NAWCC Bulletin feature article —

For its June 2009 issue, the NAWCC BULLETIN (Journal of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors) ran a feature article providing extended technical and historical details in follow-up to the February 2009 WatchTime article, “Discovered: James Bond’s Rolex,” by creator-author Dell Deaton.

Combined, these remain the definitive identification and background sources on the original, literary 007 watch — a Rolex reference 1016 Explorer model that also happened to be owned and worn by Ian Fleming himself.

NAWCC BULLETIN has an international circulation of 20,000 readers per issue.

How I Found the Original James Bond Watch

by Dell Deaton

"How I Found the Original James Bond Watch," NAWCC "Bulletin," Journal of the National Association of Watch & Clock CollectorsThe literary, or original, watch of personal choice for the James Bond character is a Rolex 1016 Explorer. Details related to my making this first definitive identification were published in the February 2009 issue of WatchTime magazine. So this is not an article about “what” Agent 007 wore, but, rather, it’s a piece more functionally relevant to BULLETIN readers: “How was it found?”

Yes, “Rolex” is the only James Bond watch specifically named by creator Ian Fleming. But watch collectors who read Fleming’s books after hearing about “the James Bond Rolex” are often surprised at how little attention the brand is actually given in those pages. In fact, Rolex is ascribed to Bond in only two novels. It appears one time during the plot of Live and Let Die (1954). Nine years later, Rolex is mentioned an unprecedented seven times as Bond’s own purchase in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963).

Although James Bond is a fictional figure, Ian Fleming invariably looked to reality for details. He gave a trade name for 007’s shirts. Aston Martin is an actual car. Authentic brand references helped him sweep readers along through fantastic situations by hooking them to the real world with citations his audience was likely to know through advertising.

For me, “Bond” serves as a creative theme for the watches I collect; the literary James Bond watch is where I start.

Dating Watches through Fleming’s Writing Routine

Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond stories between January 1952 and August 1964, following a strict, self-imposed cycle to produce one book per year, resulting in a total of 14.

With his second novel, Live and Let Die, he established a routine that all but the last two books would follow to publication. His preliminary research and notes organization began some 18 months out. Individual manuscripts were then written, start-to-finish, during the initial two months of the year prior to publication. Over the course of the next 12 months, those complete drafts were revised, fact-checked, and edited to final form.

Understanding this history is critical in accurately dating references to physical wristwatches. So the sequencing above, for example, at least initially suggested to me that the Bond Rolex in Live and Let Die would have had to be based on something from the fourth quarter of 1952.

This is consistent with my review of the typed Live and Let Die manuscript archived in the Lilly Library on the campus of Indiana University at Bloomington. The word “Rolex” in Fleming’s own bound edition there appears on page 111.

The larger context of the Live and Let Die plot makes that watch mission-specific. In other words, Fleming didn’t intend to define Bond’s personal watch choice, but, rather, deliberately used the Rolex name to validate a tool watch among a larger inventory of diving gear and weaponry he described as having been received by 007 from his quartermaster (“Q-Branch”) in London. “Rolex” merely enhances plot credibility, in this case, giving his protagonist the ability to check the time while submerged. It’s on par with “Champion,” maker of the Live and Let Die harpoon gun, also sourced from Q-Branch.

In an earlier chapter that describes preparations for the dive, Jacques Cousteau is named more than once as a source from which Bond was learning through books he’d borrowed. This mirrors Fleming’s own real-life research technique. He had just struck up a friendship with Cousteau at that time and even visited with him during his work surrounding discovery of the 2,200-year-old Marcus Sestius wine ship off the Bay of Marseilles.

All the evidence I’ve seen points to a high likelihood that Captain Cousteau provided quite a bit of technical detail, if not motivation, for sequences related to Bond’s climactic 300-yard swim in Live and Let Die. Exciting as this association may be, however, I would not connect it to a specific watch nor to any particular Rolex model.

Ian Fleming thought no more of that Rolex than as an efficient shorthand to substantiate a wristwatch that could perform as required on a commando mission to mine an enemy ship, moored at an anchorage of about 30 feet. His writing shows not the slightest trace of his otherwise characteristic attention to detail when describing physical pieces he’d seen (e.g., Where is the dial luminescence and rotating bezel — obvious and extremely relevant, if these had been features of a developmental Submariner that had served as its basis?).

Responsible research requires that I draw this line as well. Editors at WatchTime felt the same way, deleting a discussion of Jacques Cousteau from the earliest draft of my feature article.

Further reason to avoid overreaching here comes from evidence of just how effective Fleming otherwise could be in using horology as a means of carefully defining characters and enriching plotlines.

His first novel, Casino Royale (1953), features a shadowy Swiss figure who is “a traveller in watches.” Fleming’s first script treatment (1959) for a proposed 007 motion picture provides the heroine with a cover story of working for customs in search of stolen Swiss watches. He gave other high-profile characters important timepieces by Patek Philippe in 1955, Cartier in 1956, and Girard-Perregaux in 1957. One story published in 1961 even used a radium-painted watch dial to test a Geiger Counter.

Photos from the 1950s clearly show that Fleming wore a variety of different watches into his Bond era. These were alternatively on bracelets and straps. He seemed to favor lower-profile cases and dark dials, simply decorated, with no complications of any sort.

So I concluded many years ago that it was not due to oversight, nor for any lack of interest or knowledge that Ian Fleming had chosen to be so oblique in defining the James Bond watch. Nor was it out of any reluctance to get into the particulars of Bond’s individual tastes, since Fleming otherwise routinely explored the minutiae of Agent 007’s preferences in food and women.

Naming James Bond watch brands throughout the series would have perfectly, intimately served Fleming, then. But that’s not what he did.

Why not? Because, purposefully, Bond’s watch needed to be a commodity due to the nature of his work. This is confirmed by the copy of a letter provided to me by Lucy Fleming, the author’s niece. In correspondence dated June 5, 1958, Ian Fleming responded to a fan by the name of B. W. Goodden, stating that the practice of James Bond, ‘in fact, is to use fairly cheap, expendable wrist watches on expanding metal bracelets….’

Thus, not only is the reference to Rolex in Live and Let Die an anomaly, but, as I wrote above, it is an exception that had to be allowed to credibly have a wristwatch available to function underwater. Otherwise, it was Fleming’s clear intent for all James Bond watch choices to be generics, through Goldfinger (1959). In no case before 1961 was there an actual watch he referenced from the real world. So long as watches meet the criteria of ‘cheap’ and ‘expendable,’ worn on ‘expanding metal bracelets,’ any number of timekeepers fit the bill as James Bond watches in books one through ten.

And this is how the earliest James Bond watch was presented on the wrist of an actor. See Barry Nelson in the Chrysler Climax Mystery Theater version of Casino Royale for CBS television, October 21, 1954. That show aired less than six months after the May 5 publication of Live and Let Die.

Go to “How I Found the Original James Bond Watch,” Part 2 of 3

How I Found the Original James Bond Watch,” Part 1 of 3
“How I Found the Original James Bond Watch,” Part 2 of 3
“How I Found the Original James Bond Watch,” Part 3 of 3

Discovered: James Bond’s Rolex,” Part 1 of 9
“Discovered: James Bond’s Rolex,” Part 2 of 9
“Discovered: James Bond’s Rolex,” Part 3 of 9
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“Discovered: James Bond’s Rolex,” Part 5 of 9
“Discovered: James Bond’s Rolex,” Part 6 of 9
“Discovered: James Bond’s Rolex,” Part 7 of 9
“Discovered: James Bond’s Rolex,” Part 8 of 9
“Discovered: James Bond’s Rolex,” Part 9 of 9