Written by: Dell Deaton, www.jamesbondwatches.com author-creator
Basel, Switzerland— For the first time in the history of James Bond films, Rolex is no longer offering a current watch model that’s consistent with any on-screen choice of 007.
A new Rolex Submariner Date reference 116610LN has just been introduced at Baselworld 2010 (March 18-25), the premier trade show for the wristwatch industry, held annually in Basel, Switzerland. It replaces the Rolex 16610 Sub Date which was introduced in 1988, according to experts Franca E. Guido Mondani and Lele Ravagnani, who discussed this in their definitive book, Rolex Submariner Story.
Rolex model 16610 Submariner Date wristwatch.
Image courtesy JamesBondWatches.com and Dell Deaton.
It’s most likely that actor Timothy Dalton wore a Rolex 16610 for his second outing as James Bond in Licence to Kill, a film that opened during the summer of 1989.
The history of Rolex and the movie-Bond character dates back to 1961 and pre-production planning for the first Eon Productions contribution to this series, Dr. No. From the very beginning, filmmakers recognized the importance of wristwatch selection in fleshing out their lead man. As John Cork and Bruce Scivally emphasized in James Bond: The Legacy, “he could not just wear a watch, it needed to be a Rolex.”
Over the years, performers changed as Bond was variously played by Sean Connery, George Lazenby, and Roger Moore. So, too, did the Rolex models that were featured on their wrists. But Rolex is renowned for the slow pace at which it changes designs and shifts direction in technology. So even as movies came along where James Bond would carry out missions with the support of competing brands, local Rolex dealers could continue to offer new stocks of models consistent with whatever 007 had worn last time he had had a Rolex.
For example, Christie’s auctions verify that two Rolex model 5513 Submariner wristwatches were modified to suggest Q-Branch gadget functions for the December 1973 release of Live and Let Die. Rolex continued to produce the 5513 into 1989 — albeit sufficiently evolved in appearance by then to no longer qualify as what JamesBondWatches.com would consider screen-correct (“proper reference number” notwithstanding).
After The Man with the Golden Gun in 1974, fifteen years and six films passed without another James Bond Rolex watch.
Rolex model 16610 Submariner Date wristwatch. Image courtesy JamesBondWatches.com and Dell Deaton.
Then Licence to Kill began filming and the Rolex affiliation was renewed with the first (and, thus far, only) appearance of its Submariner Date wristwatch. Given the frequency with which “Rolex” is cited in connection with James Bond, it’s rather ironic that Licence to Kill is the sole film in which 007 wore a wristwatch with the signature date-magnifier that Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf so firmly established as an icon for his watch company.
Neither Rolex nor Eon Productions has ever specifically identified the Licence to Kill timekeeper. But director John Glen in his autobiography, For My Eyes Only, tied the start of filming to July of 1988. At that time, as Mondani and Ravagnani have documented, no less than three Rolex Sub Date model reference numbers could have been available through authorized dealers at retail.
Submariner Date 16800: Produced 1979-1988.
Submariner Date 168000: Produced 1987-1988.
Submariner Date 16610: Produced 1988 until just recently.
Based solely on what can be seen on film, it’s impossible to say for certain which was actually worn by Timothy Dalton as James Bond. Referred to as the “Leiter Wedding Rolex” for serious researchers and collectors, all that can be said is that a screen-correct version should have a sapphire crystal, glossy dial, and “bicchierini” indices (that is, time-markers surrounded by white gold).
There are, of course, technical differences among these three otherwise seeming look-alikes. Changes to case metal composition enhanced corrosion resistance. The earlier 3035 caliber movement from 1977 replaced by the 3135 improved durability.
Additionally, by the time work began on Licence to Kill, producers were dedicated to appointing James Bond with the latest in materials. Wristwatches were not only current models, but, by the late 1980s, just after the SEIKO period, some of the most advanced of their time. This certainly favors selection of the 16610 over similar alternatives. And, as stated in Rolex Submariner Story, cases for this reference were being produced as far back as 1986 in anticipation of releasing the 16610 wristwatch two years later.
Clearly there was a strategy to roll out the 16610 reference as 16800 and 168000 inventories depleted. A plan no doubt enhanced by the widely established popularity of the Rolex Submariner Date.
Rolex model 116610LN Submariner Date wristwatch, just introduced at Baselworld 2010. Image courtesy Rolex.
Eon Productions had come to enjoy a close connection to the Rolex brand over the years since Dr. No. Over half of all 007 films released before Licence to Kill feature Rolex watches; several highlight more than one. Despite lack of any formal product placement credit, these watches were shown in more close-ups than any competing model. Rolex was chosen to serve as the first elaborate gadget-watch. Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman chose Rolex to reward great service by team members such as that of Peter Hunt on You Only Live Twice in 1967.
Both Rolex and Eon had an interest in having the very latest Sub Date model for Timothy Dalton when 007 returned to the watchmaker of Ian Fleming after its decade-and-a-half absence. It’s hard to imagine that anyone inside this film production would have settled for old stock. Cubby Broccoli himself was on hand for Licence to Kill with a continued commitment to make fantastic things happen.
In the years since then, the Rolex 16610 has changed little. The bracelet is technically different, and the lugs no longer have holes that pass all the way through for its springbars.
But the new 116610LN that replaces it is obviously changed.
Readily apparent is its ceramic “Cerachrom” bezel insert with platinum gradations, fitted to a case with much larger crown guards. The bracelet features a completely redesigned clasp design and functioning.
Water resistance is rated to a depth of 300 meters / 1,000 feet, protected by a case made from 904L steel, with timekeeping provided by a COSC-certified 3135 caliber movement: These are the same as what’s found in the 16610, of course. Yet the 116610LN is sufficiently different overall as to deny any claim this newest Rolex Submariner Date might otherwise make to James Bond watch status. It’s more than a different number. In the world of 007, there are no substitutes.
Baselworld 2010 closes this Thursday, March 25. With it, a chapter in movie history that dates back to 1961 will end as well.
But— like James Bond himself: Will Rolex return?
Dell Deaton is the creator-author of JamesBondWatches.com and guest curator for the “Bond Watches, James Bond Watches” exhibition, June 18, 2010 through April 30, 2011. He is a member of both the National Watch & Clock Association and American Marketing Association, and a recognized expert on Ian Fleming and James Bond horology. Previously, he was elected to a three-year term on the board of directors that governs the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, and served three terms on the editorial advisory board for Exhibitor Publications.