Michael-Caine-Get-Carter-Rolex © 2016 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

Rolex in the Movies: The Action Timepiece

It’s the most celebrated, the most special, the most significant watch of all time; Rolex is symbolic of many things in the movies: style, wealth, attitude, and perhaps most importantly, taste. That is not to say a Rolex is elitist, but rather that the wearer on screen, anyone from James Bond to Steve McQueen, is someone possessed of the knowledge that there is no better. Rolex is the pinnacle.

The history of Rolex on film is not nearly as interesting as the scope of its wearers and how this simple act of either discreet or ostentatious display can define character. Take James Bond, a man whose breeding was forced upon him; he developed taste and nurtured it. Roger Moore’s incarnation of 007, the most overlooked style wise, is 100% a Rolex customer – even if his custom Submariner in Live and Let Die (1971) was modified somewhat by Q Branch. Sorry, but you will not find a factory fresh Sub that fires a laser beam – well not this side of Christmas anyway (although the prop version does have a spinning ‘buzz saw’ bezel, should you find yourself dangling above a shark tank). It’s not all about exclusivity and cost though. Rolexes are more affordable now than they’ve ever been. Despite sponsoring the likes of the Wimbledon tennis tournament, which is, let’s face it, the posher end of the sporting scale, Rolex has always enjoyed blue collar ‘made it’ connotations. Steve McQueen was a customer off screen and on and is unquestionably cinema’s lifetime poster boy for earthy masculinity. McQueen’s, for want of a better term, rival, Paul Newman apparently first chose a Rolex (a Daytona) for his indy race movie Winning (1969). Both of these guys are what we want Rolex to make us: legitimate men.

Steve McQueen wearing a Rolex Submariner 5512 on the set of The Hunter (1980), his final acting role.
Steve McQueen wearing a Rolex Submariner 5512 on the set of The Hunter (1980), his final acting role.

Yet before I move off James Bond entirely, because his Rolex associations could take up an entire post and then some, it’s worth mentioning Sean Connery’s initial Submariner kicking off the whole affiliation in Dr. No (1962). Plus the same, albeit updated, model for most of his tenure. Also Moore’s stunning (and judiciously ogled) Sub for The Man with the Golden Gun (1975). Once again, the symbolism is clear; Bond wears a Rolex because his entire life is spent in pursuit of the best – of winning. The best car, the best girls, the best food, wine, and of course, wristwatch. Recently, Omega has been 007’s timepiece of choice. Although being as he also drinks Heineken now, maybe the character’s zenith was achieved long before Daniel Craig was out of short trousers (and into short shorts).

A lesser known appearance of Rolex on film occurs in Get Carter (1971), with Michael Caine wearing an Oyster Datejust. Caine’s seminal bastard gangster Jack Carter has left his hometown in Newcastle to play with the big boys in London. He has money, does Jack, but is not flash. His quietly seventies suits are by Doug Hayward, his black leather loafers just sporting the merest hint of lairy snaffle. A relatively discreet Datejust in yellow gold is just a thin layer of icing on top of an already elegantly unsugared cake. Caine’s Carter is not rugged, not like McQueen and Newman, but is no less masculine. Anyone who can walk into a Northern pub in the 1970s with a southern accent and loudly proclaim by clicking his fingers, that he wants a pint of bitter “in a thin glass” is tough enough to be watch buddies with cinema’s greatest speed demons and hell raisers, make no mistake.

Roger Moore wearing a 5513 Submariner in Live and Let Die (1973), proving that even a Rolex needs some downtime.
Roger Moore wearing a 5513 Submariner in Live and Let Die (1973), demonstrating that even an all action Rolex needs some downtime.

The Oyster Perpetual Submariner is likely the Rolex that most people who do not own a Rolex have actually heard of, which is mainly due to James Bond. Yet cinema in general embraced the Submariner as the ‘go to’ Rolex of choice throughout the sixties and seventies. And, really, anything that came from these eras is now cool simply after the fact. Consider these names and these movies, and tell me you’ve not wanted to be at least one guy on this list – and yes, all are Submariner wearers: Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965), Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws (1975), Robert Redford in All the President’s Men (1976), Nick Nolte in The Deep (1977) and Robert De Niro in The Deer Hunter (1978). Most of these guys wore a Sub for function as well as aesthetic. Don’t buy a Rolex to sit at home admiring it in a glass case; get out there and sweat in the thing. After all, this is a watch built to be far stronger than you are.

Similarly the Rolex Daytona, basically from the mid-sixties referred to the ‘Paul Newman Daytona’ was worn as a racing timepiece. Nowadays we covet such watches and cherish them, and for an original example the price alone makes this coddling understandable. But Newman was a racer – he pursued action, which is ultimately the Rolex M.O. Buy one but don’t just pretend to be a badass, do what your cinematic heroes before you did and become one. When you finally hand that gloriously expensive and exclusive Rolex down to your grabby-handed son, make sure you can tell him where each and every scratch came from. You want a Rolex from the movies? Wear it like the movies. Live it.

In association with the Watch Gallery.

© 2016, Lord Christopher Laverty.