The Genteel
July 23, 2014
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Illustration by Shingo Shimizu.
Sean Connery's James Bond  
wore a Rolex Submariner.
Source: JamesBondLifestyle.com.

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th year with the release of Skyfall at the end of the year. To mark the occasion, a unique exhibition is being held at London's Barbican, showcasing the design and style of the world's most famous spy.

From Ursula Andress and her iconic bikini in 1962's Dr No to Sean Connery in an Aston Martin DB5, Bond films have always held a special place in the cultural hinterlands of the Western male psyche. One of the least obvious but vitally intrinsic aspects of Bond is the wristwatch he wears and the modern gentleman that it represents.

One of the most enduring images of the Bond franchise is that of Sean Connery in black tie, lighting a cigarette while sporting a Rolex Submariner. While Omega now owns the sponsorship rights to the Bond films, Rolex remains the brand most associated with 007 primarily because it was the specified choice of Bond in the Ian Fleming books that inspired the films. From Roger Moore's futuristic Pulsar LED digital wristwatch to Timothy Dalton's ultra-manly TAG Heuer, the wristwatch has always been the understated star of Bond.

A key appeal of the Bond films has been the way everyday objects such as pens, cars and watches are modified by the mad genius of Q into a device possessed with a dual purpose. For 007, the wristwatch could double up as a bomb detonator as well as performing basic timekeeping functions. For your average guy, the wristwatch also serves a much more important role than just being able to stay in time with time. 

...the Bond films have always held a special place in the cultural hinterlands of the Western male psyche.

Generally, men's accessories - whether they be hats, belts, glasses or lighters - nearly always have a practical function. But in addition to practicality, a watch can reflect a man's status and encourage the perception that the wearer is efficient, organised, in control of the rhythm of his life and in possession of a trustworthy character. A watch can also speak to a man's individuality, taste, style, ego and personality.

In an age where the mobile phone has - for all intents and purposes - made the primary function of the gentlemen's timepiece obsolete, the mechanical wristwatch has moved beyond an object of function to become a cultural signifier. The wristwatch is now the acceptable face of men's jewellery and a medium through which men are able to judge each other - just as women do with shoes and handbags.

The wristwatch has become synonymous with the wealth and power of a patriarchal society in which cultural and social leaders, such as Barack Obama with his Jorg Gray 6500 Chronograph, David Beckham and his U-Boat watch and Kanye West with his Rolex Daytona Cosmograph fixation, parade their timepieces like trophies of masculinity. It has almost gotten to the point where if a watch does not possess NASA space-tested instrumentation, Formula 1 racing car precision engineering and deep sea diving capabilities, it just won't cut it in the world of the "tick tock" craftsmanship. 

The rise of the wristwatch is even more remarkable when you consider the origins of the now-ubiquitous timepiece. Wristlets, as they were originally known, were reserved for women, and considered little more than an accessories trend until World War I, when coordinated military operations necessitated a reliable and easily accessible timepiece. "Trench watches" thus became standard issue, acquiring masculine, heroic connotations along the way. 

The wristwatch has always been the understated
star of Bond. Source: watchesinmovies.info.

Today the world of the wristwatch has become big business and there has been a dramatic upsurge in the sector since the mid-1980s. According to a report in the Guardian, "The Swiss watch industry, for example, saw its exports grow from £2.5bn [C$3.8m] in 1986 to £10bn in 2008." All the while, industry big hitters invest large amounts of their revenue in advertising and marketing for a piece of such a lucrative market, as Omega's relationship with the Bond franchise illustrates.

The world's number one alpha male offers Omega the chance to participate in a high profile co-promotion and product placement opportunity, to further the brand's image and cultural capital. James Bond may be a timeless cultural icon, but he remains constantly on time.


Andrew Adebowale maps the craft behind the film franchise of the world's most famous spy. Read it here.

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