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In Depth

Watches in the movies

By Sarah Jayne Potter | 7 minute read

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Product placement is arguably one of the cleverest instances of marketing, particularly when the placement is within a cult film or box office hero. From drinks to clothing to cars, there are so many different ways a brand can become involved in a film, whether it be in the background or close up. Timepieces are one such item that becomes an extension of the characters in the film, but what makes a perfect fit? We explore some of the most iconic timepieces in the movies and discuss whether watches in movies are always a good fit.

Matching the watch to the character

Does the watch define the character or does the character define the watch? This is one such question we ask when discussing using timepieces in films or TV shows. Often we see watch brands partnering up with celebrities, influencers or people of importance outside the silver screen, appointing them their ambassadors and such.

Outside of the promotional photography however, this is the extent of control a brand can have in how that spokesperson uses or presents its products. By being included in a film, and thus associating themselves with a screen character allows brands a certain amount of control in how the audiences view and perceive the brand. For example, it was said that Rolex was happy to have their timepieces included in such films like American Psycho, but preferred the character not to be wearing a watch when they were committing an actual murder in the scenes.

Products can enhance realism in a film. It would be no surprise that millionaire and billionaire characters would have some of the most sought after timepieces on their wrist, but what happens when the film, or indeed the stylist, gets it so wrong? For example, in our latest podcast all about watches in the movies, it is mentioned that there was a market stall holder in a well-known British TV soap wearing a watch that was in excess of £20K. Whether this was done on purpose, and the watch is supposed to be a replica isn’t clear, but it makes for a confusing juxtaposition for the watch connoisseurs out there!

Errors in the movies

Choosing the incorrect watch for the character isn’t the only error that films and TV shows make. Sometimes, it’s the timeframe that hasn’t been taken into account. Showcasing timepieces, and indeed other products, particularly cars, that weren’t even created in that era is a different recurrent slip up. Not clocking that an actor is actually wearing his own watch in a scene also seems to be a common continuity error.

One of the most famous films for this is Ben Hur. During the final race when Ben Hur’s enemy, played by actor Charlton Heston, falls from his chariot you see the opponent is wearing a watch. There are several different opinions on the watch; one that it is a Rolex, another is that it is just a digital watch. Whatever the watch may be, or the brand, however, it doesn’t really matter, as they didn’t have either in Ancient Rome!

What does a watch represent

There are several theories on what watches mean as part of the plotline and how they are used. One theory is quite literal in terms of timekeeping. Watches add a sense of urgency and a countdown and are used often in thriller or action films when we as the audience know there is a time limit, deadline, or impending sense of doom that happens at a specific time.

Another is as we have touched on, to bring realism to the character, and to represent an extension of the character. As timepieces are so personal in terms of taste, you can get a feel of a character just by looking at the type of watch they wear. Oversized and flashy or understated and chic, for example.

There is another theorised reason, and this one is of course more specific to one type of genre of film; spy movies. Watches tend to become part of a spy’s kit, and often are not just for show. From lasers to time travel and more, a spy’s watch is never just a watch. It is a deadly weapon, a way to get in touch with base, and so much more.

Reflection of sales

So, how effective is product placement? Particularly when it comes to timepieces? There are several different instances in which watches worn by celebrities in films have become ‘iconic’ but arguably none so than the OMEGA watches in James Bond. They have had a long history being the go-to watch of 007, and have been more long standing than the actors that played Bond, being featured in the franchise since 1995. We always see a huge increase in searches for the latest Bond watch, and an increase in interest around OMEGA as a whole. This is a great example of the perfect pairing in watches and films.

You see this watch? You see this watch? … That watch cost more than your car. I made $970,000 last year. How much you make? You see, pal, that’s who I am. And you’re nothing ALEC BALDWIN IN GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS

Some more great pairings would be;

Glengarry Glen Ross and Rolex

Alec Baldwin’s character Blake spoke the iconic lines “You see this watch? You see this watch? … That watch cost more than your car. I made $970,000 last year. How much you make? You see, pal, that’s who I am. And you’re nothing”. The watch that he was talking about was an 18ct Gold Rolex DayDate, a watch that has become known as the ‘ultimate prestige watch’. It is bold, ostentatious and perfect for larger than life characters.

Apocalypse Now and Rolex

Another Rolex addition was worn by Marlon Brando. It was said he acquired a Rolex GMT-Master Ref. 1675 watch in the 1970’s and the Academy Award winner wore it throughout Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now movie. In his role in that iconic movie, Brando played Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, a former Green Beret who went rogue during the Vietnam War and operated his own military unit in Cambodia. Filmmakers wanted him to remove the watch during filming, but he refused, removing just the bezel and creating a truly unique look for the watch.

Apocalypse Now and Grand Seiko

A second notable watch in Apocalypse Now was a Grand Seiko. The 6105 is also known as the “Willard,” as that was the model worn by Martin Sheen in his portrayal of Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now. Due to the popularity of this watch, Grand Seiko actually re-released modern versions that look just like the one worn in the film.

Predator and Grand Seiko

Grand Seiko has a real cult classic in the H558. It was the world’s first hybrid diver – an analog and digital watch with an alarm and chronograph. Not only are these notable feats, but it is also recognisable as the watch Arnold Schwarzenegger wore in many of his movies throughout the 80’s. One such iconic movie was that of the first Predator where he played ‘Dutch’. When Grand Seiko re-released this watch, they renamed it the Arnie in honour of the actor.

Terminator and Audemars Piguet

Another Arnie favourite is said to be Audemars Piguet. He wore one in The Terminator, which lead to the watch being named after the infamous time travelling robot. He also wore a Royal Oak in the film, End of Days which was renamed to Royal Offshore End Of Days. The renaming of the watches certainly solidifies the tangible link between character and consumer and has worked well for the brand.

Batman Begins and Jaeger-LeCoultre

There was a lot of thought to choosing the watch that Bruce Wayne would wear in Batman Begins. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso was the timepiece of choice, and not just for it’s understated and handsome aesthetic. There are two faces to this watch – you can literally flip the watch over to reveal the other side which is also a working watch. It represents duality and light and dark. Something that Bruce Wayne is always battling with between his alter ego Batman. Very clever!

Dr Strange and Jaeger-LeCoultre

Another smart pairing is that of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr Strange and the Jaeger-LeCoultre Perpetual Calendar Watch. A perpetual calendar is one whereby it automatically adjusts itself to the days of the month, including leap years. A very genius mechanism, and a nod to the fact that the ever-changing nature of time is a theme throughout the Marvel film.

Le Mans and TAG Heuer

In the 1971 film Le Mans, Steve McQueen wears a TAG Heuer Monaco, a watch that is still in the collection today. Last year was the watch’s 50th anniversary and TAG developed five new timepieces to honour this and they still use Steve McQueen as an ambassador as he is said to embody TAG Heuer’s values. He’s now as much a part of their DNA as their watches!

Daylight and Panerai

Legend has it that when Sylvester Stallone was working on the set for Daylight, went into a jewellers and saw a Panerai Luminor and wore it in the film. It was also said he commissioned Panerai Luminor Submersible timepieces that had “Slytech” on the dial and his signature engraved on the back. He gave them to cast members and friends and really helped to push the brand in terms of widening their audience. Following that, Stallone collaborated again with Panerai, this time including “Daylight” on the top portion of the Luminor dial along with “Slytech” on the bottom. This was the first time the Daylight name appeared on a Panerai watch.

You can listen to our podcast in which Faye Soteri and Mark Toulson discuss more around watches featured in the movies above and subscribe through Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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