Literary-Bond versus Movie-Bond

"How I Found the Original James Bond Watch," NAWCC "Bulletin," Journal of the National Association of Watch & Clock CollectorsThings were different when EON Productions began shooting scenes on location for its first James Bond film, Dr. No, on January 16, 1962. Harry Saltzman and Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli were the producers; Terence Young directed. Actor Sean Connery was James Bond. His movie-Bond was wearing a Rolex Submariner when Ian Fleming famously visited those sets and interacted with the cast that January.

For decades, many have cited this to justify arguments favoring a Sub model as the original James Bond watch: Fleming was there. He wouldn’t have missed noting the details of the watch Connery was wearing in-character. Fleming’s style and number of references vis-à-vis the literary-Bond watch significantly changed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — unquestionably written after having seen the movie-Bond watch.

A close read actually shows that Ian Fleming resoundingly rejected the Sean Connery Rolex when giving specifics for his own literary-Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. For that book, he gave Agent 007 the same metal bracelet discussed in his B. W. Goodden letter; in the Connery film, the watch is obviously worn on a dark, textured strap with a buckle. The Submariner in Dr. No has only markers, not numbers, like the Rolex in Chapter 14 of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Much later in 1962, Playboy magazine asked Fleming for a “description of James Bond,” and he responded on December 11. This letter is quite consistent with his then-unpublished manuscript of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and strikingly dissimilar to Connery’s Bond. Fleming favored for Bond his own, personal traits of “blue-grey” eyes and short-sleeved shirts (even with a suit).

He also wrote: “Wears Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch.”

However, there’s no evidence that this might somehow have been a personal rejection of Connery, himself, in the role of Bond. In fact, Fleming’s stepdaughter Fionn Morgan was present at one of the first meetings between the Bond-creator and Bond-actor; she remembers an immediate acceptance and a good rapport. Nor was Ian Fleming adverse to having EON Productions influence his novel in progress. Note his mention in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service of the virtually unknown Ursula Andress, who played female lead in Dr. No. Fleming simply wanted to hold some elements of the literary Bond’s choices to himself. This included giving 007 his Rolex Explorer.

Among those less sure that a Submariner must have been the original intent of Fleming, there have been a variety of curious attempts to guess the true Rolex type. From a snapshot by Mary Slater to the professional session done by Harry Benson, period photographs have been examined in search of clues. An excellent history titled James Bond: The Man and His World, by Henry Chancellor, features one stock image of a Rolex Oyster Perpetual that caused some to erroneously claim “Mystery Solved!” in 2005.

I have long been convinced that the answer was to find an actual Rolex, or perhaps a number of Rolex wristwatches, that were worn by Ian Fleming himself. My approach, then, had been to make direct inquiries over the years to the Ian Fleming Will Trust, biographers, and surviving contemporaries of Fleming.

Initially, the clearest answers I’d gotten were most discouraging: Very few personal effects of this nature survived the author. Ironically, it was a particular Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean that led me to identify the original James Bond Rolex of Fleming’s time.

On March 8, 2006, amidst all sorts of secrecy surrounding the newly cast Daniel Craig, I became the first to identify the wristwatch he’d wear as Agent 007 in the so-called franchise reboot, Casino Royale. Although I’d been studying Bond watches since the 1970s, it was this Omega Planet Ocean that made my name synonymous with James Bond watches.

Following the unprecedented public acclaim with which Casino Royale was received, attention slowly shifted to preparations for the Ian Fleming Centenary, timed to what would have been his 100th birthday, on May 28, 2008. As part of this, the Imperial War Museum in London was planning to open a special exhibit on April 17, 2008, titled “For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond.”

Family members were approached for artifacts, and Fionn Morgan supplied items never before displayed in public: a pair of her stepfather’s cuff links and his only surviving wristwatch — a Rolex Explorer I (according to her clear recollection, the only Rolex he’d ever owned). That’s where I came in. I specifically identified this illusive “Oyster Perpetual” for the first time in detail and provided historical context.

To revisit and expand a bit on my WatchTime feature, the Ian Fleming Rolex is a model 1016 Explorer, case number 596851. It still has the factory-delivered 7206 riveted, hollow-link (nonexpanding) bracelet with the number “58” on its end pieces. The mechanism is a Rolex 1560 caliber.

Go to “How I Found the Original James Bond Watch,” Part 3 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
“Discovered: James Bond’s Rolex,” Part 4 of 9
“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