Watches on film: the starring roles played by timepieces on screen

Some watch cameos are straight-up, paid-for product placements; other wrist-based bit-parts are a little more authentic in nature – but can you spot the difference? And which prop departments had their horologic typecasting nailed, and which fluffed their lines? 

While some brand-ambassador relationships are paid-for, platonic arrangements, other Hollywood-horology love-ins are a little more organic - though it's not always easy to tell which is which 

7 May 2020

Watch industry trade show Watches & Wonders, which would have taken place last week, is typically awash with Hollywood talent. Recent years have seen Ryan Reynolds and Michael B Jordan hold poolside press conferences with Piaget; Montblanc has put on black tie soirées with Hugh Jackman and Pierre Niney; while IWC regularly hosts gala dinners attended by the likes of Cate Blanchett, Bradley Cooper, James Marsden and Dev Patel.

Elsewhere, Breitling’s ‘Cinema Squad’ is made up of members Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron and Adam Driver; while George Clooney, Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig continue to front campaigns for Omega.

The rise of on-demand streaming services means that watch cameos have moved from the big screen to the small. Some are straight-up, paid-for product placements, other wrist-based bit-parts are a little more authentic in nature – but can you spot the difference? And which prop departments had their horologic typecasting nailed, and which fluffed their lines? 

The Omega Seamaster – James Bond’s timepiece of choice (in the films at least)  

Casino Royale (2006) and The World Is Not Enough (1999) 

The savviest watch-movie marketing coup, commercially speaking at least, belongs to Omega. Since 1995, the company has supplied wristwatches to James Bond – despite the secret agent being a Rolex man in the original novels. For the first few decades following the books’ leap to the silver screen, film producers toed the line and fitted Bond with a Rolex according to Fleming’s prose (in 1963's On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Fleming expressively writes about a Rolex ‘Oyster Perpetual Chronometer’ with an expanding metal bracelet). Since GoldenEye (1995), however, the superspy has been saving the world with the help of an Omega Seamaster thanks to Oscar-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming, who matched Pierce Brosnan’s blue suit with a blue-dial Omega. When No Time To Die is (finally) released in November (hopefully) Daniel Craig will be bidding the franchise farewell in a titanium Seamaster Diver 300m with a ‘tropical’ brown dial and distinctive mesh bracelet.  

Panerai – in every action film ever, and, er, Bridget Jones's Diary

Rambo (2008), Transporter (2003), Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)

Perhaps the one brand that has benefitted most from a legitimate A-list admirer is Panerai. Having only made wrist-worn diving pieces for the Italian Navy previously, in 1993 the Florentine watchmaker launched its first products for civilians. Not long after, while considering watches for his character in Daylight (1996), Sylvester Stallone stumbled across the brand in a jeweller’s window in Italy. Not only did the Rocky actor purchase a watch for himself, but several to gift to friends – including body-building-buddy Arnold Schwarzenegger, who wore his in Eraser (1996). Courtesy of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, Panerai has since enjoyed screen time in all three The Expendables movies (2010-2014), as well as in Jason Statham’s The Transporter (2003) and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s The Rundown (2003). While less strapping leading men have also demonstrated a penchant for the brand’s brawny dive watches – see Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), weird – a cameo in 2018’s trigger-happy Death Wish, in which bad-ass vigilante Bruce Willis is gifted a Panerai Radiomir for his birthday, confirms Panerai as the brand of the Hollywood hard man.

Bremont’s U-2 51 JET in Venom (2018)

While some brand-ambassador relationships are paid-for, platonic arrangements, the love affair that exists between Bremont and Tom Hardy is completely organic. “Tom has been a Bremont fan for some time,” co-founder Nick English told Luxury London on the launch of superhero flick Venom in 2018. “For fun, we made Tom an all-black one-off watch. He happened to be wearing it when he turned up to film Venom and the costume department just loved it.” Tom’s unique timepiece spawned the stealthy U-2 51 JET, a DLC-cased chronometer that introduced ‘Jet’ black to Bremont’s line-up. “The Venom partnership was great because it was genuine,” says English.

Omega's Speedmaster in First Man (2018)

 

In July 1969, Omega’s Speedmaster earned its place in the horologic hall of fame by becoming the first watch on the moon. Five years earlier, in search of a timepiece robust enough to survive the rigours of space, NASA had requested chronographs from four watchmaking heavyweights – Breitling, Rolex, Longines-Wittnauer and Omega. After testing the watches to destruction, Omega’s entrant was the only timepiece declared ‘flight-qualified for all manned space missions.’ To this day, the Speedmaster is still the only watch certified by NASA for use on an EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity). Last year, Omega released a limited edition Speedmaster to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. The chronographs it supplied to First Man are period-correct Speedies from the 1960s.

TAG Heuer’s Connected in Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

 

Three years before Bremont equipped Tom Hardy with an all-black watch for Venom, the Henley-on-Thames-based watchmaker’s first foray into film saw it equip super-spy Colin Firth with an elegant dress watch in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015). The tie-in came about after the film’s director, Matthew Vaughn, spotted a Bremont on a colleague’s wrist. In the subsequent Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017), Bremont’s ALT1 was replaced with TAG Heuer’s Connected smartwatch, a clunky bit of paid-for product placement – used to unlock safes and detonate bombs – that jarred completely with the film’s otherwise all-British, Savile Row-infused sensibilities.

Hamilton's futuristic concept watch in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1966)

Appreciating the potential of on-screen appearances among watch-loving movie-buffs, Hamilton has, quite astonishingly, managed to place its timepieces in more than 500 movies – stretching all the way back to 1932. Its cinematic credits include: Men in Black (1997), Pearl Harbour (2001), Interstellar (2014) and Independence Day: Resurgence (2016). In 1966, director Stanley Kubrick asked Hamilton to create a set of futuristic watches for cult classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. It took the company 40 years to find a way of making working models of the highly complex designs. Fittingly, once Hamilton had done so, only 2001 pieces were produced.

Ryan Gosling's moody Patek Philippe in Drive (2011)

Drive (2011)

We’ve had the good, the bad and now for the ugly – because sometimes prop departments get things wrong. In Drive (2011), getaway driver Ryan Gosling wears a Patek Philippe that audibly ticks with every passing second as if driven by battery-powered quartz technology. As watch nerds know, the second hand on a mechanical watch sweeps around the dial rather than jumps - giving the game away. Not as bad as Minority Report (2002) though, in which Tom Cruise’s character races to clear his name with the use of an Omega Speedmaster X-33, which, for reasons only the film’s special effects teams will know, has been re-branded by CGI as a Bulgari.

Watches on the small screen

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) wearing a TAG Heuer Monaco in Breaking Bad (2012); Robert Shaprio (John Travolta) wearing a Rolex Daytona in The People vs OJ Simpson (2016) 

From the cinema to the small screen, watches are also making appearances in some of our most binge-watched boxsets. A gold Rolex Daytona got plenty of airtime in 2016’s American Crime Story: The People v OJ Simpson, protruding from underneath the boxy suits of lawyer Robert Shapiro (played by John Travolta). While the costume department got the ’90s power suits spot on, the starring Daytona (reference 116515LN) was only launched in 2011 – 17 years after the OJ case.

Such is the extent of the screen time dedicated to TAG Heuer’s Monaco in Series 5 of Breaking Bad (2012) that it seems implausible that the Swiss watchmaker didn’t pay for the starring role its famous chronograph ends up playing. Instead, says TAG Heuer, it provided the square-sided stopwatch to the show’s prop department upon request. Why, exactly, meth-making Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) would present the heretofore Casio-wearing, ex-chemistry-teacher Walter White with such a nuanced choice of watch is never properly explained – nor are the lingering close-ups that litter the series.

Taylor Mason buys a Patek Philippe in Billions (2018)

More authentic was Patek Philippe’s role in hedge-fund saga Billions (2018). CIO of fictional asset-management firm Axe Capital, Taylor Mason, walks into a jeweller on 5th Avenue to show a sales assistant a picture of a watch. “Do you have this model?” she asks. “The ‘5270 R’ in rose gold?” replies the assistant. “We do… a perpetual calendar chronograph, silver opaline dial, day, month, and leap year in apertures, moonphase. Sapphire crystal case back with inch dust cover, fold-over clasp in 18kt rose gold – $164,400.” “I’ll take it,” says Taylor. “Nice piece!” says boss Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) in the following scene.

In 2018, Netflix sci-fi flick ANON offered a glimpse of how we might buy watches in the future. In one of the opening scenes, augmented reality-equipped Clive Owen looks into the window of a Jaeger-LeCoultre store, prompting product information to pop into his vision. The Swiss watchmaker uses the not-so-subtle product placement to educate viewers on the correct pronunciation of its brand name. ‘Jay-jay la cool-treh’ the AR voice enunciates.