Do watches in movies really matter? Do people notice them? Yes. Does it make them buy one? Sometimes! With watch spotting now being a seemingly endless pastime, a watch on the wrist of a screen star can help push the brand indemnity to new heights or bring cult-like followings for Tinseltown tickers.
I’ve shared the genesis of my watch obsession many times, a fun journey that began with me acquiring my beloved Air King reference 5500 in 2002 with, more by luck than design (although my now-wife had and still has excellent taste, as she picked it from a choice of four Air Kings) a very rare dial variation. My affinity with the Wilsdorf brands is as strong today as ever, but my initial decision to buy that Rolex was juxtaposed with two other brands, namely Omega and IWC.
It’s a happy coincidence for this article, but the reason I had also looked at the other two brands was the movies. Omega was the choice of Bond. Who wouldn’t want that association strapped to their wrist each day? I’ll talk about Bond watches shortly, but there is no denying the insane amount of cool that 007 gives to the venerable Swiss brand. The other watch was an IWC. Why IWC? Well, I clearly remember sitting in the cinema in 2001, popcorn in my left hand and bucket of Coke in my right, settling down to watch Vanilla Sky, the film starring Tom Cruise.
Tom Cruise has a decent track record of wearing cool watches in movies. A Porsche chrono in Top Gun, Rolex Air King in Cocktail and an IWC Mark XV in Vanilla Sky. Whether or not it was a product placement, I presume it was as the shot of the watch was lingering enough for me to take notice as a fledgling watch fan, the important point is that the watch struck a chord with me and I forever think of that movie when I see an IWC. Tom Cruise also put the Tudor Heritage Chrono on the map when he wore it in Mission Impossibe 4 Ghost Protocol in 2011, a year after Tudor was relaunched with the Heritage collection.
I’ll never forget the relaunch of Tudor in 2010, with those two 21st century riffs on the original 1970 Homeplate chronos. Both black and grey dial versions were launched and as a Tudor maniac I was blown away. It’s important to remember that in the late 1990s Tudor was withdrawn by the Wilsdorf Foundation from both the UK and US markets. Those relaunched Tudor Heritage Chronos, plus the subsequent Advisors in 2011 and original Black Bay in 2012, were not easily available in either region until 2013 for the US and 2014 for the UK. The hype around the watches was immense and Cruise’s Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible wearing one took the mania for these watches to the next level. It was also a key moment for Tudor as it gave the brand a much-needed boost in the public’s awareness, at a time when the brand was still quite niche.
OK, back to Bond. Rolex doesn’t and never really has needed brand ambassadors. The impact of the Submariner worn by Sean Connery’s Bon in Goldfinger is without question an important event in the vintage Rolex space. Within the realm of the Submariner, there is now watch more iconic than the so-called Big Crown. To be clear, I’m not saying that this is only because of the reference 6538 that appears in that lighter scene, but it sure did help. I would go as far as saying that the popular trend of wearing watches on fabric straps, known as NATOs, is in large part due to that moment when Bond’s Rolex can be seen on the striped strap, now known as the Bond NATO.
Moreover, the term James Bond Sub was used to describe Rolex’s dive watches without crown guards, even sometimes the Small Crown watches such as the reference 6536. In collector circles the impact of that watch on the values and desirability is unarguable, in my opinion. The fact that these watches were also used extensively by the British military also adds the romantic charm of the pieces, which is essentially what makes collectors want to buy into any given watch. In truth, nobody is quite sure how Connery came to wear the Big Crown and why on that strap. It’s understood that the watch was lent to him by Producer Albert Broccoli and mooted that the expanding rivet bracelet was uncomfortable as the sprung links trap your skin and hair (they really do!) and so he asked for it to go on a fabric strap. Whatever led to that ‘lighter shot’, its importance in the vintage Rolex world really does matter!
I like to imagine that Jean-Claude Biver was aware of the importance of that movie-watch-moment when he went all-in as leader of Omega with a massive commercial partnership with the Bond franchise. According to an Interview that Time and Tide’s Andrew McUtchen undertook with industry veteran JCB, he went way above and beyond the initial strong five-figure deal that was on the table. Biver stated: “I paid more because I wanted more things. I didn’t want to have just the watch on the wrist, I wanted also to have the picture of the actor with the watch on the wrist. I wanted to do some ads. I wanted to do promotions. I wanted all these additional elements. In the beginning, it was just the price to have the watch on the wrist of James Bond, and I said I don’t want the watch on the wrist only. I want a full 360-degree agreement, and I will give you much more money. I will give you one or two million instead of your $50,000 or $60,000.”
Whilst at the time, people around the table at the brand’s Bienne HQ might’ve thought that Mr Biver had lost his mind, the man’s Thunderballs are seen as the saviour of the brand and a key element of what Omega is today. The relationship is well into its third decade, having commenced with Q handing Pierce Brosnan’s Bond a Seamaster in 1995’s Goldeneye, and has been key in both appealing to watch collectors with a penchant for military-esque watches as well as drawing Bond fans into the wonderful world of horology. Omega has smashed it in recent years, in no small part thanks to the MoonSwatch and other special Speedmaster editions, but for sure the Bond connection is a key part of the brand’s global positioning.
Sticking with action heroes, Keanu Reeves’ John Wick has had three outings to date, with a third lined up for next month, March 2023. Keanu’s ex-hitman franchise is the one of the most successful action movie series, having made over $575 million over the first three instalments with more to come this year. On the wrist of principal character? A Carl F Bucherer wristwatch. Carl F Bucherer is a Swiss watch manufacturer that is a rarity in that it is both independent and still family owned. Carl F Bucherer founded his eponymous brand in 1888 and the company is now in the hands of the third generation and grandson of the founder, Jorg G Bucherer. This independence allows CFB a freedom and agility that has led to some fascinating tie-ins with events, partners and collaborators including movies such as John Wick.
The first three instalments of Wick saw Reeves sporting a 38mm Manero Autodate with white dial. The watch has become a perennial favourite on watch spotter websites and has given the brand significant exposure, especially to guys who want to ‘wear it like Wick’. The last movie, released in 2019, Parabellum, saw Carl F Bucherer timepieces on the wrist of co-star Halle Berry, who wore a diamond-bezel Manero Peripheral, and Director and stuntman Chad Stahelski – a long-time CFB ambassador.
Sometimes, however, watches in movies can lead to brands bending to colectors demanding a watch be made, such as the Hamilton ‘Murph’. 2014s Interstellar was one of the greatest science fiction movies I’ve ever seen. It was brilliant. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Matt Damon and Anne Hathaway, the story of a dystopian future focuses on a group of astronauts that travel through a wormhole near Saturn in an attempt to find a new planet for mankind to inhabit. The filmmakers needed a watch as part of the central plot and chose Hamilton, who provided watches that were worn by the main character Jospeh Cooper, a pilot’s style watch, and his daughter Murphy (Murph). It was Murph’s watch that became the main horological focus of the movie and for five years following the release, Hamilton and Interstellar fans alike were crying out for the American watchmaker to release a version of the watch. Their collective dreams came true in 2019 when the 42mm Murph was released and then last year, a more wearable version came out at 38mm. The power of the movies!