Bonding With Time – The Wristwatches of James Bond

Bonding With Time

The Wristwatches of James Bond

Part 1 The Rolex Submariner

Rolex Watches

                                 Rolex Watches

 

Although the cinematic James Bond has worn Rolex, Seiko, and Omega watches, to many the choice of which watch Bond wears can only come form his origins. Undoubtedly, the origins of James Bond lie with Ian Fleming and Bond’s earliest incarnation in the cinema.

The Choice of Ian Fleming

No one knows exactly why Ian Fleming chose a Rolex for the wrist of James Bond. Perhaps Fleming was impressed by the fact that during World War II, British prisoners of war could write Rolex and receive a watch free of charge delivered directly to their prison camp. Perhaps it was for Rolex’s legendary toughness and dependability, or perhaps it was because Fleming wore a Rolex himself. Whatever the reason, Ian Fleming chose a Rolex for his most famous gentleman spy with a license to kill and as such should be considered the quintessential brand of James Bond watch.

But just what model of Rolex Fleming chose for his spy, he never makes quite clear. Like his clothing choices for Bond, Fleming is vague about the model of Rolex that Bond wears. One of the few references Fleming gives can be found in Chapter 16 of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service when Bond prepares to use his Rolex as a knuckle duster: “He softly retrieved his gloves from the bathroom, put on the goggles so that they rested in his hair above the forehead, tied the dark-red handkerchief tightly across his nose, schnapps into hip pocket and, finally, Gillette through the fingers of the left hand and the Rolex transferred to his right, the bracelet clasped in the palm of his hand and round the fingers so that the face of the watch lay across his middle knuckles.” When Bond was brought to the large screen however, the producers clearly had to pick their own model.

According to the book James Bond the Legacy (John Cork and Bruce Scivally, Boxtree 2002, IBSN 0-8109-3296-2), great care was taken to insure that James Bond in his first outing in Dr. No had the right look, wore the right clothes and in general had the right style. This extended even to Bond’s surroundings and accessories. Bond would not just drink champagne, it would be Dom Perignon, and “he could not just wear a watch, it needed to be a Rolex”. When Rolex declined to provide one of their watches to the production and the film’s budget did not allow for the purchase of one, Cubby Broccoli took the one off his wrist and gave it to a member of the art department for use in the film. That Rolex was a Submariner with a very large crown, no crown guards, a coin edge bezel and a black crocodile strap.

The James Bond Submariner

Many vintage Rolex collectors call all early Submariners without crown guards (shoulderless) the James Bond Submariner, while others in the watch collecting field believe that the watch Connery wore in Dr. No and the others was the Rolex Submariner model 6538. Still other collectors believe that the Submariner Connery wore was more than likely one of four models or that perhaps each of the four models made an appearance in each of the early films, they are the 6200, 6538A, thick cased 6538 and the 5510. I believe that it is impossible to nail it down to one of the four models, and I’ll get into the specifics later.

All four models share the same thick case, a large crown marked Brevet (from the French word Brevette meaning patented), a coin edge non ratcheted bezel, an acrylic crystal, a depth rating of 200m/660ft and mercedes hands. It should be noted that only the “thick cased” shoulderless Submariners had the large winding crown. Further, it should also be noted that the 6538 existed first as a thin cased model with a small crown. It became a thick cased model as the 6538A and was available alongside the 6200.

Once the thin cased versions were gone, the 6538A became the 6538 remaining the same until it and the 6200 were replaced by the 5510. Since Sean Connery as James Bond only wore the thick cased Submariner (evident by the large crown), none of the thin cased, small crown so called James Bond Submariners without crown guards will be discussed.

The Sean Connery James Bond Submariner

One of the thick cased Submariners with the large crown appeared on Connery’s wrist in Dr. No, From Russia With love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball. It is assumed that Connery also wore this watch in You Only Live Twice, but I don’t recall seeing it in that movie and to my knowledge it is not in the movie. If someone can direct me to a scene that shows otherwise, I’ll happily revise this. The best shots of this Submariner are in the pre-credit sequence of Goldfinger and in the scene in Thunderball where Bond takes the radioactive pill at the SPECTRE rendezvous point.

By analyzing close ups of the Connery Submariner, it is clear that the watch has the big crown with no crown guard, has a gilt dial with two lines of printing on the upper part of the dial below the Rolex crown and two lines of printing on the lower portion of the dial that appear to be different colors (although it is hard to tell and you may see it differently), and has mercedes hands. The bezel insert is the non-graduated version, meaning there are no extra minute markings between 0 and 15 and the bezel pearl is in the center of a silver triangle. Later versions of the Submariner had the extra minute markings between the 0 and 15 including the ones without crown guards. These observations are important because the watch has characteristics of a 6200, a 6538A, a thick cased 6538 or even a 5510 (depending on whether you discern the depth rating of Connery’s watch as white or gilt) despite what so called experts say about it being only a 6538.

To me the Connery Bond Submariner, has always had contradictory characteristics with respect to the exact model. In fact I have never seen another untouched version exactly like it. Firstly, the non-graduated bezel insert is that of the earliest thick cased, large crown Submariners, the 6200. However, on the mid 50’s version of 6200, there is only one line of printing on the lower part of the dial, the word “SUBMARINER” in gilt, because although it was rated to a depth of 200m/660ft it did not yet appear on the dial.

The late 50’s 6200, 6538A and 6538 did have the two lines of printing on the lower part of the dial (chronometer versions of the 6538A and thick cased 6538 had 4 lines) and the depth rating was printed in white while the word “SUBMARINER” was in gilt. As I said earlier with respect to the Connery Submariner, the two lines on the lower part of the dial “appear” to be different colors, but again it’s hard to tell and I’ve seen screen captures from Goldfinger on certain forums where the two lines appear the same color. On the 5510, late 50’s models had both the depth rating and the word “SUBMARINER” in the same color, gilt. To further make things murky, the late 50’s 6200, 6538A, 6538 and 5510 had graduated bezel inserts, and the triangle containing the luminous pearl was red. As I said before, the Connery Submariner has a non-graduated bezel insert and the triangle containing the pearl was silver.

So what does all that mean, probably not much. The fact of the matter is that Rolex often used up older parts even when they went to a new model. So it would be entirely possible to have 6538A with a 6200 bezel insert. Also, it’s quite possible that a 6538 or 5510 could have been serviced during its ownership by a service center having older parts which means that a 6538 or a 5510 might end up having a 6200 bezel insert.

So unless the Broccoli family, who are rumored to have the original watch, furnishes the exact model number, we may never know the exact model number of the Connery Bond Submariner. However with the wealth of parts available, it is possible to achieve the same look using the 6200, 6538A, thick cased 6538 or the 5510 Submariner because they all share the same case and big Brevet crown. But, be warned, some collectors and aficionados hate to restore or change watches and rather have an original beat up watch rather than a pristine restored one. Luckily, there is a building trend toward restoration.

Movements in the Different Models

The 6200, 6538A, 6538 and the 5510 all had different movements. The 6200 had the A296, while the 6538A and thick cased 6538 had the 1030. The movement in the 5510 was the 1530 (although some military versions had the 1520 movement).

The 1530 and 1520 movement are the same movements used in the later 5513 Submariners of Lazenby and Moore fame. The 15XX series of movements are considered among the best Rolex ever made (or purchased), so the 5510 with the old style case coupled with the newer movement make it the most wearable of the Connery Bond Submariners, however it was made in very low numbers and is considered quite rare.

The Bond Strap

In Dr. No and From Russia With Love, Connery wears his Submariner on a crocodile or perhaps alligator strap; if you look at close-ups of the strap, you’ll see striations consistent with a crocodile or alligator skin. However, by Goldfinger and later Thunderball, Connery sports his Submariner on an 18mm black cloth NATO/MOD type strap with twin grey service stripes. So, why the change? Although this is conjecture on my part, it is possible that the producers became aware of the early military Submariner that was available to the Royal and Canadian Navies. By extension, I believe the nylon strap was chosen to give the on-screen Bond a military bearing, especially to those in the know.

The early military Submariner was differently optioned than civilian Submariners and was, among other things, fitted with fixed bars between the lugs instead of spring bars to accommodate a cloth NATO/MOD type grey strap. The reasons for such straps were that they were anti-reflective, and easily cut off, if necessary. For this reason some have speculated that the Submariner that Connery wears in Goldfinger and Thunderball was an early military Submariner, however I don’t believe that is true. When you look at close-ups of Connery’s Submariner, you can clearly see that the 18mm strap is attached with spring bars between 20mm lugs as evidenced by holes in the lugs. A military Submariner would have filled lug holes.

George Lazenby, Roger Moore and the Rolex 5513 Submariner

In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, George Lazenby dons a Rolex Submariner 5513. It has been written that Lazenby wanted the part of Bond so bad that he went out and bought his own Rolex and got one of Connery’s suits from Anthony Sinclair. It’s quite possible that the watch Lazenby wore in his first outing as Bond was his own purchase. The Lazeby Submariner had crown guards, and a metal riveted bracelet.

In Roger Moore’s first and second outings as Bond, he wears a 5513 Rolex Submariner. Unlike Lazenby’s Submariner, Moore’s Rolex is seen in more detail, at least in Live and Let Die. In this instance the dial has white printing and indeces. It should be noted however that the depth rating on Moore’s Submariner is shown above the word Submariner on the lower part of the dial rather than below it. The depth also appears as 660ft=200m rather than 200m=660ft. This is important because 5513’s are available with the alternate dial printing as described. The reason for these differences had to do with the regions for which the Submariners were made and the years in which they were produced.

Moore’s Submariner also had a bezel with a saw tooth edge. The original bezel was re-cut to accommodate the watch, with a little movie magic, functioning as a saw. The hyper-intensified magnet function of the watch was shown to be activated when the watch indices turned red. Separate 5513 Submariners were re-worked by the prop department to accommodate these functions. When Moore returned in The Man With The Golden Gun he was again seen wearing a 5513, however the watch had no special function used in the movie and is easily missed. Moore began sporting Seikos in all subsequent outings as Bond probably because of a better endorsement deal on the part of Seiko.

Movements of the Rolex 5513

The movement in the 5513 Submariner is either the 1530 or 1520. Again, the type of movement is dependant on where and when they were made. The 1520 was the less expensive version having fewer jewels. As I said before, the 15XX series of movements are considered some of the best movements that Rolex ever used. For this reason, the 5513 is probably one of the best vintage Submariners for everyday wear. I still wear mine from time to time, but coupled with a black crocodile strap and Rolex buckle a la Connery.

Timothy Dalton and the Rolex 16800/168000 Submariner

When Timothy Dalton assumed the role of James Bond he was wearing a Rolex Submariner with a date function, the first Bond ever to do so and also the last Bond to date to wear a Rolex. Because of the time frame when Dalton made his Bond movies, it is likely that Dalton wore the 16800 and later perhaps the 168000 Submariner.

From what I’ve been able to acertain, the only difference between these two models is the upgrade in stainless steel from 316L to 904. Otherwise the watch is the same. The 16800/168000 was produced from the late 70’s early 80’s to about 1988. This suggests that the Submariners that Dalton wore in The Living Daylights (1987) and License to Kill (1989) were both the 16800/168000 rather than the 16610. Although the 16610 Submariner came out in 1989, the same year as License to Kill, the Bond movies, like other movies, are made in advance of the year they come out. That means that the 16800/168000 was probably used rather than the 16610 Submariner. It is possible that Rolex provided EON a copy of the newer 16610, but I think it is unlikely given Rolex’s unwillingness to cross promote it’s products.

In or about 1984, the 16800 received the white gold surrounds to the luminous markers that are seen on all modern Submariners. The 16800/168000 used the 3085 movement, was fitted with a synthetic sapphire crystal with cyclops date window, had a depth rating to 1000 feet or 300 meters and had a quick set date function. The 16800 became the 168000 in about the last nine months of the production run. This change in the numbering system served to reflect, as stated before, the upgrade of stainless steel from 316L to 904.

A Word About Books and Sources

Probably the best source of information on early Rolex Submariners that I’ve come across is the book Vintage Rolex Sports Models A Complete Visual Reference & Unauthorized History by Martin Skeet and Nick Urul (Schiffer Books, 2002, ISBN: 0-7643-1496-3).

This publication has photographs from the perspective of the watch face of the various models as they progressed in time along with profile line drawings so you can see the difference between a “thick cased” and “thin cased” shoulderless Submariner.

Another book that I highly recommend is The Best Of Time Rolex Wristwatches An Unauthorized History by James Dowling and Jefferey Hess (Schiffer Books, 1996, ISBN: 0-7643-0011-3).

It was with this book that I became aware of the military versions of the Submariner.

James Dowling also maintains a website and sells vintage Rolex’s including the James Bond Submariner. His website is available here: http://www.ukwatches.com/. You used to be able to email him directly with questions, but now I believe he does that through Timezone.

Another book that requires mentioning is the Complete Guide to watches by Cooksey Shugat, Tom Engle and Richard E. Gilbert. (Tinderbox Press, 2006, ISBN: 1-57432-507-8).

It’s an annual price guide that gives you a sense of pricing and grading and most bookstores carry it. However, it should by no means be considered a bible or the end all and be all of pricing. When I began getting the guide years ago, it made no mention of the James Bond Submariner. In recent years it began referencing the 6538 as “This style of watch worn by 007 Sean Connery”, however the picture that accompanies it is actually a drawing of what looks like a “thin cased” shoulderless Submariner with pencil hands and one line of printing on the lower part of the dial, not what Connery wore. Be careful of so called Rolex or watch experts, they are not experts in Bond and what he wore.

The two Christie’s James Bond Auction catalogs are also worth mentioning for their close-ups of the Roger Moore 5513’s. The first catalog is dated September 17, 1998 and the second is dated February 14, 2001 (Christie’s South Kensington, 85 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 3LD) Lastly, a website that I highly recommend is: http://www.vintagerolexforum.com/. You can glean some very good information here as well as purchase watches in their market place.

There is one last volume that I should mention, it’s called Rolex: Collecting Modern and Vintage Wristwatches by Osvaldo Patrizzi, (January 2006, ISBN 88-900514-3-4). Although I have not yet purchased this two volume set, I do plan on purchasing it in the near future. In fact on a recent trip to Geneva, I saw it in the window of Antiquorum for sale and I wanted to buy it, the only problem was that the auction house was closed due to a bank holiday. The two volume set can be purchased through this website: http://www.antiquorum.com/. Under “Catalogues and publications” there is a pull down, click on “Antiquorum Editions” and you’ll see it.

There are of course other websites, books and magazine articles that I have used from time to time, however I have found them to be inaccurate in one way or another so I have left them out. As with anything that you intend to spend your hard earned money on, never take anyone’s word for it. Do your own research and acquaint yourself with what is and is not correct. Even auction houses are not above reproach. As the saying goes “Caveat Emptor”, let the buyer beware.

Article Copyright © 2006 Richard Dos Santos

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