands Domino her brother’s Breitling Navitimer

In You Only Live Twice Bond appears to have reverted to his Gruen dress watch and doesn’t appear to wear a Submariner at all, and in Diamonds Are Forever, whilst it is difficult to accurately determine exactly what wristwatch Bond is wearing, it is clearly not a Submariner either.

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The Gruen Precision, back on Bond’s wrist for You Only Live Twice

When it came to George Lazenby’s turn to play Bond, it was definitely back to Rolex, with Lazenby wearing a Submariner in the first part of the film, then replacing it with a pre-Daytona Chronograph Ref: 6238 later on.

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Lazenby wearing the Rolex Submariner

However, Lazenby only wears the pre-Daytona when he is posing as Sir Hilary Bray, so it would be fair to say that this was a part of his disguise, rather than his own preferred model; Lazenby is back to the Submariner by the end of the film. Bond does make good use of the chronograph function of the pre-Daytona though, aiding his escape by measuring the timing on the cable cars in Piz Gloria.

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Bond checks the timing of the cable cars on his Rolex Pre-Daytona chronograph.

The Seventies saw a new Bond in the shape of Roger Moore, who is first seen sporting a particularly Seventies wristwatch, the Hamilton Pulsar, in the film Live and let Die.

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The Hamilton Pulsar and the Rolex Submariner

However, he soon trades this in for a heavily tricked up Submariner, which Moore doesn’t look particularly happy about, although that might just be because Q-Branch has voided his warranty. M suggests that Bond should not waste government funds by getting Q-Branch to fix his wristwatches, suggesting instead that he visit a “perfectly ordinary watchmaker down the street”. This implies that M is unaware of Q-Branch’s modifications, and his surprise at the use of the magnet confirms it. It seems unusual that oo7 would go behind his boss’ back, but there you go. This the first time we see Bond’s watch being used as a gadget rather than merely a timepiece.

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Bond disarms the Blue Raja

This watch featured a miniature buzz saw in the form of a rapidly spinning bezel, and it also contained a powerful electromagnet, perfect for picking up spoons and unzipping ladies dresses, although lord only knows what that powerful electromagnet is doing to the movement.

Moore stays with the Rolex for his next film, The Man With The Golden Gun, but this is the last time Moore’s Bond wears the Submariner.

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Bond realised he’d never get his iPhone back now

Soon afterwards, Moore made a switch to sporting Seiko digital watches, each with a variety of gadgets, including a ticker-tape printer in The Spy Who Loved Me to receive urgent messages from Universal Exports.

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Subtle

In Moonraker, Bond’s watch concealed a miniature roll of plastic explosive and the watch acted as its detonator, allowing Bond and Dr. Goodhead (seriously) to escape from death by incineration in the Moonraker’s exhaust bay.

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Bond received two Seiko watches from Q-Branch in Octopussy, one of which contained a tracking device to locate the stolen Fabergé egg.

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The other Seiko featured an LCD television screen, which Bond promptly uses to spy on a co-worker’s cleavage. Not exactly in-line with MI6’s sexual harassment policy.

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Moore gets a combination of digital and analogue displays on his Seiko in For Your Eyes Only, which features an LED ticker tape display and a two-way radio, allowing him to ignore Maggie Thatcher’s praises in favour of Carole Bouquet’s.

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In Moore’s last film as 007, A View To A Kill, he wears a Seiko Quartz Chronograph – a surprisingly attractive watch – that sees a welcome return to the purely analogue dials.

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She’s obviously cold, so Bond zips up her parka.

Much was made of Timothy Dalton’s desire to return to Bond’s literary roots, although he eschewed the Rolex in favour of a PVD coated Tag Heuer Professional Night-Dive in The Living Daylights.

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Dalton’s approach to backseat driving had its detractors

As Dalton’s Bond was going  back to basics, the watch was mercifully gadget-free, although that didn’t stop him having an Aston Martin that was the vehicular equivalent of a Swiss Army knife.

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However, in Licence To Kill, Dalton returns to Rolex, sporting a 16800 Submariner Date, which was to be the last time Bond was to wear a Submariner, or indeed any Rolex, on the big screen.

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Bond wondered about a career doing shaving ads instead

When Pierce Brosnan took over the role for 1995’s GoldenEye, Bond’s watch became the Omega Seamaster Professional 3oom Quartz with a blue face. This was the choice of costume designer Lindy Hemming.

“I was convinced Bond should wear the Omega Seamaster watch. I pushed for it…I had known people in the military and the Navy who all swore by their Omega. Therefore, as one of the early tasks of designing the new Bond, Pierce Brosnan, I went to a props meeting and argued for the use of the Omega.” – Lindy Hemming.

Brosnan’s Omega has a laser built into the bezel’s luminescent dot, as well as a remote detonator. The watch first appears on a black strap when Bond is infiltrating the Archangel chemical weapons facility with fellow double-oh Alex Trevelyan, then later on the stainless steel bracelet. Bond’s nemesis, oo6, also has an Omega Seamaster Professional, although his features a black face and black strap, presumably because he’s a bad person.

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Same same, but different

For Tomorrow Never Dies, Pierce upgraded from the quartz Seamaster to an automatic Seamaster Professional 300m and wore this watch for the rest of his tenure as oo7, although the watches each had various different gadgets installed. For Tomorrow Never Dies, that included a removable explosive and remote detonator, not dissimilar in functionality to Moore’s Moonraker Seiko. This watch is not actually Q-Branch issued, but is taken from Chinese People’s External Security Force agent Wai Lin’s armoury. Whether this has been taken from another agent or reversed engineered isn’t clear, but Bond remarks that it “looks familiar”, clearly meaning it was either stolen or copied.

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For The World Is Not Enough, Bond’s Omega Seamaster fired a miniaturised piton and high-tensile line, which could then be retracted, pulling Bond out of any sticky situations. He does look as though he needs a lesson on how to put it on though.

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Blue Steel

For Die Another Day, the twentieth film in the franchise, John Cleese’s Q issues Bond with yet another Seamaster, quipping that this will be his twentieth watch.

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The watch comes equipped with a removable crown detonator and, presumably, also functions as the remote trigger. It also features laser, this time in the crown. In a film crammed with laser beams, does not seem remotely out of place.

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After Die Another Day, the series took a hiatus, during which time a long running legal dispute was finally settled between producer Kevin McClory and Eon Productions and Danjaq LLC, the holding company for the rights of the James Bond films. This meant that the producers now held the rights to all the Ian Fleming novels, including Casino Royale. Despite Die Another Day‘s financial success, the film had been critically panned and the producers decided to go in another direction, casting Daniel Craig in the role of Bond.

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In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig’s Bond is first seen wearing an Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600m with a black face and black rubber strap. We’re seeing a man here who has only just become a double-oh agent, so his watch reflects his utilitarian approach.

Later in the film, Bond meets Vesper Lynd, who quickly appraises him as one of MI6’s “former SAS types, with easy smiles and expensive watches. Rolex?” To which Bond retorts simple: “Omega”. This exchange is possible the most direct and least comfortable pieces of product placement in the Bond series, but it does firmly underscore the intent to disassociate Bond from the Rolex brand.

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Whilst challenging Le Chiffre at high-stakes poker, Bond reverts to Brosnan’s Omega of choice, the Seamaster Professional 300m with a metal bracelet. Whilst this isn’t strictly black tie, Bond has always played with formal conventions and it certainly looks better with his dinner jacket than the Planet Ocean would have.

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In Quantum of Solace, Craig sports an Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600m co-axial with a black face and metal bracelet, which we get a good look at when he’s breaking in to Mr. Slate’s hotel room. This watch suits Craig well, and looks good with both the dinner jacket and Craig’s more casual dress code in the film.

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Skyfall once again sees Craig sporting two different Omega models. First of all we see him with the steel Planet Ocean 600m co-axial with black face and bezel. He shows it off quite nicely whilst controlling the JCB digger on the back of a moving train in the pre-title sequence.

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In case you missed it.

It’s handy that his watch is so waterproof, considering that Bond spends quite a bit of the opening sequence and subsequent titles underwater. Later, when Bond is once again submerged by being plunged into a frozen lake at his ancestral home, he’s wearing the Seamaster Aqua Terra.

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Which brings us back to SPECTRE. But, wait! Not so fast! What of the original Bond, the literary character that Fleming gave us? Well, despite popular belief, Fleming’s Bond was never described as wearing a Submariner. In fact, when Fleming first wrote the character, the Rolex Submariner didn’t even exist. He makes reference to Bond wearing a Rolex in Live and Let Die, but gives no description other than the make. When Fleming did get around to providing some detail of Bond’s timepiece, he described it as a “heavy Rolex Oyster Perpetual”.

Rolex 1016 Explorer wristwatch, produced IV 1960

It’s quite likely that Fleming was describing his own watch, a Rolex Explorer, Ref: 1016. Fleming also describes the luminescent numerals and an expanding metal strap, but that is all the detail we get, other than that Bond makes good use of it as a knuckle-duster. Incidentally, Craig’s Bond uses this same trick in the finale of Casino Royale, strapping his Omega over his fist in order to strike a decisive blow.

Fleming does let us know that, having destroyed his Rolex, Bond intends to replace it.

“Bond lifted his left wrist. Remembered that he no longer had a watch. That he would certainly be allowed on expenses. He would get another one as soon as the shops opened after Boxing Day. Another Rolex? Probably. They were on the heavy side, but they worked. And at least you could see the time in the dark with those big phosphorus numerals.” – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Fleming certainly had every opportunity to describe the watch in more detail but, for a man so associated with putting brands into his prose, he chose not to do so with Bond’s Rolex. It is fair to say though that there is little to suggest he was specifically describing the Rolex Submariner in the novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, although by this time Connery’s Bond was already sporting one in Dr. No.

So, what does all this say about the world’s greatest spy and his choice of wristwatch? Well, there is obviously some debate over what constitutes Bond’s preferred model and indeed his preferred manufacturer. Bond has worn an Omega as often as he has a Rolex, with many other makes and models thrown in for good measure. However, Bond’s creator gave him a Rolex and that’s good enough for me.

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A huge debt of credit and thanks has to go to Dell Deaton’s incredibly well-researched and informative JamesBondWatches blog. Without Dell’s painstaking and detailed research, I could not have written this article. Thank you, Dell.

I would also like to credit WatchesInMovies who also proved to be a fantastic resource.

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