Given the right circumstances, a watch that shows up in a film can reach icon status for watch enthusiasts and movie buffs alike. It can be downright astonishing what screen time can do for a watch’s popularity and value, especially on the wrist of the right actor.
But things have changed since the mid-1990s; whereas the choice to use a watch in a movie was once a pure wardrobe decision, it’s now often the product of contractual marketing agreements. Generally, collectors are most interested in watches from before the era of product placement — it’s no surprise that the pieces picked for ad money just aren’t as cool. Below, we bring you our ten favorite silver screen timepieces that have made a huge impact on both cinema and the watch world.
Dr. No: Sean Connery’s Rolex Submariner 6538
If there were a Holy Grail of movie watches, the Rolex Submariner reference 6538 worn by Sean Connery in the first few Bond Films is a likely contender. With a tight budget and no help from Rolex during production on Dr. No, producer Cubby Broccoli supposedly gave Connery the watch off of his own wrist — and it ended up becoming a legendary timepiece. Today, the average 6538, which is not very easy to find, can fetch six figures in the right condition. But the real deal, purportedly owned by the Broccoli family, is likely priceless. The Bond name carries so much weight that it essentially launched watch marketing in movies with Pierce Brosnan’s Bond debut in Goldeneye; thanks to Jean-Claude Biver, Omega’s marketing genius, the laser-equipped Seamaster set a precedent in promotional agreements that today is commonplace.
Daylight: Sylvester Stallone’s Panerai Luminor
Sly singlehandedly revived Panerai from its struggles in the early ’90s. After their contract to supply the Italian Navy with wristwatches ended in ’93, Panerai looked to the civilian market, with little success. Sometime in ’95, Stallone happened to be in Rome (apparently in the market for a watch) when he spotted a Luminor in a shop window. He bought it on the spot to wear during his movie, Daylight, and proceeded to order a bunch with his signature engraved on the case back. Sly continued to dominate the action movie scene, and Panerai has become one of the most recognizable luxury watch brands. Stallone can be seen wearing Panerai watches in numerous movies, including as recently as, The Expendables 3.
Le Mans: Steve McQueen’s Heuer Monaco
The “King of Cool” basically has a Midas touch when it comes to watches. In fact, he was never seen wearing the Rolex Explorer II reference 1655 — it’s known as the “McQueen” Explorer II because of an auction house marketing ploy. As for the Heuer Monaco, there was no mistaking its presence on his wrist in the movie Le Mans. McQueen originally turned down an offer from Omega, thinking they were using him for promotional reasons, and then opted for the Monaco. Although the Monaco received all the screen time, a number of on set photos reveal McQueen’s true personal preference as his Submariner reference 5512. However, his mark had already been made, and the Monaco owes its provenance to him.
Blue Hawaii: Elvis Presley’s Hamilton Ventura
The Hamilton Ventura worn by Elvis Presley on the set of the 1961 film Blue Hawaii was apparently his own watch. It is also notable as the first “electric” watch (distinct from quartz watches, which would be introduced eight years later), and this reflects The King’s taste for cutting edge design and technology. The brand produces an entire family of Ventura watches today with the funky “shield-shaped” case, and it’s continued its on-screen career most recently featuring in the latest installment of the Men in Black franchise.
Apocalypse Now: Marlon Brando’s Rolex GMT Master 1675
Brando was evidently told to remove his personal Rolex GMT Master ref. 1675 on set, as the feeling was that it would look too new and out of character for Colonel Kurtz, a Special Forces officer gone rogue. Brando insisted on wearing the watch, famously popping off its bezel and wearing it “naked” throughout filming. The watch was thought lost to history until it recently resurfaced — it’s set to hit the auction block this fall.
Glengarry Glen Ross: Alec Baldwin’s Gold Rolex Day-Date
A gold Rolex has become an achievement watch for many people. To earn one, according to Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, one must “always be closing.” In probably the most epic de-motivational speech of all time, Baldwin flaunts his yellow gold Rolex Day-Date in Ed Harris’ face, telling him it’s worth more than his car. If you’re fortunate enough to own a gold Rolex, we hope it’s not because you emulated Baldwin’s character to get there.
Jaws: Richard Dreyfuss’ Alsta Nautoscaph
Richard Dreyfuss’s oceanographer character, Matt Hooper, wore an automatic dive watch in Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic, but for decades, watch nerds couldn’t figure out what the hell it was. Turns out the watch was an Alsta Nautoscaph, made by a company that shuttered during the Quartz Crisis. Thankfully, the brand was recently reconstituted and began production of the Nautoscaph II, which you can pick up on the brand’s website for around $824.
Apocalypse Now: Martin Sheen’s Seiko 6105
When it comes to iconic watches on a budget, look no further than the Seiko 6105. Not only does it ooze vintage cool, but Martin Sheen rocked one as Captain Ben Willard, the Army Spec Ops officer serving during the Vietnam War in the classic Apocalypse Now. A 6105 in good condition can be found in the $700-$900 range, while Seiko’s new reissue of the style can be found for even less.
Predator: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Seiko H558
The Seiko H558 quartz diver is arguably pretty cool on its own, but, let’s face it, there’s no way it’d be as sought after today if it weren’t for Arnold. It’s crazy that an otherwise average Seiko sells for roughly double its original retail price on today’s secondhand market. The Governator wore the H558 (or possibly its brother, the H601) in a number of ’80s action blockbusters, such as Predator, The Running Man, and Commando. Given how many movies he’s been in, it may have the widest range of movie appearances out of any single watch. A modern version is available for a retail price of 550 and now features solar charging.
Pulp Fiction: Bruce Willis’s WWI Lancet Trench Watch
The “Gold Watch” scene from Pulp Fiction is truly one of the great movie moments of the ’90s. Among a collage of punched-up scenes, it stands out for its surprising dark humor and Christopher Walken’s utterly captivating monologue. The gold WWI Lancet trench watch is almost as memorable as its hiding spot…and serves as the perfect catalyst for a dangerous trip back to Bruce Willis’s old apartment.
Apollo 13: The Crew’s Omega Speedmasters
Perhaps the most obvious choice is Apollo 13 and the Omega Speedmaster. For a movie looking to capture accurate details of such an historic event as the incredible return of the Apollo 13 crew, getting the correct Velcro-strapped Speedy was a must. Although Omega may have had a promotional agreement in place, it would have been a major misstep to ignore the only mechanical watch certified for spaceflight by NASA. After proving its capabilities numerous times, there’s no doubt the Speedmaster is a legend, and being prominently featured in an Academy Award-winning film only adds to it’s legacy.
Aliens: Sigourney Weaver’s Seiko 7A28-7000
Giorgetto Giugiaro — the man known for his wedge-y supercar designs — probably didn’t know that his automotive-inspired foray into watch design would end up as a central prop James Cameron’s bleak and unnerving Aliens. While the blocky vertical pushers on the right of the watch were meant to be easy to access while driving, and the font on the dial evokes the dashboard gauges of cars of the ’80s, they proved to be the right balance of utilitarianism and futurism to adorn Sigourney Weaver’s wrist as she battled a terrifying alien species.
Back to the Future: Michael J. Fox’s Casio CA53-W
Like the franchise, the geek-tastic Casio digital calculator watch is to this day an enduring symbol of the ’80s. During this time, affordable and inherently accurate electronic watches (both digital and quartz) were quickly displacing traditional mechanical watches. So it makes sense Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly would don one along with his burnt-orange life preserver puffy vest and light-wash denim. Ironically, in the film McFly’s Casio CA53-W couldn’t keep proper time, prompting him to hold it up to his ear to check if it’s ticking. Digital watches don’t tick. Heavy stuff.