There’s a bit of dialogue in Casino Royale, the 2006 reboot of the James Bond movie franchise, when Vesper Lynd thinks she has Bond figured out, right down to his watch:
“Rolex?” she asks.
“Omega,” Bond replies.
“Beautiful,” Lynd assesses.
Those three words sum up 50 years of Bond and his wristwatches. They also have either made Rolex and Bond purists shake their heads and mutter, “product placement,” or Omega devotees cheer wildly and clink their Planet Oceans in a sort of watch-nerd toast. The history of James Bond and his timepiece choice can really be divided up into these two eras, despite the fact that the Bonds of Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton donned digital Seikos and a TAG Heuer in between.
In the beginning there was Rolex. James Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, gave his secret agent hero a “heavy Rolex Oyster Perpetual on an expanding bracelet,” a watch Bond put to use as a knuckle duster while punching out a henchman in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There is no mention of the exact Rolex Fleming intended. Despite many theories, including that it was an Explorer (ref. 1016), no one will ever really know. The fact remains, though, that Rolex still has a model called the “Oyster Perpetual” in its lineup. It is a simple, time-only watch with the legendary Rolex self-winding “Perpetual” movement and the 100-meter (at least) water-resistant Oyster case, a direct descendant of the watch Rolex sent to Mount Everest with the successful British expedition in 1953. It certainly could have been one of these tough but understated watches that Fleming intended for his character. But we’re talking about the James Bond movies — where the silver screen would make 007’s timepieces iconic.
For better or worse, gadgets have always helped defined Bond’s superspy status. Many of his timepieces across the 23 film series were simply included for style, status and sponsorship, but the Q Branch did tinker with plenty over the years to help MI6’s chief agent thwart villains. Here are the hits — see further down for the misses.
Magnets & Buzzsaw: James’s Rolex 5513 Submariner in Live and Let Die saved his (sex)life on multiple occasions thanks to an integrated buzz saw for cutting binds and a high powered magnet for unzipping dresses from afar.
Laser Cutting & Remote Mines: 007’s Omega Seamaster in GoldenEye emitted a laser for cutting through armored panels and acted as a remote activator/detonator for magnetic mines. A few years later, it would also inspire one of the most entertaining ways to frag in multiplayer console gaming.
Grappling Hooks and Mood Lighting: All Omega Seamaster’s feature luminous markers for reading in low-light, but Bond’s version in The World Is Not Enough was bright enough to set the mood in an avalanche survival balloon and also boasted a miniature grappling hook (a must for any true swinger).
In 1962’s Dr. No, we first catch a glimpse of Bond’s watch: a Rolex Submariner, reference 6538, on the wrist of Sean Connery. Though Fleming made no mention of a diving watch in his books, the Submariner is a fitting choice for 007’s screen debut. Diving had reached a high point in popularity in the early ’60s and was seen as an activity for the bold and adventurous — making dive watches lifestyle symbols, just like Bond. Connery wore the Submariner throughout his tenure as 007 and the watch became so linked with his Bond that collectors today call the reference 6538 and similar “big crown” versions, “James Bond Submariners.”
In addition, the strap he wore the Submariner on has also achieved a cult status. Though Bond wore the Submariner on a leather strap in Dr. No, by Goldfinger, the third Bond film, the same watch is seen on a one-piece striped nylon strap. The Internet contains endless debate and speculation about this strap.
First of all, it is obviously undersized for the watch. The distance between the lugs of the Submariner is 20mm, yet the strap we see on Connery’s watch was clearly made for a smaller timepiece, most likely with a 16mm lug width. Why? Some say it was a hurried addition to a watch that was chosen at the last minute, an easier fix than sizing a riveted steel bracelet. Again, a mystery for the ages.
The second point of debate about this strap is in regard to its stripes. On grainy videocassette, the strap looked like it had alternating stripes of black and “Admiralty gray.” Many strap makers sold reproductions of this pattern in the NATO style. But the advent of high-definition DVD told the real story of this most mythical of watch straps. Countless watch nerds paused their Blu-ray editions of Goldfinger as Bond raises his wrist and lights a cigarette to check on the status of the bomb he’s planted. The strap is not gray-and-black striped, but in fact appears to have a subtler pattern, with some red, a green-gray and black. Or is that Navy blue? Strap makers scrambled and a new, more authentic version is now found on thousands of Submariners worldwide.
Rolex was perfect for Connery’s Bond — the first dive watch on the first 007, rugged and authentic, in an era before Bond went commercial and Rolex became a status symbol. When Connery handed over the reins of Bond to Roger Moore, the quartz era had dawned and the world went digital. Bond kept up with the times and the digital watches that spit out typed messages from HQ seemed perfectly fitting for a high-tech hero. But just like the safari suit with its wide lapels, what seemed like a good idea at the time started to look too dated for a classic character.
Fast forward to the 1990s. After the cartoonish Moore years and the dour Dalton films, Pierce Brosnan strutted out as a perfect Bond for his era — glib and handsome, he had cut his pearly white teeth as a TV star. The costume designer at the time, Lindy Hemming, considered everything from cufflinks to socks and when it came to his watch, she passed over Rolex for Omega. The Rolex Submariner was by then the most ubiquitous luxury watch around. Omega had a long history with the British military, with its Seamaster having been the choice for Royal Navy divers in the 1960s. So, to the chagrin of Rolex (and Bond purists), Brosnan strapped on a Seamaster Professional and Omega has been “Bond’s choice” ever since.
Plastique Explosive Detonator: The Seiko M354 Memory-Bank Calendar shown in Moonraker came in handy thanks to a built-in Plastique explosive detonator. Unfortunately, the detonator cord had to be wired directly into the charge and was shorter than Oddjob.
GPS Tracking and Pervy Spying: Octopussy featured two advanced tickers highlighting the pinnacle of technology in the ’80s. The Seiko G757 5020 Sports 100 was equipped with a GPS tracking device for locating a lost Faberge Egg (yawn), while the flashier Seiko Liquid Crystal TV Watch took satellite video calls from Margaret Thatcher and kept an eye out on rogue bombshells.
Ticker Tape Messaging: Bond’s Seiko 0674’s Ticker Tape shown in The Spy Who Loved Me was a pre-texting solution for staying in touch with HQ. It also made for a damn good label maker.
To an entire generation of Bond fans, Omega is the watch of James Bond. What started out as a costume choice became a marketing bonanza, with Omega making full use of the movies to sell a lot of Seamasters. The timepiece that Brosnan wore for all of his films was a blue-dialed Seamaster with a blue rotating bezel, on a steel bracelet that had alternating polished and brushed links. As the Rolex 6538 was dubbed the Bond Submariner, so too the blue Seamaster was dubbed the “Bond Seamaster.” Omega featured the model on its website, with Brosnan’s photo and produced limited edition (if 10,007 can be considered limited) 007 versions that had gun-barrel case backs and “007” marked dials.
The current James Bond, Daniel Craig, also wore Omega, but in Casino Royale, his screen debut, he introduced a new watch to the mix: the Seamaster Planet Ocean. For a more serious, more physical Bond, the Planet Ocean was a perfect choice. It is bigger, burlier and less “pretty” than the dandy blue polished Seamaster of Brosnan’s days. Bond also wore it on a rubber strap, better suited for parkour chases through third-world constructions sites. Later in the movie, when he slips into a dinner jacket for some high-stakes gambling, Craig swaps out the Planet Ocean for the old blue Brosnan Bond Seamaster. It’s the last time we see that watch on James Bond. In the gritty sequel Quantum of Solace, 007 only wears the Planet Ocean, now on its steel bracelet, and it gets ample screen time.
In Skyfall, James Bond was again in Omega, again the Planet Ocean, but also a blue-dialed Seamaster Aqua Terra for a few scenes. The Aqua Terra was a fine choice for Bond, subtler than the chunky dive watches, but still rugged enough to withstand 150 meters of water pressure. Though Connery’s Bond would never think to be traveling with a second watch, and the Aqua Terra on a bracelet is a far cry from the old Rolex on an ill-fitting nylon strap, Omega is a perfect choice for the modern James Bond. It is well made with classic styling and the right mix of rugged and refined. Omega also retains the pedigree of a storied brand, and one with a credible link to England’s military, but without the contemporary Rolex baggage.
With this week’s release of Spectre, Bond takes a decidedly backwards step with his timepiece choice, but in a good way. When the movie opens, Bond is sporting a dressy Aqua Terra, but once the action heats up, Q Branch issues him a dive watch on a striped nylon strap, an obvious nod to the Connery era. But instead of the old Rolex, Craig’s Bond sticks with Omega, wearing a special edition of the Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial, a watch fittingly inspired by the 1960s-era Omega diver that was issued to Britain’s Royal Navy. Despite its retro design, this one sports an all-new anti-magnetic movement and swaps the usual elapsed time bezel for one that can be used to track a second time zone, fitting for a globetrotting super-spy.
While watch aficionados like to debate whether Omega or Rolex is the true “Bond watch,” both are well suited for the eras in which Bond wore them. There’s certainly room in the watch box for a vintage Rolex Submariner and a modern Seamaster. And who’s to say that when Bond goes home to his London flat after another difficult, bruising mission, he doesn’t slip his Omega onto his watch winder and pull out his old Sub and think about the past. We just hope he’s got a better-fitting strap on it by now.