James Bond Should Wear a Rolex

James Bond Should Wear a Rolex

Today, we wade into the James Bond Rolex/Omega debate in a big way.  While W.O.E. generally plays things middle of the road.  This allows us to discuss sensitive topics in an objective manner, we are now taking our first editorial stance on a controversial topic.  Enjoy.

Part II: Bond: A Case for Omega

James Bond Rolex Omega

James Bond Should Wear A Rolex

You don’t mess with tradition. It’s a critical piece of culture, particularly in the Intelligence and Special Operations communities, and serves as a reminder of those who have come before us, and those who will come after us—that we’re all tied together. We’re all part of the same mission. 

Ian Fleming created the character James Bond, known as 007 — “00” because he has a license to kill, and “7” because he’s the seventh recruit to the program, as wearing a Rolex. In literary canon, Bond worked for the Secret Intelligence Service and uses a .25 caliber Beretta for the necessary wet work. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond is detailed wearing  “a heavy Rolex Oyster Perpetual on an expanding metal bracelet” with “big luminous numerals.”

Ian Fleming Rolex Explorer Ref. 1016Ian Fleming pictured with his Rolex Explorer Ref. 1016

Rolex is the only watch brand to ever have been mentioned on the wrist of Bond in any of Fleming’s 14 James Bond novels. It makes complete sense. Fleming himself wore an Explorer 1016.

Hollywood honored Fleming's Bond wearing a Rolex in Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger, particularly a Rolex Submariner 6538. Rumor has it that it was the personal watch of Sean Connery, who played James Bond in the early ‘60s. Either way, it matched the vision of Bond that Fleming had inked a decade before. Of course Bond rotated in a Breitling, Seiko, Gruen, and Pulsar, but the tradition of his go-to watch being a Rolex lasted for a number of movies, but then something unfortunate happened in 1995 with Goldeneye.

Uzi Omega Die Another Day James Bond
Uzi in one hand, Omega on the other, Die Another Day (2002)

The Bond franchise introduced an “official watch partner” and this meant product placement. And it wasn’t the Rolex that Fleming intended. Instead it was the quartz Omega Seamaster Professional 300M Ref. 2541.80. The Broccoli family controls the James Bond franchise and Barbara Broccoli, who has worked on the Bond films starting in the ‘90s, inked a deal that put an Omega on Bond’s wrist. According to later statements by Jean-Claude Biver to Andrew McUtchen, he reportedly paid $2 million to the Bond franchise, a move that many would credit with ultimately reviving the Omega brand. 

Product placement on the silver screen is about as old as the industry itself; the 1927 silent movie Wings featured shots of Hershey’s chocolate bars, and a number of scenes with characters eating the popular candy. There’s nothing wrong with product placement, it just should have been Rolex doing the product placement instead of Omega.

James Bond Omega Vintage
James Bond Omega Seamaster, Vintage Advertisement

So why didn’t Rolex do it instead of Omega? It’s a near perfect marketing opportunity. It was Fleming’s vision and there isn’t a character out there better suited to wear a watch from the Crown. The answer is that it simply isn’t the Rolex way to play by Hollywood’s rules.

Rolex James Bond Nato 6538Bond Rolex Submariner 6538 in Goldfinger, 1964.  Now famous a narrow RAF strap.

Rolex is known to operate much like an intelligence agency. Being a quiet professional means putting the objectives and the mission of the organization before an individual. It means putting in the work and not talking about it. Little is known about Rolex for a reason, and while they certainly do sponsor many well-known events, it’s not part of the company’s strategy to pay a producer to place a wristwatch on a character in a movie. It doesn’t necessarily contribute to the company’s core mission. Rolex even has a web page dedicated to outlining its partnerships, “Today, Rolex is present at the most prestigious events in golf, sailing, tennis, motor sport, and at equestrian tournaments. Rolex makes a unique and lasting contribution to global culture, science and exploration.”

Rolex Headquarters Geneva
Rolex Headquarters in Geneva (Photo Credit: Unknown)

It all has to do with the way the company is structured. Rolex is owned by a foundation, and the foundation’s goal is to redistribute profits first to the betterment of the canton of Geneva, and secondly to the causes mentioned in the second sentence of the above statement found on the Rolex website. Unlike traditional publicly-traded companies like Omega’s parent company The Swatch Group, traded as UHR on the Swiss Exchange, Rolex doesn’t answer to a publicly known board with a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders and instead appears to carefully choose marketing opportunities that may only pay off in the long run. 

Unfortunately paying to place a watch on the wrist of Bond wasn’t one of them. 

SBS Omega Seamaster Special Boat Service
A real SBS Omega Seamaster (Photo Credit Dean Stott)

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with Omega.  It is a great brand and we have detailed the real long standing relationship with the British Ministry of Defence and particularly the Special Boat Service (SBS), that said it just isn’t the right fit for this fictitious character and without the millions of dollars paid to the franchise, would not have been written into the script.

In this case, tradition didn’t prevail. But if it did, Bond would be wearing a Rolex. Yes, it’s the pinnacle of modern luxury, but Bond has always been known to be discerning with his taste. After all, he prefers Taittinger and Krug champagne and drives a Blower Bentley in the novels. While Bond typically chooses tools that have an air of luxury, they’re backed up by exceptional quality. Something like a Moonswatch just wouldn’t cut it for the amount of punishment Bond would give it, but a Submariner or a GMT-Master? That seems like the ticket. 

James Bond Big Crown Submariner reference 6538
Rolex “James Bond” / “Big Crown” Submariner reference 6538 with "Four-Line Dial.” (Photo Credit: Eric Wind - Wind Vintage)

We’ve often said that a GMT-Master is the perfect watch for a CIA Case Officer, and the perfect Case Officer is a PhD that can win in a bar fight. Bond is certainly swankier than a typical CIA Case Officer. The truth is Case Officers need to be able to blend in wherever they go. They purposely dress in clothing that helps them avoid standing out. But Bond isn’t a Case Officer. He’s a character created by Fleming that breaks the rules. Intelligence professionals would be doing a very poor job if they took after Bond’s shoot-first-ask-questions-later habits—but not when it comes to what watch to wear. 

A Rolex is the perfect watch for Bond. Marketing deals be damned.

Read Next: Forget Bond, A Real CIA Spy Watch

14 comments

Omega makes better watches. Omega also has had a lot more official involvement with British government than Rolex. Modern Rolex has nothing left other than a name.

Andrés

Omega makes better watches, more accurate, more antimagnetic, more shock resistant and with a near exotic escapement (you need to spend more than 50K to get a better escapement). The Rolex that the first Bond wore belonged to the camera man.

Kopo

Rolex for show….Omega for those in the know…

Sam

The insane amount of hyperbole used to discredit Omega as a brand (including a Moonswatch comparison—an watch Omega doesn’t even produce) is laughable. The writing in this article feels amateur at best; poorly-researched and with clunky comparisons to fit the bias of the writer.

Will

My father was in the USAF in the late 50s and worked for the CIA and traveled internationally with them in the early sixties. He loved Bond and spy stuff like Mission Impossible (the old TV series) and in the late seventies he got a Rolex Seadweller great white which he wore for the next 44 years until his death in 2023. Dad was a former CIA man and he chose Rolex.

Tom

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