With the recent advent of Sam Mendes’ Spectre, we’re once again reminded of one of the most obvious acts of product placements that took place during the first Daniel Craig Bond film, Casino Royale (2006). Omega had retained the sweet rights to strap one of its Seamaster watches on the MI6 spy and the result was a multitude of close-ups of the watch and a shout-out by Eva Green: “You know…former SAS types with easy smiles and expensive watches. Rolex?” To which Craig responds: “No. Omega.”
It was GoldenEye (1995) that made the Omega Seamaster James Bond’s watch. But back then, even during Brosnan’s reign, the association was not as obvious. Omega’s hold on 007, however, did introduce a new era of luxury label branding in the Hollywood arena, something that had started since Armani dressed Richard Gere in American Gigolo and reached blatant heights in The Devil Wears Prada. Evidently, association counts.
The real question is whether the association actually pays off. According to Omega, it has. Since 2006, interest in the brand and the Bond editions rose, and more importantly, its brand perception compared with what some might call the king of Swiss watchmaking spiked. This year, a special edition of the Omega Seamaster 300 that Bond wears on set has been launched in conjunction with the film’s release date. Spectre offers the watch plenty of screen time as well, though Q’s quip of “it tells the time” is twisted, as it also functions as an exploding device. It’s also the first time the agent is strapping on a Nato strap paired with his sharp suits, possibly a subtle hint at MI6’s real-life close relationship with the organisation the canvas strap derives its name from. Whether you like the film or not, however, the timepiece’s commercial success is practically guaranteed, as is the film’s box office sales.
Omega isn’t the only watch brand to ply its trade in movies. Hamilton made waves last year and again this year, when it worked with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and The Martian. The swivelling of the second hand, a trick it managed using an electric rotor, gave the brand ample seconds of close-ups and sales shot through the roof for the Khaki Automatic timepiece that saved the world.
Brand associations (whether between the brand and the movie or television show, or between the brand and an actor) feed our obsession with celebrity culture. There are online forums where people peruse every frame of House of Cards just to see which IWC watch Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) is wearing. It’s important to note that IWC doesn’t cash up for the product placement on Spacey’s wrist — he volunteers it. (It’s never the same watch even though his favourite does appear to be the Portugieser Chronograph in rose gold.)
The desire to be more like the famous makes us want to adopt their habits further, right up to the wrist bling they’re spotting. It’s very much in the vein of The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), where Tom Ripley (played by actor Matt Damon who was once again donning Hamilton) mimicked Dickie Greenleaf (starring Jude Law). If you think their characters are cool, naturally you’d want to emulate their style.
Other famous faces known for their wristwatch obsessions include Robert De Niro, who has asked for Rolex watches in his films before. Sylvester Stallone’s friendship with Panerai is well-documented. In fact, the actor purportedly bought Panerai timepieces for his peers in The Expendables franchise. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a collection of Royal Oak Offshores that would blow most people’s minds, but now that he has his own eponymously named watch label, we expect that he’ll be donning it in the upcoming Legend of Conan.
It does go beyond idolatry. Psychiatrists tell us there is a sense of trust that’s established with figures we respect, whether on or off screen, and some of that trust is translated into the personas they play in movies. It’s a word-of-mouth marketing that’s on a large scale and as a result, works effectively compared with traditional marketing methods. Incidentally, I do like John Travolta, who’s worn Breitling in over a dozen movies and I did buy a Breitling because he trusts the brand. As Travolta, a pilot, has stated several times, he has worn Breitling watches even before they approached him to be their ambassador. It is an honest partnership.
My favourite non-product product placement of all time is probably Leonardo DiCaprio’s watch in Inception. Even if director Christopher Nolan had wiped the brand logo off in post-production, there was just no doubt that it was the Carrera Automatic that DiCaprio had on his wrist in order to keep track of time in the dream state. The slowing down of the second hand up close might have been shot on an iPhone but it was cool, nonetheless. It also sealed the Carrera as the definitive TAG Heuer that didn’t need a label to tell us what it was.
Other direct hits include the Iron Man franchise, where in its second instalment, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) requests for a watch from Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and finally concludes: “Brown strap, gold face…bring them over here…I’ll take the Jaeger.” The AMVOX3 Tourbillon GMT was a special launch for that year and marked a significant difference in the way the brand had approached its marketing in the past. And let’s not forget the ample screen time the Reverso had on Don Draper, along with a special edition of the Grande Reverso Ultra Thin 1931 dedicated to the show.
Hollywood insiders are quick to point out that it’s not always profit-generating reasons that dictate what wrist-wear is seen on a lead. Sometimes it’s for authenticity and often just simple practicality. Hamilton’s relative ubiquity in Hollywood is in part due to its American past and simplicity in design. With characters such as Tony Stark, however, you’d expect a technically impressive timepiece coupled with some high-tech capability integrated into it, which was why the AMVOX series suited him perfectly. In that manner, it’s an alignment. At other times, brands do offer a ton of green in order to buy into a franchise.
Occasionally, film directors request for specific brands to maintain and ensure authenticity. As Travolta pointed out, in the upcoming television series American Crime Story, where he plays lawyer Robert Shapiro, he doesn’t wear Breitlings but instead, sticks to the watches that Shapiro actually owns. To be fair, authenticity in Hollywood is not a common scene, but when it does occur, they like to keep it close to reality.
That being said, there are some strange stereotypes that are completely baffling. Hollywood villains seem to regularly wear one label — and it’s one of the biggest luxury brands in the world. Most recently in Netflix’s Daredevil, the Cartier Santos 100 popped up on radars as essential wrist-wear for Machiavellian types. For what it’s worth, we’ll admit they’ve plenty of style. The Tank and Santos watches are our favourites as well.
Unsurprisingly, the most popular Swiss watch in Hollywood is the effortless Rolex. The Daytona, Submariner and Explorer have all been worn umpteen times by everyone from Sean Connery to Al Pacino. In a close second place would be Audemars Piguet. The current CEO François-Henry Bennahmias, who had helmed the American market prior to his appointment as CEO, had an active presence in the Hollywood scene, making friends with Arnie and a slew of other actors, many of whom would approach him to collaborate on movie accessorising. However, he pointed out that the brand rarely offered watches freely; instead, actors would buy watches or a special edition would be released for a particular movie, which gave the brand a chance to profit from the partnership. Smart move.
A rare breed that’s seen once in a while — and only then on characters who are high-powered and super-wealthy — is, of course, Patek Philippe. In Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, Jeff Bridges’ and Sam Waterston’s characters both don Patek Philippes of different models. Harvey Specter straps on what appears to be a Patek perpetual calendar in Suits, while his understudy Mike Ross wears a considerably less premium Timex. Ed Westwick also has on an Aquanaut in Gossip Girl, as his playboy character Chuck Bass goes around impressing girls with his moves (and perhaps his accoutrements as well).
The only watch we’ve never had the opportunity to see on a film or television set is A. Lange & Söhne. It’s perfectly understandable, given the German watchmaker’s philosophy and attitudes towards too much brand exposure. Lange would naturally refrain from such demonstrative measures, preferring to remain a bit of an insider’s brand. But given its increasing global presence, we’re guessing the time is not too far away when Hannibal will be dressed in a Grand Lange 1, rather than the more obvious Patek Philippe chronograph.