James Bond, in his perpetual endeavor to save the world, is always in possession of four things: a cool car, a big gun, a hot babe and a great watch. The most important and practical of these accoutrements, of course, is the watch. Bond cheats death repeatedly in the franchise, and sometimes it’s the Aston Martin that saves him, thanks to elaborate weapons and bullet shields or by transforming into a plane. Other times, his quick wit and keen eye see him through, like the time he catches the reflection of a knife-wielding bad guy in the eye of a woman he is kissing. His Walther P99 is also a handy tool, getting him out of many a jam. But let’s face it, Bond would have been toes up ages ago were it not for his watches.
Thanks to Q, the British Secret Service’s gadget mastermind, Bond’s timepieces have variously performed double duty as rocket launchers, laser beams, detonators, a Geiger counter, a buzz saw and an explosive device.
Over the years, the watches have become nearly as fetishized as the films. Officially, Bond has worn only five brands: Breitling, Rolex, Omega, Seiko and Hamilton, and for the past decade, 007’s watch of choice has been some version of the Omega Seamaster. It started with Rolex, the only brand actually named in any of Ian Fleming’s books (Casino Royale). For the first few films, 007 wore a Rolex Submariner, beginning with 1962’s Dr. No. It was not a placement; the watch (which gets several closeups in the films) is widely rumored to have been the personal watch of Ian Fleming, who created the character. The Rolex Submariner appears again in License to Kill, released in 1989. A Brietling Top Time Diver Ocean made an appearance in 1965’s Thunderball. It was equipped with a geiger counter that helps Sean Connery locate two atomic bombs in the possession of enemy organization SPECTRE. This was followed by a Hamilton Pulsar in 1973’s Live and Let Die, sharing air time with another Rolex Submariner. Seiko, the superstar inventor of quartz technology, starred in the films during the quartz era in the ’70s and ’80s, beginning with The Spy Who Loved Me. In the opening sequence of that film, we see a ticker tape spooling out of Bond’s Seiko 0674 LC with the message: “Report to headquarters immediately.” Seiko timepieces made appearances in the next four Bond films.
The Omega franchise began with GoldenEye in 1995, with a quartz Seamaster Professional specially equipped with a laser beam that allowed Pierce Brosnan to cut through a metal sidecar, freeing him from a train where he was held captive. In Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond’s Omega Seamaster Professional has an integrated detonator. In The World is Not Enough, Bond’s Seamaster Professional has a built-in wire with a grappling hook that helps him avoid being buried in an avalanche. In Die Another Day his Seamaster features a crown-activated remote detonator in place of a helium valve.
The Seamaster has by now cemented its reputation as not only the Bond watch of choice but a collectors favorite. A few years ago, Antiquorum sold two original Omegas worn by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale—a Seamaster sold for $49,500, and a Planet Ocean for $177,140. Another collector nabbed a Seamaster worn by Pierce Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies for $57,680—laser beams not included.
In Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, Bond wears more than one Omega Seamaster, but their main function in those films is to keep him looking well accessorized. But just when you thought the Bond franchise had done away with gimmicky laser beams and rocket launchers for good, they surface again in the current Bond film, SPECTRE, in which the Omega is fitted with an explosive device that gets 007 out of a life-threatening situation. The series and the characters have generally been adapted to the 21st century over the past three films. Gone is some of the sexism: the fabulous Moneypenny, played by actress Naomie Harris, is now more than just a secretary, she is also a field agent in her own right. The producers have also set out to prove Bond is more than just a lonely killing machine; he actually falls in love—with one woman—in Casino Royale (though she tragically dies), and again in SPECTRE. The essential character of Bond, however, has not strayed far from the original. He remains a symbol of masculinity, a professional spy with impeccable taste and a license to kill, and he always triumphs over the world’s most evil characters—with or without the help of a great timepiece.