There was a time when viewers didn’t consciously pay as much attention to the type of wristwatch that movie characters wore.
This often meant actors wore their personal watches on set, sometimes even when it didn’t suit the film. Rodolphe Valentino refused to take away his beloved Cartier tank even when he played the title role in The Sheikh, a film set before the wristwatch even existed!
The first rule of watches in movies
The key to success between wristwatch, character, and film is finding a storyline that allows the characters to form seemingly natural bonds with the watches they wear. The wristwatch should really make sense.
I still remember Miami Vice: The Movie. Born in the 1980s, I grew up watching reruns of the 1990s TV show.
Since the producers of this show didn’t know if it was going to be a hit, they started with a modest budget. The gold Rolex Day-Dates seen on the wrists of Crockett and Tubbs were fake – as was the Ferrari Daytona, which was a Corvette with a body kit. When after two seasons it became clear that the show had become one of the hottest on the air, a lot of things changed.
Ferrari stepped in and offered two white Testarossas, and the fake Rolexes were replaced with genuine Ebels. A masterstroke from brand director Pierre-Alain Blum, grandson of the brand’s founders, who gave the Ebel Sport Classic Chronograph worldwide fame on the wrist of Sonny Crockett embodied by Don Johnson.
As soon as I got over my first disappointment that Miami Vice: The Movie wasn’t fixed in the 1980s (we’re talking about the absence of an essential ingredient…), I noticed how Sonny Crockett’s watch, now played by Colin Farrell, wore a strange choice: a Vacheron Constantin Malta Perpetual Calendar chronograph in platinum.
Although it was a more than impressive watch, it seemed better suited to the wrist of a master trickster like Bernie Madoff rather than accompanying one of Miami’s finest on dangerous undercover missions. The watches of his “partner in justice”, Ricardo Tubbs (played by Jamie Foxx), felt more like a natural product placement as he switched from an IWC Portuguieser Chronograph to an IWC Aquatimer Chronograph.
It also illustrates another important factor in the successful placement of watches in movies: affordability matters.
I doubt Vacheron Constantin sold many more platinum Malte Chronograph perpetual calendars thanks to the film (although I could be wrong because producer Michael Mann allegedly bought one after he finished filming), but for a Portuguese IWC Where Aquatimer maybe that’s another story.
In these movies, it’s mostly the original HamiltonVentura which is highlighted. Also in the current Hamilton collection, this model became famous thanks to another film: blue hawaii, in which Elvis Presley wore one (see Elvis Is In The Building: In Honor Of The King And His Watches).
Not only did these watches have meaning for the characters in the films they were worn in, but their modest price made them accessible to a larger group of consumers, which made the brand’s commercial impact all the greater.
Promoting watches through a film can also be beneficial from another perspective as they will be on the wrists of over-the-top characters that are unlikely to exist in real life.
The beauty of such a character lies in the fact that he is fictional. It sounds like a kick in an open door, but the distinction is very important. While as a brand manager you have little influence over the film, you can read a film’s script in advance.
In most cases, ambassadors aren’t a problem, but there have definitely been a few Swiss watch executives who have lost sleep over Tiger Woods’ personal life or The doping of Maria Sharapova (yes, we’re looking at you, TAG Heuer, either way!).
With a fictional character, real-life issues are completely eliminated.
From watch to cult hero
Having the right watch in the right movie can go a long way towards a watch’s (cult) status.
When Seiko teamed up with an Italian car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro (the man who gave us the DeLorean DMC-12 and the Lotus Spirit), one of the first watches they created was the Seiko Giugiaro 7A28-7000 Chronograph. This very futuristic watch ended up on the wrist of Sigourney Weaver who, like Ellen Ripley, achieved cult status as it battled some of the most epic aliens in movie history.
Brosnan himself had a very interesting career in movies – and in watches, as you can read in The On-And Off-Screen Watches Of Brosnan, Pierce Brosnan, a story that also offers an interesting perspective on how whose real life and fictional movies mix when it comes to watches.
Competition is murder
Brands are starting to realize more and more that having a watch in a movie can be the perfect way to promote it.
This is why the competition to feature a product in a movie has become much fiercer, as movie producers find that they can offset some of their big budgets with money received for featuring a certain watch.
When Kingsman: The Secret Service was released in 2015, Bremont landed a prominent sound role Model ALT1-WT, which the brand modified slightly for the film (see Bremont Watchmaker Stars as Marvel Kingsman in Matthew Vaughn Comic Book Film Version).
Is it a better choice? For that you have to see the movie and make up your own mind, but it just goes to show that having your watch featured in a blockbuster movie these days is a big deal!
* This article was first published on October 16, 2017 on The Sense And Non-Sense Of Watches In Movies.
You can also enjoy:
“The Kingsmen”, “The King’s Man” and three spy-worthy watches from Bremont, TAG Heuer and Jaeger-LeCoultre
Commemorating 56 years of Bond, James Bond: a comprehensive recap of the watches worn on screen by the world’s most famous fictional spy
Wristwatch: Mark Wahlberg’s Split-Second Patek Philippe Ref. 5370 and Iced-Out Rolex Submariner Ref. 116659
The On-Screen and Off-Screen Watches of Brosnan, Pierce Brosnan