Movie critics often talk about how the accessories that a certain character adorns are a signal of his/her personality traits. These ‘signals’ can range from a flashy car to something more subtle like the way a character rolls his/her sleeves. The audience is supposed to pick up on these signals, consciously or unconsciously, and form an opinion about the character. Of all the devices that have been utilized for this purpose, one of the most useful is watches. A watch in real life, as well as in cinema, is a good indicator of the wearer’s traits. It might be dogmatic to think that someone who wears a Rolex is almost always going to be rich, handsome, and charming but we’re cursed forever to think so. Today, we will be performing a deep dive into the world of movies and see how these associations were made in the minds of the popular public. These are the watches that still exist fresh in the minds of avid cinema fans and horologists alike.
Considered by many to be Martin Scorsese’s magnum opus, Goodfellas follows the story of gangster Henry Hill from his younger years to his eventual rise in the Mafia. The late Ray Liotta plays Henry Hill with such mastery that it becomes hard to distinguish the actor from the character. He takes the skin of Henry Hill and melts it into his own figure. However, our focus is on the watch that he wears. I would not be mistaken to assume that most people thought that the gold watch he wears in the movie is some sort of Omega.
However, the truth is that it was a relatively humble Seiko that we wore in the movie, a Seiko that is not even a chronograph. The Seiko Quartz SQ 7813 8019 is a watch that is definitely designed to turn heads. The gold color of the Goodfellas watch is almost too much for a Seiko, a brand that is known for being able to deliver to mechanical perfection at a price point that is almost impossible for anyone else to match. The watch goes well with the rest of the ensemble, the gold ring, and chain complete the perfect illusion of the stereotypical gangster.
Many would say that James Bond is perhaps the most iconic fictional character to have ever been thought up in the dreamy minds of humans. His accent, impeccable taste, and class have solidified the idea of what the perfect man is supposed to be like. Generations of men have been brought up trying to imitate Sean Connery’s accent while also sporting Pierce Brosnan’s iconic hairdos.
Of all the possessions of James Bond, the most iconic ones are perhaps his Aston Martins being expertly driven through action sequences. Holding number two, however, is his collection of watches. James Bond chooses the absolute best when it comes to watches. There is no place even for a respectable Rado or a designer watch like Gucci. The mere suggestion would be blasphemous for most fans to accept. He only wants the very best and that’s why he only goes for the best, Rolex.
James Bond’s Rolex Submariner ref. 6538 is perhaps the most iconic watch to have ever existed. Released in 1962, the movie Dr. No showed Sean Connery playing the role of James Bond while adorning an absolutely stunning Rolex Submariner. The shot of James Bond in a White Tuxedo with a cigarette in between his lips with the Rolex Submariner caressing his wrist has been immortalized in popular cinema like nothing else. It perhaps went even a step further than Paul Newman’s personas as the ultimate ‘cool man’ of Hollywood. The stage had been set in 1962 for James Bond to forever change the very conception of ‘cool’ and the image persists to this day.
From the effortless charm of James Bond, we have now arrived at the psychopathy of Patrick Bateman. A highly paid executive in a generic firm, Patrick Bateman is shown as an example of how the corporate age’s desensitization has led to a culture of sameness. The infamous scene where the executives show their calling cards to each other when it is painfully clear that they are entirely the same is the best example of how the corporatization of taste has led to the same final destination for so many people. In this highly controlled environment, the true extent of Patrick Bateman’s psyche is only let loose in his imagination. He fantasizes about the most deranged things while keeping the outer cocoon, his façade, completely intact. He sports a Rolex Datejust in the movie. The novel that the movie is based upon, mentions the watch a whopping 26 times throughout. There’s also the iconic ‘Don’t touch the watch’ scene in the movie that I will leave you to watch on your own.
The two-tone color of the watch can be considered a symbolic representation of Patrick’s double life. The gold that runs throughout the body of the watch is representative of Patrick’s life as an investment banker. He goes from meeting to meeting and dines in the most expensive of restaurants. His life is characterized by his love for wealth and all that it entails. The gold is also the color that you first notice when you look at the watch. However, the grey-silver color that the rest of the watch exhibits his hidden life. The lack of ‘color’ itself signifies his lack of even a shred of morality. The way he goes into the very depths of what would be considered extremely deranged behavior without a stain on the rest of the façade.
One of the most cerebral movies to have ever been released in the past century, interstellar challenged the very limits of what cinema could do. It dealt with perhaps the foremost concept of our lifetimes, time itself. And what better way to represent the moving of time than a watch itself. The Hamilton “Murph” is the watch that Cooper gifts to his daughter Murphy in order to keep her company. Hamilton watches are one of the more interesting watch brands. They are not considered to be luxury watches but have a solid aesthetic bedrock that has been used to build great watches in the past. This is in keeping with the fact that Cooper is no multimillionaire like Patrick Bateman and simply wants to make sure that his daughter remembers him through this watch more than anything else.
The watch plays an extremely important role in the movie as it becomes the conduit through which the ghost is able to communicate certain signals back to Murphy. In fact, one of the most poignant scenes in the entire movie is when Murphy realizes that it is indeed her father who is trying to contact her through the watch. What she perceives to be the ghost is actually her own father who communicates through the second hand of the watch the data that was collected by TARS within Gargantua. Interstellar is a movie that takes science fiction to a place that it has not been before many times.
One of the most common criticisms leveled at science fiction films is that they are not relatable to the human condition. How is one supposed to relate to a character that is floating many thousand light years away from the earth? Interstellar is able to break that criticism so profoundly because it is able to show a future that we can truly believe to be ours, with the same bleakness as we see today, and a humble Hamilton watch is able to play an important role in this massive vision.
These are some of the most iconic watches that have become indispensable in the cinema canon as some of the most significant props ever used. They are used as signals of the character’s own personality in some films while being used as pivotal parts of the narrative in other movies. What is even more interesting is the fact that these movies elevated the watches themselves. Rolex solidified its role as the foremost luxury band due to its association with James Bond. Hamilton released an entirely new watch just to celebrate the iconic status of the fictional Hamilton watch in the movie. Art imitates life and life imitates art. That is also the case with watches being able to help produce grand narratives and also forward their own success as well.