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A concise history of James Bond watches

Originally a Rolex Submariner man, has the world's favourite spy settled on a new favourite - the Omega Seamaster?

30 September 2014 |

In addition to his licence to kill, James Bond is a lucrative licence for product placement with a Midas touch for just about any accessory that crosses his path. In 2014, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Goldfinger, Christie's auctioned one of the most recent James Bond watches: an Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra watch in dazzling yellow gold fetching eight times its estimated price.

Daniel Craig flexed his abs in his fourth Bond adventure, Spectre, in 2015 - the 24th Bond saga, directed by Sam Mendes. While fanatics of 007 eagerly await their first glimpse of his timepiece, there were no surprises regarding the brand. Omega secured a franchise to time the spy's missions back in 1995, and for many fans, Omega is the brand they associate with Bond. But there is a nostalgic chunk of Bond watch history that needs to be told, succinctly captured in this dialogue between Vesper Lynd and Bond in Casino Royale as she tries to guess the brand of watch he is wearing:

Vesper Lynd: Rolex? 

James Bond: Omega. 

Vesper Lynd: Beautiful.

Rolex: the original James Bond watch

Although most of us will remember Ursula Andress emerging from the Caribbean in a white bikini, watch buffs will have spotted the Rolex Submariner - reference 6538 - on Sean Connery's wrist in Dr No in 1962. Rolex was the original 007 watch and it was a perfect match - the world's first dive watch, a resilient yet elegant piece to accompany the rugged yet elegant secret agent on his adventures. Connery wore the Submariner throughout his seven screen appearances, and it became so associated with Bond that collectors today still refer to this model as the James Bond Submariner watch.

Author Ian Fleming was meticulous about the kind of timekeeper his secret agent should wear: "He could not just wear a watch. It had to be a Rolex," he said in his book Casino Royale, convinced that "a gentleman's choice of timepiece says as much about him as does his Savile Row suit". Rolex watches appeared in nine of the James Bond sagas, forming a vital part of his identity and style manual.

Fleming, a former naval intelligence officer and author of 12 adventure novels - starring what many believe was a lightly veiled alter ego - was a Rolex man to the core, turning up on the set of the first three Bond films in impeccable style wearing a bow-tie and his ever-present Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer.

Although Bond would be played by a host of different actors between 1962 and 1989 - Sean Connery, Peter Sellers, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig - almost all 007s were equipped with a Rolex Submariner on their missions.

There were some high-tech players along the way and a couple of Breitling and TAG Heuer models, but the original James Bond watch was a Rolex Submariner.  A couple of other Rolex models also made some unforgettable cameo appearances: who can forget the character of Pussy Galore playing Goldfinger's sexy pilot complete with a men's Rolex GMT-Master watch on her wrist? 

The era of the techie timepiece

In tune with the quartz era that marked Roger Moore's reign as Bond, a couple of techie, digital Seikos and a glowing red Pulsar digital watch made their way on to the spy's wrist, including the Seiko Liquid Crystal TV Watch featured in Octopussy in 1983, which allowed Bond to admire more than the time.

What might seems strange to us today is the fact that Rolex never capitalised on the James Bond association, never offered the producers a watch and even refused to pay for product placement. Some watch buffs speculate that James Bond's Rolex actually belonged to Albert Broccoli, who lent it to the actors for the duration of the filming.

Bond straps on an Omega for the first time

In 1995, Omega won a bid to become the MI6 agent's official watch. While Rolex purists pulled out their hair and clamoured for literary justice, Omega detailed its long history with the British military and, in particular, the Royal Navy Divers in the 1960s. Pierce Brosnan was the first Bond to strap on an Omega Seamaster Professional 300m complete with a laser beam and remote control for detonating devices in GoldenEye. When Daniel Craig stepped into Bond's shoes in 2006, he wanted to change the dependency of his character on gimmicky tools and show the true mettle of the new, hyper-fit Bond. In Casino Royale, Craig wears two Omega models: a blue Omega Seamaster 300m chronometer and a sleek, black Seamaster Planet Ocean 600m Co-Axial chronometer on a rubber strap that helps extricate him from deep underwater trouble.

Fast cars, women, Dom Pérignon, vodka martinis and timepieces are all staple accessories of the world's favourite spy, but has Bond stopped switching watch brands as fast as he did his women? Is the new Bond slightly less promiscuous, ready to engage in a long-standing relationship with his girl and his watch? And what would Fleming have to say about this?

Read about the history of Rolex watches here

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