WatchTime, "Discovered: James Bond's Rolex" (page 92)By 1962 when filming began on Dr. No, Ian Fleming was becoming an icon in his own right through his books, increasing public attention (good and bad), and sophisticated self-promotion. At the same time, ‘James Bond’ was taking on a life of his own, beyond the control of his creator.

All of this affected Fleming. Lines were blurring as he sought to identify himself more closely with his character, to live as 007 would live, to play the part. Biographers have written about this. His wife, Ann, noted that no one had ‘grasped the extent of Ian’s desire to be his alter ego.’

Ian Fleming acquired his Rolex Explorer I sometime between the summer of 1961 and spring of 1962. It’s this chronometer that changed his writing about Rolex and James Bond from researched to experienced.

In contrast to the sunny beaches where movie work was underway in Jamaica, the main action of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service takes place on a snow-covered mountain. If you were going to pick a watch for such an adventure, what better choice than a Rolex Explorer, the watch that had famously conquered Mount Everest in 1953?

Bond’s watch is described as having “numerals,” as opposed to undefined markers. Fleming’s own Explorer I had luminous 3-, 6-, and 9-o’clock indicators.

‘Bond surveyed his weapons. They were only his hands and feet, his Gillette razor and his wristwatch, a heavy Rolex Oyster Perpetual on an expanding metal bracelet. Used properly, these could be turned into most effective knuckle-dusters.’ But this doesn’t mean the ‘expanding-link’ option offered by Rolex at that time. Fleming had established in Thunderball that ‘flexible’ was a bracelet with springs in its links. Fleming’s personal Explorer is fitted with the original 7206 bracelet; it has fixed links and a deployant clasp. Laymen describe this as ‘expanding’ to open.


Bad Guys, Good Watches

Ian Fleming was familiar with a number of high-end watches and on occasion used them to flesh out the characters that crossed 007’s path.

There’s Jed Midnight, a member of a crime syndicate in Goldfinger: ‘The complicated gold watch on his wrist must have weighed nearly half a pound.’

Hugo Drax, known for precision in every detail, wears ‘a plain gold Patek Philippe watch‘ in Moonraker.

A ‘bulky gold wristwatch on a well-used brown crocodile strap’ is the choice of Donovan ‘Red’ Grant, chief executioner for the Cold War USSR in From Russia, with Love. ‘It was a Girard-Perregaux model designed for people who like gadgets, and it had a sweep second-hand and two little windows in the face to tell the day of the month, and the month, and the phase of the moon.’

Guiseppe Petacchi in Thunderball, a pilot for the underworld consortium known as SPECTRE (‘Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion’) has ‘a passion for owning things — flashy, exciting, expensive things.’ His watch is ‘a solid gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer on a flexible gold bracelet.’

Curiously, the watch worn by Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever stands out uniquely as a woman’s timepiece identified by name. It’s a ‘small square Cartier’ on a black strap. Some years after this novel, Ian Fleming himself actually gave a Cartier wristwatch to his Jamaican confidante Blanche Blackwell, as thanks for her sharing with him the real-life events on which he later based his short story, ‘Quantum of Solace.’


Red Grant’s watch: Girard-Perregaux’s 1966 Full Calendar watch in the current collection is modeled on a GP watch from the 1960s that Ian Fleming writes about in From Russia, with Love.

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How I Found the Original James Bond Watch,” Part 1 of 3
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“How I Found the Original James Bond Watch,” Part 3 of 3