How to buy 'the' James Bond watch
Which watch is the James Bond watch? It’s a fraught question. Over the years the spy has strapped on Seikos, Omegas, even Gruens. But this much is certain: the brand seen in the original run of Bond films – from Dr No (1962) to The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) – and the only one ever named in the books by Ian Fleming, is Rolex.
We learn from the 1963 novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that 007 likes Rolex for its robustness as much as its accuracy. “Bond surveyed his weapons,” writes Fleming. “They were only his hands and feet, his Gillette razor and his wrist-watch, a heavy Rolex Oyster Perpetual on an expanding metal bracelet. Used properly, these could be turned into most effective knuckledusters.” Having smashed up his Rolex doing just that, he decides to buy another watch. “He would get another one as soon as the shops opened after Boxing Day. Another Rolex? Probably. They were on the heavy side, but they worked. And at least you could see the time in the dark with those big phosphorus numerals.”
Those numerals will set the cat among the pigeons for Rolex aficionados. While Bond wears a Rolex Submariner in the films, that model does not feature numerals – a Submariner has hour markers rather than digits. Hence why anyone who wants to wear “the James Bond Rolex” has to decide whether they want to emulate the films or the books.
So, which is it to be?
The Rolex from the books
Fleming mentions an unspecified Rolex divers’ watch in Live And Let Die (1954), but he seems to have been equipped with this by the government specifically for the mission. The question is: what is Bond’s own, personal watch? Fleming identifies it as a “Rolex Oyster Perpetual” (a term applicable to all Rolex ‘tool’ watches) but doesn’t narrow it down any further. A thorough article by Dell Deaton from the February 2009 issue of WatchTime, however, makes a compelling argument that Fleming is imagining a Rolex Explorer 1016 – the same watch he wore on his own wrist. “Fleming’s stepdaughter, Fionn Morgan,” writes Deaton, “believes it is the first and only Rolex he ever owned.” Today, you can find one for around $12,900 - $19,400.
The Rolex from the films
As can be clearly seen on screen, this is a Rolex Submariner with a black dial. It makes its debut in Dr No (1962), the first Bond film. Legend has it that producer Cubby Broccoli was unable to borrow a Rolex for the shoot, so took off his own and gave it to Sean Connery. As the character was a Royal Naval Reserve Commander, it makes sense that Bond might have chosen this model, which was designed specifically for water resistance. The original version did not have a date complication (well, when you’re diving do you really need to know the date?) and even after Rolex introduced this feature in 1966, 007 remained loyal to the ‘no-date’ in all but Rolex’s last Bond outing, Licence To Kill (1989).
To complicate things further, however, the no-date Rolex Submariner has gone through a number of iterations over the years. Which one you buy depends on the direction you want to go.
If you want to make like Bond and purchase the latest model – as he appears not to buy pre-owned – then you want the bang-up-to-date reference 114060 (RRP $7,400), which has a slightly chunkier case than any of the Submariners seen on screen. That said, these are in extremely short supply so you may actually find it easier to buy vintage. In that instance, you could hunt down one of the references featured in the films. If you are able to spend around $65,000 or more, that would be a 6538 (seen in Dr No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964) and Thunderball (1965)); if you want something for around £10,000 or less then go for a 5513 (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), Live And Let Die (1973), The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)) or a 16610 (Licence To Kill (1989)).
Our view? Strike out on your own and buy a 14060M, which you can pick up for around $7,700. Discontinued in 2012, this is the last no-date Submariner ever made with the same slimmer case proportions as the Submariners worn by 007. In other words, it’s the most technologically advanced Sub you can buy that will still make you look like James Bond.