Character Defining Timepieces: A Journey through Cinema

Some of the most beautiful watches in the history of cinema and the screen characters they helped shape.

Bradley Cooper in “The Road Less Traveled” IWC Schaffhausen campaign, wearing the Big Pilot’s Watch Edition “Le Petit Prince”,
Mojave Desert, California, 2019

Watches and cinema have a long history. They complement each other perfectly. The best timepieces defy time (figuratively speaking, of course), just as a good movie does. And some of them are forever linked to some of the characters who have worn them. So much so that the partnership often goes beyond the silver screen and into the actors’ lifestyle, bonded under the unwavering dedication to craftsmanship, be it acting or horology. There are many beautiful watches that have appeared in films and it would have been impossible to do justice to them all, so, for the sake of diversity, I have decided to include only leather strap watches in my selection (I think I will almost always find them more elegant than the metal bracelet watches) and enter one brand and one actor just once (Steve McQueen and Leonardo DiCaprio and any of the brands listed could easily have benefitted from multiple entries).

Ryan Gosling in “La La Land”, 2016 | Summit Entertainment, Black Label Media

Ryan Gosling in La La Land (2016) – Vintage Omega

I have recently watched La La Land again and I know it falls into that category usually reserved to great classics, to which I return to watch time and again. An unapologetic romantic homage to classic musicals, but with a dream-chasing optimism that is anchored in the everyday, in real life. And that’s the brilliance of it. Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian is a jazz musician who wants to keep classic jazz alive and who is inspired by previous generations in everything from his uncompromising values, to the way he lives (his apartment, an actual location, was inspired by jazz photography and black-and-white Nouvelle Vague films), to the way he composes music and dresses. Ryan’s wardrobe was all custom made for the film and didn’t consist of many pieces (one or two pairs of trousers that showed off his feet, one dress shirt, a couple of casual shirts, two or three blazers, a brown suit), but which were more than enough to help portray his character. And he doesn’t wear anything that is too informal, not even a t-shirt. Wearing something too casual would be like an affront to the kind of music he plays. It’s only natural that Sebastian’s choice for a watch would be an elegant vintage Omega, with a very simple design and a leather strap. Some things do not have to change with the passage of time. Jazz and a classic watch are two of those things.

Sean Connery “Dr. No”, 1962 | Eon Productions

Sean Connery in Dr. No (1962) – Rolex Submariner

The first James Bond film established the classic look for the character for the many films that followed. 1962 was the year when James Bond was introduced to film audiences, becoming one of the characters who have most influenced men’s way of dressing. Bond may be mostly associated with a black tie dress code or a freshly pressed suit, but he has also successfully proven that you can wear sportswear and still look sharp. And a polo t-shirt is what a man of style wears in the heat. Sean Connery’s Bond gave, of course, the very first lesson in casual warm weather style, providing the blue print not only to the ultimate formal wear, but to the ultimate casual wear, too, for men across the globe. He sported his light blue polo t-shirt cuffed at the sleeves, unbuttoned and tucked into light blue trousers. The only accessory he wears to this simple outfit is his wristwear, a Rolex Submariner Oyster Perpetual 6538 – precision and accuracy are two of his job requirements and this model is the kind of watch that Commander Bond, a naval man, a diver and a gentleman, would wear.

Leonardo DiCaprio in “Blood Diamond”, 2006 | Warner Brothers

Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond (2006) – Breitling Chrono Avenger

Leonardo DiCaprio, as Danny Archer, is a South African diamond smuggler, but prefers to call himself a “soldier of fortune”. He is engaged in the bloody business of smuggling raw diamonds out of the country, until, after his encounters with a desperate fisherman looking for his son, Djimon Hounsou, and a passionate journalist, Jennifer Connelly, starts to think about interests bigger than his. The film, that was set against the background of the chaos that enveloped Sierra Leone in the 1990s, when many children were turned into soldiers in the civil war, has some intense action scenes. Leonardo plays his part, and he looks accordingly. His watch, a Breitling Chrono Avenger, with its excellent craftsmanship and sturdy construction, is a reminder that it is designed for intensive use, the result of intensive research aimed at improving its essential features both for civilian and military use.

Roy Scheider in “Jaws”, 1975 | Universal Pictures, Zanuck/Brown Productions

Roy Scheider in Jaws (1975) – Hamilton Lyndon CLD

Brody (Roy Scheider), the police chief who came to the island from New York looking for a more quiet place and job, is a middle-class man and his clothes reflect that. He spends more than half of the movie in a cop uniform and Baracuta jacket and it’s interesting to see his style evolve, escaping the restrictions of job and social requirements when he switches to t-shirt, black sweater and jeans when they set sail. He finally seems relieved and at ease when he does that. The one thing that he keeps is the watch, a Hamilton Lyndon CLD. Because one of the most distinctive qualities of a watch is that it reflects the wearer’s personality, who and not what he is. Hamilton has a reputation for accuracy – on the early railroads, on board U.S. Navy ships, in the skies and for today – and its name is synonymous with functionality and reliability, an absolute must for an expedition at sea, hunting a big shark.

Viggo Mortensen in “The Two Faces of January”, 2014 | SrudioCanal, Timnick Films, Isobel Griffiths Limited

Viggo Mortensen in The Two Faces of January (2014) – TAG Heuer

Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst are a glamorous and wealthy American couple, Chester and Colette MacFarland, holidaying in Greece. The film is set in the 1960s and the costumes feel authentic without being constrained to the visual aspect of that decade. They have a vintage flair while looking undeniably modern. Everything is simplified and understated, like Viggo Mortensen’s white linen suit, helping the viewer easily identify with the character. The said suit, immaculate in the beginning, will closely follow the character’s arc, becoming wrinkled and a little torn and finally ending up in the dark and rain. His character turns out to be a conman, but, at first, he and his wife “appear to be this perfect Gatsby-esque American couple reclining in the sunshine,” Viggo told GQ. The Great Gatsby was in fact one of the costume deisgner’s sources of inspiration. Looks were still important in the ’60s, and people would always try to look good, regardless of their social class, profession, and occasion. So, yes, Chester would wear a suit on vacation. But it also has to do with the depiction of the character. There is a lot of extravagant wealth in the couple’s life, but none of it is finely detailed. Chester’s look is rounded up by his watch, a luxurious TAG Heuer. It’s made to make a statement without necessitating too many explanations.

Steve McQueen in “Bullitt”, 1968 | Solar Productions

Steve McQueen in Bullitt (1968) – Benrus Series #3061

As the anti-hero cop Frank Bullitt, Steve McQueen set the standard for Ivy cool in his navy blue cashmere turtleneck sweater, the brown tweed herringbone jacket with elbow patches, and those trademark brown suede, crepe soled chukka boots. But the main reason why Steve McQueen’s look in Bullitt still endures is that he didn’t just slip into the assigned movie wardrobe. He might just as well have played himself. And he wore a watch to his own liking. A Benrus Series #3061. McQueen was a watch aficionado well-known for his Rolex Submariner and TAG Heuer Monaco in real life, but sported a much more practical timepiece that would make sense on Frank Bullitt’s wrist. In 1939, Benrus pioneered and produced the first water proof watch for sailors, divers, cover-ops, and since the very beginning it’s been promoted as an affordable piece of luxury. Bullitt’s Benrus is the watch for the everyday hero and keeps him on schedule at all times… That, and his very fast, dark green 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390. As with the watch, the Mustang was not Steve McQueen’s car of choice off-set, as he preferred a Ferrari ’63 250 GT Lusso Berlinetta and a Jaguar XKSS. But no matter how big the star persona of an actor is, it is the character who matters most in a movie. Not only did the Benrus watch help define the character of Bullitt, but the influence was reciprocal: inspired by McQueen’s performance, Benrus started to create pieces inspired by its rich American history.

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