James Bond’s Watches – A History of Fleming & EON, Rolex & Omega

James Bonds Watches Rolex Omega

This article originally appeared as a counter argument to a Dispatch written by Watches of Espionage on their site – my response was written to shed more light on the relationship between Omega & Bond, and Fleming’s history with Bond’s watches as well. Read the Rolex argument “James Bond Should Wear a Rolex.”

To those familiar with modern fiction, the inclusion of extreme detail for items such as the tools of the hero’s trade are incredibly common, but rarely to the extent found in Ian Fleming’s text written 70 years ago. Authors today rarely go the distance to ground their characters in the real world as much as Fleming, with the exception of a few, notably Jack Carr in his James Reece saga. Such level of detail has created passionate responses in readers to the choices made since Fleming’s first novel in 1953, and even today, we continue to discuss these issues at length.

Omega Bond Galco Holster
Bond’s Galco Executive Shoulder Holster, Walther P99 Gen 1, and Omega Seamaster Professional 2531.80.00, which first appeared with an automatic movement in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies. (Photo Credit: James Rupley/ @omegabondwatches)

Today, I am thrilled to be writing in the Dispatch. My name is Caleb Daniels (@commandobond), and I am a lifelong fan of all things Bond, with a particular passion for his style and selection of daily carry items. While this certainly lends a focus to sartorial items, holsters, and handguns, it also includes one of the most important pieces of any discerning gentleman’s wardrobe – his timepiece. I’m grateful for the chance to share my viewpoint today in a playful response to the “Why Rolex” piece previously published. Here, we will first share the full story of Omega’s origins with James Bond, followed by a detailed analysis of the history of product placement in Bond, and the critical role it plays in keeping the franchise alive. While this piece does not serve as a direct response to the first Dispatch, it aims to present a more thorough history of Bond, offer a better understanding of why adjustments have been made, and propose a case for why we can celebrate Omega’s inclusion in 007’s history.

The Omega Story

I’d like to begin by first clearing the air and telling the true story of how Omega found its way into the Bond films. While today it is clearly one of the most powerful and important marketing relationships in cinema, it did not start that way.

Pierce Brosnan Bond Omega
Pierce Brosnan and Omega (Photo Credit: Unknown)

Rather, it is due to the actions of costume designer Lindy Hemming. Hemming’s journey with Bond began in GoldenEye (1995), and she was faced with a challenge that few had been faced with before. There was to be a new Bond actor (Pierce Brosnan), one that was coming on the heels of a commercial disaster (Dalton’s second and final outing Licence to Kill, which released inopportunely against Batman ’89 and suffered the consequences). This was also to be the first Bond film to be made post the fall of the Soviet Union.

The relevance of Bond was in question, as was the prospect of GoldenEye. The space between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye was the longest gap between films to date, six years, and with the poor reception of the previous one, it seemed as if Bond’s journey on the silver screen may be at an end. This was certainly at the forefront of everyone’s mind during the production of GoldenEye, and yet it was in the face of these challenges that arguably one of the finest Bond films was created. Now, what exactly does this have to do with Omega?

James Bonds Watches Rolex Omega

Like every other Bond actor’s first outing, the goal of the film was to reintroduce the character through the lens of that era. Think Live and Let Die (1973). Moore was introduced wielding a revolver (although he carries a PPK in the film, promo imagery and the finale leaned heavily on wheel guns), sipping bourbon (not vodka martinis) and smoking cigars (not cigarettes). Minor adjustments to the layperson, but significant shifts to the stalwart fan. This process, and the space between films inspired Hemming to take a step back from Rolex, as she explained in a New York Times article.

James Bonds Watches Rolex Omega

“There hadn’t been a Bond for a few years and I was given the opportunity to rethink him,” she said. “I wanted him to be more modern and European.”

With that motive in mind, she looked to those she knew for guidance, including friends of her father who were Naval men, and who preferred Omega. “They were gentlemen, good guys, ready for anything,” she said. “Omega was perfect for a Naval commander who dived and rescued people.”

In Hemming’s words, Rolex was not the brand of the time for a man like Bond in 1995. “The Rolex watch had become rather flash,” Ms. Hemming said. “Rolex was part of a city boy culture. It didn’t seem appropriate for Bond at that moment.”

What’s most important, however, is the fact that the original deal did not include product placement. Hemming herself reached out to Omega and was given a Quartz movement Seamaster 300M, reference number 2541.80.00.

James Bonds Watches Rolex Omega
Bond’s Galco Executive Shoulder Holster, Omega Seamaster Professional  2541.80.00 Quartz Movement, on a Hirsch Toronto and (non-explosive) Parker Jotter pen. (Photo Credit: Rupley/@Omegabonwatches)

“There was no product placement incentive in 1995 whatsoever. I went to them, and of course they were interested. But it was no more than helping us. They gave us the watches for nothing.”

James Bonds Watches Rolex Omega
(Photo Credit: Bond Franchise, Thunderballs)

I find this to be an important detail in this story. While this relationship quickly expanded past a costume designer’s choice and into one of the most foundational product deals in cinema, like with Fleming, it came from a natural and organic place and does not deserve to be chastised on those grounds. Rather, like many of Fleming’s own choices, this was a selection that was made by personal preference to match the moment, and then later became a marketing engine to keep the film series alive.

Fleming Lore & Product Placement

Bond Old Grand-dad bourbon Rolex
(Photo Credit: Rupley)

Fleming was a true pioneer. He sought in his writing to clearly ground Bond in the world around him, despite the incredible adventures he found himself part of.

It’s this level of detail that still allows fans today to source and locate everything from the toiletries of Bond to his preferred alcohol brands (for example, just ask my friend James Rupley about his fruitless attempts to get a bottle of Old Grand-dad bourbon featured in the novel Live and Let Die), recipes for scrambled eggs, and in the case of this article, his timepieces. In this section, we will be pulling from Fleming’s own letters surrounding his time writing Bond, as found in the book The Man with the Golden Typewriter, Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters.

Ian Fleming From Russia With Love Rolex
(Photo Credit: Rupley)

Today, this level of detail, particularly in the vein of firearms and watches, is often met with skepticism, complaints, and even accusations of pay-offs for the inclusion of such pieces. Fleming, however, wrote long before product placement was the standard fare, and he set the stage for the cinematic Bond to take part in the very same level of intense detail. His unique passion was for verisimilitude, the creation of hyper-real worlds and adventures for his fictional hero. As Fleming himself said in a letter written in response to the director of the fragrance brand Floris, which had written him thanking him for their brief inclusion in the novel Moonraker, “My books are spattered with branded products of one sort or another, as I think it is stupid to invent bogus names for products which are household words, and you may be interested to know that this is the first time a name-firm has had the kindly thought of acknowledging the published tribute.”

-Ian Fleming to Michael Bodenham, Esq., Director, Floris Ltd., 89 Jerymn Street, London, S.W.1.

James Bond Fleming Rolex

Floris is a brilliant example of a brand that found itself included due to its own use in Fleming’s personal life. His preferred fragrance, No. 89, is still available today and is a favorite of Bond fans throughout the world, again showing the staying power of even the smallest of association with 007. In fact, Floris has happily leaned into the Bond connection, even releasing a No. 007 scent for the 60th anniversary celebrations last year.

James Bond Omega
(Photo Credit: Rupley/ @Omegabonwatches)
Bond Daniel Craig Omega
(Photo Credit: Bond Franchise / Omega)

From day one of film production, it seems that Fleming was being written by brands asking for placement deals in Doctor No. Fleming wrote producer Harry Saltzman about such things and an unspecified brand in 1961, and his letter seems to set some clear parameters for how he selected products, a template that has been followed well since.

Fleming to Harry Saltzman December 7th, 1961:

“My Dear Harry,

I have acknowledged the attached but told them to get in direct touch with your Company.

Incidentally, I expect you will be getting similar approaches from other branded products used by James Bond.

I don’t know what your policy in the matter will be, but I have personally found that the use of branded names in my stories helps the verisimilitude, so long as the products are quality products.

Admittedly one is giving free publicity to these people, but I don’t think it matters so long as the products are in fact really good.

Anyway, over to you.”

Ian Fleming Rolex Omega

Again, while Fleming himself never was paid for an endorsement, he certainly understood the power of it in producing realism, and left the decision to the film producers for how to proceed.

Watches of Espionage Bond Tudor

(Photo Credit: Rupley)

While the films have been met with scrutiny as described above, product placement contracts have continued to provide fans with new silver screen adventures for ages. Tomorrow Never Dies reportedly covered 100% of its product budget with brand tie-ins in 1997, and 2012’s Skyfall had nearly a third of its budget covered by a deal with Heineken. The producers of Bond have attributed this level of detail to Fleming’s work as well. The reality is, we may not have the caliber of films with the incredible production quality and stunt work that we have today without these endorsements.

“Fleming describes in great detail all the things that Bond uses, whether it comes down to a glass of wine, a meal he is eating, a car he is driving, or what suit he is wearing. That’s how Bond became synonymous with quality goods. That notion really started with the books. If you think you may not be alive tomorrow, you might as well have the best of everything.” – Barbara Broccoli

Daniel Craig James Bond Omega

Now, while Fleming wrote with a great deal of intricate detail surrounding Bond’s clothes, tools, cars, and more, it took him until On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, book number 11, to switch Bond to a Rolex.

Fleming’s original choice, and defense of it over a Rolex, was described by Fleming in a letter to a fan in 1958 (five years before OHMSS was published). This letter was written in response to a fan’s request that Bond upgrade his timepiece to, seemingly based on Fleming’s response, a Rolex Oyster Perpetual. For those unfamiliar with Fleming, he often referred to himself as the biographer of Bond, and frequently wrote as if his character were a real man, which is clear in the letter below.

“June 5, 1958

I have just got back from abroad to find your sapient rebuke of 007’s timekeeping equipment.

I have discussed this with him and he points out that the Rolex Oyster Perpetual weighs about six ounces and would appreciably slow up the use of his left hand in combat. His practice, in fact, is to use fairly cheap, expendable wrist watches on expanding metal bracelets which can be slipped over the thumb and used in the form of a knuckle-duster, either on the inside or outside of the hand.

In passing on his comments to you, I would add that James Bond has trained himself to tell time by the sun in either hemisphere within a few minutes.

Thank you, nevertheless, for raising the point and 007 wishes to assure you that when an appropriate time-piece is available he will wear it.”

It seems that Fleming finally gave in, and wrote the Rolex Oyster Perpetual into On Her Majesty’s Secret Service five years later. His expanding metal bracelet remained.

Omega Seamaster James Bond 007
(Photo Credit: Rupley/ @Omegabondwatches)

I make this case in its entirety to say this – Fleming himself only named a Rolex as Bond’s dedicated watch after writing ten Bond stories, (Bond briefly wears one while diving in Live and Let Die, 1954, but according to Fleming’s letter, daily wore other watches until OHMSS) and he himself argued against its inclusion initially as well. There’s nothing wrong with the brand, nor would I argue that Rolex watches do not have a place on Bond’s wrist. But if everything Fleming wrote remained today, and no evolution with the times had taken place, the character would still be driving a 1930s Bentley Blower and carrying a skeletonized .25 ACP Beretta that was underpowered and outdated even in 1953. Omega has a place in the Bond story, and it is one born out of a reimagining of an iconic character, a reimagining that saved the franchise, inspired GoldenEye 007 N64, and created a new generation of fans. Deriding the brand or discounting its inclusion in the mythos is a misunderstanding of history. Both Rolex and Omega have a place in the legacy of Bond, and they deserve our respect and celebration.

James Bond Rolex Explorer
(Photo Credit: Rupley)

My sincere thanks to WOE for the opportunity to write this counter argument, my friend Lorenzo Anselmo (@omegabondwatches) for providing me and James Rupley with unfettered access to his astounding Omega collection.

Read Next: James Bond should Wear A Rolex

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The photography above, and much of the text stems from an upcoming project from Headstamp Publishing @headstamp and Caleb Daniels (@commandobond) – the first comprehensive study of all the firearms of James Bond, including every novel (Fleming and otherwise) and every screen treatment of the character. Other critical items, such as his watches, will be discussed in great detail, dissecting the most essential carry implements of one of the world’s most celebrated action heroes, James Bond, 007. Follow @headstamp and @commandobond to keep abreast of this project – so much more to come.

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