Why do you think James Bond is such an enduring character?
You ask that question as if there’s some widespread consensus on whom he looks like and what it means to be “James Bond.”
I don’t think there is. For that matter, I don’t think there ever has been.
When it comes to James Bond watches, some folks act as if citing the name of “Ian Fleming” will serve as ultimate conversation-stopper. In watch communities, it goes like this: “The only brand that Ian Fleming specified by name was….” And so on.
True enough. But respond by noting Ian Fleming’s first recommendations to Eon Productions on who should play James Bond in the movies: David Niven and Roger Moore. That quickly separates true purists from mere opportunists.
Fact is, Mr. Fleming had far more interest in type than brand of James Bond watch. After having written his first 7 James Bond books, he wrote in summary that Agent 007’s watch should be “fairly cheap” and “expendable.”, That, too, is what Ian Fleming said.
Similarly, by 1964 Ian Fleming had himself settled on the notion that James Bond, the character, is “anonymous” by design. In an interview that year, he said to one journalist, “People have only to put their own clothes on Bond and build him into whatever sort of person they admire.”
Movie producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman obviously didn’t have that much latitude. But they struck the right balance in putting James Bond on a trajectory for actors and personality, danger balanced against escapist fun — perfected to “formula” in Goldfinger, the last movie filmed before Ian Fleming passed away in August of 1964.
The movies have succeeded in large part by sticking to formula, survived the few missteps by drawing on momentum built by past glories, until getting things back on course (quickly).
The longer James Bond has endured, the greater the likelihood he will continue to endure. You and I, Meehna, may have a most pleasant chat about our “common interest” in “James Bond” — all the while you thinking Roger Moore represents this best in The Spy Who Loved Me, while I was create mental pictures from Ian Fleming’s descriptions of scenes aboard The Orient Express in his novel From Russia, with Love.
I think the same can be said generally about James Bond watch fans.
 Andrew Lycett, Ian Fleming (1995), page 393.
 Henry Chancellor, James Bond: The Man and His World (2005), page 68: Citing June 5, 1958, letter to fan B.W. Gooden
 The Fleming family provided me with a copy of this original letter, as well as the fan letter to which it responds; however, I typically reference Chancellor in my citations, since people can actually look at an image of the former, as made available in that book
 Henry Chancellor, James Bond: The Man and His World (2005), page 59: Citing 1964 interview of Ian Fleming by journalist Ken Purdy
How would you describe the relationship between Bond and Rolex?
In a word?
And a lot of this is simply insider-baseball. In other words, outside of certain pockets on the Internet and the stray watch magazine or entertainment article writer looking to salt-in a bit of historical trivia, I don’t think there’s much present-day “relationship” between Bond and Rolex at all. Even if we give Omega watch marketing benefit of a doubt for the shoehorned brand mention in Casino Royale a few years ago, most people who noticed that bit of dialog at all were more likely to have merely seen it as putting Omega into the same class as Rolex.
More broadly, the Rolex watch is metaphor for Sean Connery. Off and on over the years, I’ve run brand preference surveys to gauge comparative interests. It’s incredibly hard to separate watch from wearer; damn near impossible. There’s a huge predisposition to read, “Which James Bond watch do you like best?” as “Which James Bond actor is the best?” To answer with any other name than “Sean Connery” is sacrilege in respondents’ scripts.
If we go back to the beginning for the movies, of course — through the 1960s, perhaps into the 1970s — “Bond plus Rolex” solved a key positioning interest for each identity. Up until James Bond, Rolex had far more of a divide than it does today in the marketplace. On the one hand, the carefully nurtured luxury branding, dating to founder Hans Wilsdorf’s earliest strategic initiatives; on the other, the technical tool watch that broke deep-sea records strapped to the outside of August Piccard’s Trieste bathyscaphe.
James Bond, through the Submariner in that famous pre-title close-up in the 1964 movie Goldfinger where he illuminates his watch dial with a cigarette lighter to check the time, made Rolex equally identifiable as both at once.
“Combat to casino,” as I often say.
In my opinion, Rolex undoubtedly leveraged this in its mid- to late 1960s print ad headlined, “A Perfect Partner on Land or in the Sea.” And you, Meehna, yourself, nicely pointed out the blurred line between this sports watch and high-fashion wear in an excellent blog post à la 007 last February making an argument for it to qualify as a dress watch.
Similarly, Rolex gave Eon Productions an iconic image that at once symbolized the whole of its James Bond character. Historically, in novels like Live and Let Die in 1954, Ian Fleming had indicated different watches for personal and mission wear. A decade later, director Guy Hamilton showed a way to singularly present both, perfectly, in the Goldfinger reference 6538 Submariner.
These overlapping “needs” for both watchmaker and movie producers have long-since passed. Today, I certainly think they each benefit from headline-making auctions that harken back to the Rolex-Bond history — most recently, your November 2011 auction of a buzz-saw prop watch from the 1973 movie Live and Let Die.
But I think that’s more “of interest” than anything either party would see significant value in actively pursuing for leverage. The benefit to each is more from Christie’s than from either one to the other.
Read Part 1.