As I settle in for the night to watch a movie with a glass of wine, I’m reminded of the power of the big screen and people’s infatuation with celebrities; Whether we like to believe it or not, there’s no denying we’re all influenced by the media when buying luxury goods, mostly because we want to read about someone else’s opinion on a product before handing over our hard-earned money. But let’s be honest, when it comes to watches, seeing your favourite up on the big screen worn by an actor makes us fantasise about owning the same watch just that bit more.
For me personally, it was seeing Roger Moore wearing a Rolex Submariner Ref.5513 as James Bond in the 1973 movie ‘Live and Let Die’. This was the first Bond movie to be franchised and although Sir Roger Moore’s predecessor, Sean Connery, also wore a Rolex Submariner Ref.6538, it had never played such an integral role in the movie. The “wow” moment as a child was when Bond turned the bezel on his watch to activate the magnet gadget that started my personal fascination with Rolex. Such is the power of the big screen! No doubt Sean Connery wore a Rolex Submariner (ref.6538) in ‘Dr No’ due to his character's’ role as a British secret agent and the Britsh military testing of the Ref.65638 for its special boat service only a few years prior. I can’t confirm if it’s true of not but I was told by someone who did their college thesis on the subject, Rolex did sponsor to have Roger Moore wear a Submariner Ref.5513 in ‘Live and Let Die’ and ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’.
Of course today the James Bond character is synonymous with Omega and the brand has certainly gained some of Rolex’s market share, particularly in Asia, due to the association. I have always wanted to know though, do the actors that wear watches on the screen do so because they are paid to do so or because they like the watch? I know, for instance, the advertising Omega used while Pierce Brosnan played James Bond was labelled as ‘Pierce Brosnan’s choice”, then when Daniel Craig took over it was changed to “James Bond’s choice”, presumably because Daniel had a personal fascination for vintage Rolex sport watches and famously went on a talk show wearing a 1950’s Rolex Submariner Ref.6538, the same model Sean Connery had worn in the original Bond movies. Shortly after I noticed an Omega advert featuring ‘Daniel Craig’s choice’ and have not seen him wearing a Rolex again, I guess the marketing men won that one, or Mr Craig is a shrewd negotiator,
For most big-screen actors though, once you reach the A-list, almost anything is obtainable. You want the latest complication? Of course Sir! Another watch the same as the one you were given last month but this time with a black dial? It will be delivered to you this afternoon, Sir. Brands know that if a celebrity gets photographed wearing their product, the public will want it more, the celebrities know that too.
Perhaps the ease in which modern, even highly desirable, watches are so easily available to them draws the A-listers to vintage, mostly 1960’s/70’s Rolex sports models or Patek Philippe. At the 2019 Academy Awards presenter Ryan Seacrest can clearly be seen wearing a 1970’s gold Rolex Daytona Ref.6265 on a bracelet. However it’s on-screen that their performances affect us. Perhaps the first and also one of most significant uses of product placement was Steve McQueen wearing a Heuer Monaco Ref.1133B in the 1969 movie ‘Le Mans’. Heuer bought the rights to Steve McQueens stock images from the family and still uses the pictures from the movie to publicise its current version of the classic Ref.1133.
Many of the big action-packed movies you see today feature the lead actors wearing desirable watches. Both Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren wore Panerai ‘Bronze’ editions is the movie ‘Expendables 2’, such is the size you could hardly miss the watch. This was no doubt due to Sly’s influence as an unofficial representative for Panerai and, to his credit, until recently collaborating with Richard Mille, he has been diligently promoting Panerai since the 1990’s.
Audemars Piguet and Arnold Schwarzenegger are another famous duo. Apparently Arnold was not a paid spokesman for the company but certainly the two enjoyed an excellent business relationship. Arnold was even asked for his input when they designed the 1999 ‘End of Days’ model for him to wear in the movie of the same name. Apparently in the process he asked for a black military look and the AP design team were all taken aback, but obliged. This was the first in a long line of stealth models that dominated demand and fashion in the early 2000’s. Who knew the ex Governor of California was such a trend setter?
Of course who wears what on screen is not always black and white. When I was living in Los Angeles, a prop master for the hit TV series ’24’ told me Kiefer Sutherland’s contract with Baume & Mercier had just ended and asked what I considered the ideal watch for his character, Jack Bauer, to wear. To be honest here, picking suitable watches for certain characters would be my ideal pastime. For me there was only one brand he should wear; IWC, something like the ceramic Top Gun model. A little while later IWC emailed to ask if the prop master was genuine, apparently they had asked IWC to deliver something like 20 watches with no promise any would be worn in the filming and plainly told them none would be returned regardless. I never did see Jack Bauer wearing an IWC.
A version of this article was originally written by Charles Tearle for Hong Kong Sprial magazine