Under The Cuff: James “Sonny” Crockett, Miami Vice

Following its release in September 1984, Miami Vice soon became a pop culture phenomenon. Initially nicknamed “MTV Cops”, the TV series depicted the stylised escapades of fictional undercover Metro-Dade (now called Miami-Dade) Police detectives Crockett and Tubbs.

Instrumental in defining the identity and aesthetic of the 1980s, the crime/drama show is now probably most widely remembered for its costume design. Serving as sartorial inspiration for many viewers, Miami Vice is credited with boosting the sales of Armani, Versace, Cerruti, Ray Ban and Hugo Boss. Helping, in part, make them the household names they are today. A generation of men donned unstructured pastel-coloured tailoring, eschewed socks and enthusiastically rolled-up their jacket sleeves – even if most of them were in the likes of Merseyside, not Miami.

Alongside avant-garde fashion, the show was also responsible for helping popularise and, in some cases, introduce the latest and greatest music (from Depeche Mode to U2 and Public Enemy), vehicles (the Wellcraft Scarab 38 KV powerboat, Ferrari Testerossa and Ferrari Daytona Spyder; even if the ‘Daytonas’ used for production were fake), guns (the Desert Eagle, Steyr AUG, Glock 17 and super-rare Bren Ten chambered in 10mm) and, of course, watches…

Breakout character James “Sonny” Crockett, played by Don Johnson, sported the programme’s most noted and admired timepieces. From the character’s establishing shot in the pilot episode and throughout most of season one, Crockett can be seen wearing a yellow-gold Rolex Day-Date on the presidential bracelet. However, not all is as first seems: as with the aforementioned Ferrari Daytona, the Day-Date used for filming was a fake. Close inspection of stills showing the watch reveals design discrepancies, most apparent in the bracelet. And, if further clarification is needed, an extract from a Rolling Stone profile on the show published in 1985 reads, “a prop man comes in to retrieve Crockett’s gun, shoulder holster and the gold Rolex. ‘They take off your Rolex?’ I ask. ‘Yeah,’ says Johnson… ‘and I put on my own.’ Johnson’s Rolex is stainless steel. As it turns out, the $8600 gold watch is a fake.” The use of replica or dummy watches for filming is actually fairly commonplace, budget constraints and risk of damage whilst filming action scenes have to be taken into account.

Subsequent episodes saw Crockett wear a two-tone Rolex Datejust on a Jubilee bracelet, a Zenith El Primero-driven Ebel Sport Classic Chronograph in yellow gold and latterly an Ebel 1911 BTR Chronograph also in yellow gold. It is safe to assume that the Ebels used are genuine, and were likely supplied by the brand. Following the success of season one, companies were lining up to have their products featured on Miami Vice. Enzo Ferrari himself, for instance, gave the production two new Tessterossas to replace the show’s ‘Daytona Spyder’.

Michael Mann, the programme’s executive producer and “show’s real creative force”, revisited Miami Vice after Jamie Foxx pitched him the idea of a movie remake at a party in 2001. Releasing and directing a present-day set, cinema adaptation in 2006, with Foxx playing Tubbs and Colin Farrell taking on the role of Crockett.

As with the cars, guns, music, etc. the film’s watches were also updated to reflect the present-day setting. Crockett now wears a Vacheron Constantin Malte Chronograph Perpetual Calendar in platinum – director Mann, indecently, was so impressed by the VC that he bought one after production wrapped – whereas Tubbs is depicted wearing both an IWC Aquatimer Chronograph and a Portuguese Chronograph. To tie in with the film’s promotion, IWC also produced a 50-piece limited edition of Tubbs’ Portuguese featuring a ‘MIAMI VICE’ and edition-number caseback engraving.