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The role a perfectly judged costume plays in the success of an iconic movie character can be easily overlooked. While it might not make up for lacklustre writing or lousy acting, done right the outfit worn by a film’s protagonist (or antagonist) is capable of doing some serious heavy lifting in the character development department. In fact, there are few other avenues where the old adage of ‘clothes make the man’ holds so true. Where would Indiana Jones be without his fedora, or Neo without his long black trench coat, for example?

But what about the choice in wristwear?

We all know only too well that a watch, and particularly a man’s watch, says volumes about him. As one of the few accessories the majority of men wear, it too has plenty of responsibility in tacitly displaying its owner’s style and personality. Movie costumers have been aware of this for decades, and that has led to a number of timepieces which have become minor celebrities in their own right, donned by some of the most memorable heroes and villains Hollywood has unleashed.

Below, in conjunction with the ‘Watches From the Silver Screen’ week we’re running here at Watch Collecting, we take a closer look at some of these horological legends.

The First Bond Watch—the Rolex Submariner ref. 6538

Ref: 6538

There has been product placement in movies for almost as long as there have been movies. Research suggests that the Sunlight company was paying to have its soap bars feature in films made by the Lumière brothers as early as 1896. However, you will have a tough time finding any product placements as successful as those issued by Rolex to the James Bond franchise. An absolutely perfect meeting of images, both brand and spy are defined by their tough, no-nonsense demeanour, wrapped up in a particular sense of style you’ll find nowhere else.

It is ironic then that the first time one of Rolex’s creations appeared on 007’s wrist it was without their approval. Although Fleming’s literary character habitually wore Rolex in the book series (as did the author himself, most notably an Explorer ref. 1016), the manufacture refused to donate any watches to the production of the first Bond movie, 1962’s Dr. No. As a result, the Submariner ref. 6538 you see worn by Sean Connery in the film is the personal property of legendary producer, Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli who, as folklore has it, took it off and threw it to the actor moments before the cameras started rolling.

Produced between 1954 and 1959, the ref. 6538 was one of nearly a dozen different references the Sub went through in its first decade, as Rolex continued to tweak their design to come up with the ultimate dive watch. 38mm and powered by the automatic Cal. 1030, the brown or black gloss dial was set out with the signature dot and baton hour markers and Mercedes handset we all recognise, while the rotating black bezel held the typical 60-minute calibration.

Today, it is one of the most sought-after vintage Submariners in circulation and is known in collectors circles by two nicknames. To some, it is one of the Big Crown Subs thanks to its oversize 8mm winding crown which, together with its thicker case, gave it an unheard of water resistance of 200m. To others, having served 007 faithfully not only in Dr. No but also in From Russia with Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball, it will always be the Bond Sub.

Massive Gold—The Cartier Santos from Wall Street

Massive Gold—The Cartier Santos from Wall Street

There can be no greater barometer as to how well a movie character and their watch have penetrated the public’s consciousness than for one to be named after the other.

So it was with the Bond Sub above, and now we have the Cartier Santos ‘Gordon Gekko’. Just as the ref. 6538 came to perfectly embody the persona of the world’s favourite super spy, equal parts action hero and suave gentleman, so does the Cartier Santos Carrée ‘Or Massif’ ref. 2964 (to give it its full official title) symbolise the whole ‘greed is good’, hyper-masculine identity of the archetypal capitalist from Oliver Stone’s 1987 classic, Wall Street.

As smooth as he was egotistical, and ruthless in his ambition, Gekko was the ultimate poster child for ‘80s yuppiedom, complete with the whole corporate raider uniform; the braces, the slicked-back hair and, yes, the watch.

It has been argued that the Cartier Santos was the very first wristwatch for men, manufactured in 1904 at the behest of Louis Cartier’s great friend, Brazilian aviation legend, Alberto-Santos Dumont. Whether accurate or not, the Art Deco-esque, square-bezeled piece was certainly the first pilot’s watch, and came shot through with typically sophisticated Gallic touches. The Roman numeral hour markers were laid out to resemble the radial design of Paris’s centre-ville, devised by Baron Haussmann. Similarly, the screws securing the crystal in place were based on the shape of the Eiffel Tower’s legs.

That original Santos-Dumont would go through a number of revisions over the years, most significantly in 1978 when the craze for luxury sports watches brought an integrated bracelet and a new name, the Santos de Cartier.

This is where the Carrée enters the fray. 29mm in diameter and 41mm lug-to-lug, it was released as both a two-tone (ref. 2961) and Gekko’s favourite, the full 18k ‘Or Massif’ or ‘Massive Gold’.

It is, in fact, the perfect choice for Michael Douglas’s character. Unapologetically opulent, with an aura of indisputable prestige, it is nevertheless a work of exquisite craftsmanship and with a heritage which remains unmatched. Some gold watches can appear superficial and posturing, while others can back up their swagger with genuine substance. This is the latter.

No longer in production, the Cartier Santos Carrée ‘Or Massif’ is considered one of the hottest neo-vintage models currently doing the rounds. Secure yours for a hit of pure ‘80s nostalgia and remember; lunch is for wimps.

The Rolex That Wasn’t—The American Psycho Datejust

American Psycho datejust

From a 1987 movie about Wall Street, we now go to a 2000 movie about Wall Street—set in 1987.

American Psycho tells the story of New York investment banker Patrick Bateman (think Gordon Gekko without the warmth and compassion) who seems to spend most of his life dining at Manhattan’s finest restaurants, wooing his insipid fiancée, mingling with his circle of upwardly mobile colleagues—and murdering people in a host of unpleasantly inventive ways. Or does he?

I won’t ruin the ending for you, but here is another case of a movie costumer nailing the armour of a city trader down to the last detail. Fans of the book will know all about Brett Easton Ellis’s lengthy and detailed clothing descriptions, intended to demonstrate the superficiality of Bateman’s world. We read about his love for Valentino suits, Oliver Peoples glasses and Armani overcoats.

And how does a young, wealthy serial killer tell the time? Why, on his Rolex of course. But not just any Rolex. Only a Rolesor Datejust will suffice for this particular maniac and, being set in the ‘80s, that would make it a ref. 16013.

Except, for reasons which should be pretty obvious, Rolex were somewhat loath to allow one of their watches to appear on screen on the wrist of a brutal psychopath.

So, costume designer Isis Mussenden hunted round for the nearest approximation and hit on the not-quite-carbon-copy-but-close-enough Seiko 5, the SNXJ90.

The truth only came to light in 2020 when the 4K remastered print of the film was released, the image quality upgraded just enough for eagle-eyed viewers to be able to spot the few distinctions between the Rolex and its doppelganger. And even then, said viewers had to be pretty quick on the pause button.

The two watch’s profiles were almost indistinguishable, but with the Seiko measuring in at 38mm over the Rolex’s 36mm (the movie, and its time period, bothlong before the top-end Datejust was raised to 41mm).

Their bimetal construction was the same too. Each had steel cases with yellow gold used on their winding crowns and identical fluted bezels and on the central links of their bracelets; the Seiko’s band a direct ‘homage’ to Rolex’s famed Jubilee.

However, if you look really closely, you will notice a few small but vital differences. Firstly, that winding crown is at an unusual 3.8 position, as opposed to the Datejust’s time-honoured 3 o’clock. Secondly, Bateman’s watch has a double rather than single calendar complication, showing both date and day of the week, and no magnifying Cyclops lens.

Dial-wise, the SNXJ90 used in the movie had a sunburst silver face. Seiko also released the SNXJ92, another two-tone watch, with an even more Datejust-like champagne dial, along with the full gold (coloured) SNXJ94.

In the end, the substitution was, intentionally or not, something of a metaphor for Christian Bale’s character. Bateman describes himself in his famous monologue as ‘some kind of abstraction…something illusory.’ He is playing a part and, in the same way, the cheap Seiko looks like the real thing until you study it in any depth.

Still, it remains one of the more interesting stories of watches in movies from recent years.

Stallone’s ‘Game Changer’—the Daylight Panerai

Stallone’s ‘Game Changer’—the Daylight Panerai

Watch brands and their marketers have long known about the power of celebrity topropel their creations to the forefront of customers’ minds. Rolex were arguably the first, with their roster of ‘testimonees’ stretching all the way back to Mercedes Gleitze and her English Channel swims in the 1930s.

Since then, the great and the good have been paid sums of money ranging from the handsome to the extortionate to extol the virtues of products from manufactures onevery rung of the horological ladder.

Very occasionally, however, a luminary will do the advertisers’ job for them and lend their star power to a brand off their own bat, simply because they become enamoured with what that company is offering. So it was with Sylvester Stallone and Panerai.

The Italian marque was established in Florence in 1860, eventually becoming a key supplier to many of the world’s navies for most of the 20th century. In the early 1990s though, an upsurge in interest amongst the general public for military-style watches led Panerai to commercially release a small number of pieces based on models from their back catalogue. Initial reaction was tepid until a chance encounter changed the brand’s fortunes in a major way. But the true story may be a little at odds to the one you have previously heard.

The off-touted tale is that Stallone was browsing the boutiques of Rome while filming his 1996 action movie, Daylight, when he happened across a Luminor Marina. A huge (for the time) 44mm watch, with a highly distinctive shape, the actor was allegedly smitten immediately and bought one not just for himself but also commissioned a consignment with his signature etched into the back and ‘Slytech’ emblazoned on the dial to give away as gifts.

His own Luminor, a PAM5128-201/A, the name taken from a luminous paint Panerai invented in the 1940s, took centre stage all throughout the Daylight movie and shot the manufacture into the stratosphere practically overnight. Along the way, it gaverise to the much-vaunted Paneristi, the nickname for the company’s legion of fanatical admirers.

That’s the accepted narrative anyway, but the recently unearthed reality is slightly different. It was not, in fact, Stallone who discovered the Luminor but a friend of his, famous photographer Monty Shadow. Mr. Shadow had read about the watch as early as 1992 and secured one for himself in Milan the following year, wearing it on his forays around Hollywood where it caught the eye of not only Stallone but also his action star contemporaries, Arnie Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. It was Shadow who returned to Panerai and obtained the batch of watches to gift to Stallone’s celebrity pals and it was he who negotiated the Slytech collaboration deal.

Regardless of the politics and background, the upshot was that Panerai had arrived, with no other than premium auction house Phillips citing the Luminor as the ‘genesis of the oversized watch trend’ which gripped the industry for the first two decades of the new millennium and changed the direction of watch design.

Following their acquisition in 1997 by the Richemont group, Panerai cashed in on their association with Stallone by releasing the Luminor Daylight collection, a series of bombproof chronographs all looking like the last things found intact following a nuclear blast, and featuring the movie name front and back.

In fact, the names Stallone and Panerai are practically synonymous almost to this day. The star wore a Luminor Submersible 1950 Amagnetic Titanium PAM01389 during the latest Expendables movie, 2023’s Expend4bles.

Most recently, however, there seems to have been a considerable thawing between the two. Richemont, in their wisdom, never made Stallone an official ambassador for the brand and did not really reward him in any meaningful way at all for the incalculable levels of popularity he bestowed on the marque. Sly even kept up the false premise that it was he who discovered the watch in the first place, adding to its mystique.

As of now, it seems the relationship is over but the buzz around the watches remains. In 2020, the model Stallone wore throughout filming in Daylight sold at auction for $214,200.

The Mafia President From The Sopranos


While Rolex may draw the line at homicidal Wall Street psychopaths, they are apparently ok for their watches to be associated with clinically-depressed mob bosses.

Hailed as one of the greatest TV shows of all time, The Sopranos follows the exploits of the DiMeo mafia crime family, centring on its anxiety-ridden capo Tony Soprano, portrayed by the late, great James Gandolfini.

As the head of the New Jersey outfit, there was only one watch with enough cachetfor the Big Guy; a Rolex Day-Date, in solid yellow gold and with a champagne dial.

Pretty much since its inception, the Day-Date has been the symbol of success and achievement, the watch anyone who is anyone is first drawn to once they have made it. Not for nothing is it almost better known by its unofficial moniker, the President.

But, in the case of Tony Soprano’s model, there is a richer complexity to it than simply being a status symbol, as you would expect from a TV series of such depth and gravity.

The watch, a fifth generation ref. 18238, is a considered choice for the character. On the surface, it exudes luxuriousness and importance, as befits a man of Tony’s stature. Beneath all that pomp though, there is genuine legacy, a design of immutable permanence, safe from the whims of fashion and trends.

It all hints at the wearer’s own nature which is itself multifaceted and contradictory;the loving father and husband who can be funny and charismatic, and the vicious career criminal, prone to cruelty, intimidation and outbursts of violence. There is more to both watch and owner than meets the eye.

The ref. 182XX series of the Day-Date was unveiled in 1988, taking over from the relatively short-lived ref. 180XX range. It was the iteration which introduced the Cal. 3155, bringing with it the convenience of a double Quickset function for the first time.

In its most classic guise, with fluted bezel and President bracelet all in yellow gold, it looks like an exquisite piece of jewellery which just happens to tell the time and is apparently a favourite of a number of movie n’er do wells; Ray Liotta’s mafia foot soldier Henry Hill wore one in Goodfellas and Sean Penn’s sleazy mob lawyer had his in Carlito’s Way.

But it will be forever most closely associated with Gandolfini in The Sopranos and the actor was a massive watch collector in real life. He had a special place in his heart for Kobold, once buying, at a personal cost of roughly $2m, around 450 of their models as wrap gifts for the show’s cast and crew after the final series. And, in one of the more distressing parts about the actor’s untimely death in 2013, the Rolex Submariner he was pictured with most often was stolen by the paramedic who responded to the emergency call following his heart attack.

We can only imagine what would’ve happened to that guy if Tony had gotten hold of him.

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