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Old 18 March 2010, 09:17 AM   #1
delldeaton
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Icon3 The original James Bond Rolex: The Ian Fleming Explorer 1016

The February 2009 issue of WatchTime magazine ran a feature article I'd written on my discovery of the original, literary James Bond watch: The personal Rolex 1016 Explorer worn by Ian Fleming and referenced by him in his novel, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.


My personal Rolex 1016 Explorer, dated to the fourth-quarter of 1960, and produced just before the Fleming-Bond watch: Original dial intact, three first editions of On Her Majesty's Secret Service shown in the background.

A lot of intelligent discussion followed here with the great folks on the Rolex Forums, and there've been a number of requests for permission to Post it here permanently. I've retained all copyrights (the deal with WatchTime was for a one-time use), and I decided early on to limit Internet publication beyond that to just one place for the James Bond community and one for the watch folks. TRF was my choice for the latter, figuring you all would best contribute even further to the discussion.

As you read along here, I've set up the individual pages so that you can click on them and see the full scan at a readable size for review, if you're interested in doing so.

So, with that, here we go--



Found: James Bond's Rolex

James Bond, like his creator Ian Fleming, wore a Rolex Explorer I

by Dell Deaton, www.jamesbondwatches.com


Did Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, have a particular wristwatch in mind when writing the original 007 stories? Could it be that Fleming himself wore the first James Bond timepiece?

Only one brand is specifically named as that secret agent’s watch in Fleming’s original 14 Bond editions: Rolex. The greatest detail comes in his eleventh book, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, published in 1963. Here we read of the “big luminous numerals” that Bond sees when taking a lazy midnight glance at his chronometer, “a heavy Rolex Oyster Perpetual on an expanding metal bracelet.” The watch is a Rolex Explorer I.

And not just any Rolex Explorer I. My research convinces me that it was Fleming’s own stainless-steel wristwatch, model 1016 with a black dial on a 7206 bracelet, case number 596851. Fleming’s stepdaughter, Fionn Morgan, believes it is the first and only Rolex he ever owned. After her stepfather passed away on August 12, 1964, the watch was locked in a bank vault. There it stayed until the death of her mother — his widow, Ann — in 1981. That was when, following almost 20 years in isolation, it once again saw the light of day.

“Spookily, it was still going,” Morgan said to me last May, recalling the day she first picked it up. “I am told that this happens with Oyster Perpetuals; your hand sets them off.” To her the watch was intensely personal, a family heirloom left by a man she loved as if her own blood-relation father. So she did what many of us would do. She gave it to her son-in-law, to wear daily as a touchstone with her past.

That’s how it went until preparations began for the “Ian Fleming Centenary,” a year-plus celebration associated with the author’s 100th birthday on May 28, 2008. In particular, Britain’s Imperial War Museum (IWM) was planning a special 45-week exhibition titled, “For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond.” Mary Gibson, Fionn Morgan’s daughter, loaned for show the Ian Fleming watch that her husband had been wearing. Along with other Fleming artifacts and props from James Bond movies, the watch is on display at the museum in London until March 1, 2009.


The IWM exhibit asks a question often debated by Fleming biographers: How much of James Bond was Ian Fleming? Evidence abounds that Fleming steeped this fictional spy with his most personal tastes and habits. The 007 clothing choices, hatred of tea, and number of cigarettes smoked in a day all parallel aspects of Fleming’s own life.

Product placements abound in his books. Familiar brands hook us to Bond’s world through the reality of what we already know and accept. Bond’s creator was thoughtful in the use of these. Thus there are obvious distinctions between references made to things he had simply researched to fill in gaps, and those he experienced personally.

In total, there are approximately 100 references to James Bond wearing a watch in the Fleming novels and short-story collections published between 1953 and 1966 (the last two were posthumous). Two-thirds of these tell readers nothing more than the time of day. This is particularly true in earlier novels such as Moonraker, Diamonds Are Forever, and Goldfinger, where Agent 007 mostly just looks or glances at his watch, on average nine to 10 times per story.

Function and design details come slowly. We hear Bond’s watch “tick” for the first time in 1955. In 1957, we are told that, although he otherwise sleeps naked, Bond wears a watch to bed. Fleming used the word “glass” when referring to its crystal in From Russia, with Love. For Doctor No a dial is not just “luminous,” but blazingly so! In 1960, 007’s eyes follow “the gleaming minute-hand” creeping past its time markers.


The Ian Fleming thrillers feature multiple James Bond watches. Bond loses his watch during the Casino Royale torture, has another watch shot apart on his wrist in From Russia, with Love, destroys a Rolex while using it as a “knuckle-duster” in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and is unlikely to have returned for whatever timepiece he left behind when Tiger Tanaka gives him a “cheap Japanese wristwatch” for his final pursuit of recurring arch-villain Blofeld in You Only Live Twice.

Fleming, too, had many watches. Photographs from the 1950s show him variously wearing a half-dozen-or-so nondescript wristwatches, mostly on straps. None stands out. This parallels the attitude of his character through the period as well. I don’t suggest that Fleming treated his own watches as disposable (as his alter-ego certainly does). But Fleming heirs told me last summer that his Explorer I is the only wristwatch known to have survived him.

Some Bond aficionados insist that Rolex is established as the definitive “James Bond watch” in Live and Let Die (1954). I don’t think so. When Fleming settled on a brand, he tended to either repeat it or clearly label its replacement. We don’t simply read about locks, we read about Yale locks, again and again, in multiple novels. James Bond drives a Bentley or an Aston Martin or a Thunderbird, a specific car, as opposed to any car we might imagine.

That’s not the case with the 1954 Rolex. After Live and Let Die, almost a decade passed before Fleming gave Bond another Rolex. In the meantime, Fleming hadn’t forgotten the brand, since “a solid gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer on a flexible gold bracelet” features prominently as a bad guy’s watch seven novels later, in Thunderball. (This Rolex becomes a “James Bond watch” of sorts, since Agent 007 puts it on his own wrist after removing it from the villain’s dead body.)


Secondly, the Live and Let Die Rolex is a divers’ watch; hardly what men wore daily in the 1950s.We know how Bond’s watch had to perform here, because he “looked at the Rolex on his wrist” while underwater. He was at the close of a 300-yard dive in Jamaican waters, on a well-prepared mission to place mines on a smuggling vessel, moored at an anchorage of about 30 feet. His agency quartermaster, Q Branch, has supplied him with a wetsuit and other special-purpose equipment for the assignment. It’s likely that Q had provided this particular watch as well, and that Bond did not choose the Live and Let Die Rolex for himself. (Years later, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, we learn that Q Branch actually keeps an off-the-shelf inventory of Rolex wristwatches, or at least came to do so by 1963.)

For Live and Let Die, I think the plot simply called for 007 to check his watch in mid-swim in order to build tension at a key point in the exposition. As a diver himself, Fleming knew that a typical wristwatch was unsuitable; he needed to cite a specific brand to make that awareness clear. Being an accomplished journalist, he would have researched options.

Finally, the lack of any further specifics on this Rolex, and no reference whatsoever to the brand in his next eight books, classify it as a watch Fleming researched rather than experienced. Most likely, he chose Rolex because of its advertising, which emphasized waterproof case integrity.


This is more than speculation. In a letter he wrote four years after completing his Live and Let Die manuscript, Fleming made it clear that Rolex was not at that time James Bond’s choice for a timekeeper.

This came in response to written criticism from an astute reader. Following are excerpts from each side of their correspondence, provided tome last summer by Fleming’s stepdaughter. On April 25, 1958, a reader complained about the performance of Agent 007’s watch in Doctor No. Specifically, “Bond glanced at his watch. It had stopped at three o’clock.” Stopped! This sentence made the reader “extremely surprised and perturbed.” He considered it “a very serious matter which should at once be drawn to the attention of M [Bond’s boss’s codename],” suggesting this field failure “be made the subject of an Official Inquiry.”

The reader proposed a solution. In the future, Bond should be issued a “Rolex Oyster Perpetual, which is completely waterproof and does not require winding,” and, if anything, “keeps even better time after immersion.”

Fleming acknowledged the complaint and made his reply. “I have discussed this with [James Bond] and he points out that the Rolex Perpetual weighs about six ounces and would appreciably slow up the use of his left hand in combat.”

Then, this: “His practice, in fact, is to use fairly cheap, expendable wrist watches on expanding metal bracelets which can be slipped forward over the thumb and used in the form of a knuckle-duster, either on the outside or the inside of the hand.” If Bond’s personal watch was “cheap” and “expendable” up until 1958, it was never a Rolex.

No particular Oyster Perpetual model was cited in either letter. Fleming simply repeated the “Rolex Oyster Perpetual” reference in the reader’s letter. He did, however, come up with a weight for the watch and considered its feel. But this event did not yet set the wheels in motion for his own purchase of the Explorer I. If the 007 watch had moved from a researched to an experienced item, we’d see a change in his writing. The next three books (written after the exchange of letters) feature just over a dozen notations on the watch Bond is wearing. All remain true to form, never going beyond a “gleaming minute-hand” or a luminous dial notation.


Everything changes with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, written in 1962. Thirteen percent of all James Bond watch references are in this one novel, more than in any other Fleming thriller. He cited the Rolex brand in seven places. As Bond expert and author Kingsley Amis generally observed, Fleming wrote “with an energy that shows [when] he’s dealing with something personally important to him.”

What was that?

I’m convinced that it was the deal struck with Eon Productions in 1961 to make five James Bond movies. The first, Dr. No, began filming in Jamaica during the early months of 1962 — the same time Ian Fleming was there, writing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. We know that cross-pollination resulted, because the virtually unknown actress who played the female lead in Dr. No is referred to as “Ursula Andress, the film star” in the novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Sean Connery, as Bond in Dr. No, wore a Submariner. Whoever made that happen, the only Fleming book then existing to specify a Rolex was Live and Let Die. It’s hard to imagine that Ian Fleming would have let the last detail of Bond’s Rolex model be determined by someone else. Neither would he have forgotten the 1958 letter that first recommended Rolex to him. As 007 followers know, it was another reader’s letter, from gun expert Geoffrey Boothroyd, which persuaded Fleming to have James Bond give up his signature Beretta pistol in favor of a Walther PPK.


By 1962 when filming began on Dr. No, Ian Fleming was becoming an icon in his own right through his books, increasing public attention (good and bad), and sophisticated self-promotion. At the same time, “James Bond” was taking on a life of his own, beyond the control of his creator.

All of this affected Fleming. Lines were blurring as he sought to identify himself more closely with his character, to live as 007 would live, to play the part. Biographers have written about this. His wife, Ann, noted that no one had “grasped the extent of Ian’s desire to be his alter ego.”

Ian Fleming acquired his Rolex Explorer I sometime between the summer of 1961 and spring of 1962. It’s this chronometer that changed his writing about Rolex and James Bond from researched to experienced.

In contrast to the sunny beaches where movie work was underway in Jamaica, the main action of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service takes place on a snow-covered mountain. If you were going to pick a watch for such an adventure, what better choice than a Rolex Explorer, the watch that had famously conquered Mount Everest in 1953?

Bond’s watch is described as having “numerals,” as opposed to undefined markers. Fleming’s own Explorer I had luminous 3-, 6-, and 9-o’clock indicators.

“Bond surveyed his weapons. They were only his hands and feet, his Gillette razor and his wristwatch, a heavy Rolex Oyster Perpetual on an expanding metal bracelet. Used properly, these could be turned into most effective knuckle-dusters.” But this doesn’t mean the “expanding-link” option offered by Rolex at that time. Fleming had established in Thunderball that “flexible” was a bracelet with springs in its links. Fleming’s personal Explorer is fitted with the original 7206 bracelet; it has fixed links and a deployant clasp. Laymen describe this as “expanding” to open.


Finally, Fleming specifies the 007 watch as new in Chapter 23. The Fleming Rolex case number 596851 suggests it, too, would have been a relatively new model 1016 that the author was wearing as he wrote this novel.

For the publication of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Fleming commissioned an oil portrait of himself, painted in 1962 by longtime friend Charles Amherst Villiers. It appears as a frontispiece in a special edition of 250 numbered copies of the book. I confirmed last summer that it captures Ian Fleming wearing his Explorer I, its dial reading 12:05.

So why stop at calling it a “Rolex Oyster Perpetual” in the novel when the name “Explorer” was so evident on the face of Fleming’s own watch — the watch he used as referent while typing? Why not note the material as stainless steel, indulging his penchant for adding detail after detail? Of all Rolex models at the time, this one was identified with unwavering performance under the harshest conditions, an ideal watch to advance his characterization of James Bond. Why didn’t he identify it as an Explorer?

Because he wanted to give a wink and a nod to that reader who’d first recommended Rolex to him almost four years earlier. I think that was more important to Fleming. In this case, going no further than calling the watch a “Rolex Oyster Perpetual” was, in fact, quite specific to him, more personal. His 1958 letter became notes for his 1963 novel (he hated to waste good material): On page 177 we see, “the Rolex transferred to [Bond’s] right, the bracelet clasped in the palm of his hand and round the fingers so that the face of the watch lay across his middle knuckles.”


Unlike the Live and Let Die watch, there is no question that this piece is James Bond’s choice. He is concerned about its out-of-pocket cost.

During the debriefing with M, in Chapter 20 of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, “Bond lifted his left wrist” to check the time. “Remembered that he no longer had a watch. That would certainly be allowed on expenses. He would get another one as soon as the shops opened after Boxing Day. Another Rolex? Probably. They were on the heavy side, but they worked. And at least you could see the time in the dark with those big phosphorous numerals.” We see Fleming’s Explorer I on Bond for the last time (ever) on page 241, when 007 “glanced at the new Rolex on his wrist.”

Yet we still learn something: James Bond may continue wearing a watch after it becomes “old,” as his friend Felix Leiter once observed; but when it’s time for replacement, he chooses new.

This first specific wristwatch chosen for Bond not only remains in current production as the model 114270, but its overall appearance remains true to the 1016 that Ian Fleming put on James Bond’s wrist in 1962. So what would it really mean to go “back to the original Fleming” and put Bond in an 114270 for 2009? I think it would symbolize a more discreet operative, more subtly able to transition from casino to combat — every bit as tough, but without advertising his Navy service with a watch that sticks out from his shirt cuff.

Just prior to display of Fleming’s Rolex Explorer I at the Imperial War Museum, it was virtually all-original. On February 13, 2008, a Rolex service center had its first opportunity to make an assessment. The movement had rust and had been damaged by water contamination. Its bezel, and caseback were scratched, its 5- and 11-o’clock lugs were “marked.” The crown was broken at the stem. The bracelet was strained, “clasp cracking at pin of blades.”

I was told before the museum opening that someone raised concerns about “protecting” visitors from the radioactive material used to make its now-half-century-old dial luminescent. Stanchions and ropes were discussed as a way to keep the public at a safe distance. In the end, it was decided to replace the original dial that had illuminated so much of one great James Bond story.

Still, this chronometer continues to serve as a tangible reminder that there is no James Bond without Ian Fleming. In this most personal way, James Bond was Ian Fleming. And his watch, the Rolex Explorer I, is the first, authentic James Bond watch.

# # #

The article closed with my name and reference to my other James Bond watches research.

It also noted the upcoming "Bond Watches, James Bond Watches" exhibit at the National Watch & Clock Museum, June 18, 2010, through April 30, 2011. More information on all that is on my website. And I surely hope to see a lot of my TRF friends there over its year-long run!

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Old 18 March 2010, 09:19 AM   #2
delldeaton
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Icon1 "How I Found the Original James Bond Rolex"

Four months after the WatchTime article, the NAWCC BULLETIN (Journal of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors) published a follow-up piece I'd written on the Ian Fleming / literary James Bond Rolex 1016 Explorer.

Picking up where the WatchTime article left off, this one deals with some behind-the-scenes aspects of my research. It also bridges the gap to the film and directly deals with the issue of the Rolex Submariner as a James Bond watch and Ian Fleming's views in that regard.



How I Found the Original James Bond Watch

by Dell Deaton, www.jamesbondwatches.com

The literary, or original, watch of personal choice for the James Bond character is a Rolex 1016 Explorer. Details related to my making this first definitive identification were published in the February 2009 issue of WatchTime magazine. So this is not an article about “what” Agent 007 wore, but, rather, it’s a piece more functionally relevant to BULLETIN readers: “How was it found?”

Yes, “Rolex” is the only James Bond watch specifically named by creator Ian Fleming. But watch collectors who read Fleming’s books after hearing about “the James Bond Rolex” are often surprised at how little attention the brand is actually given in those pages. In fact, Rolex is ascribed to Bond in only two novels. It appears one time during the plot of Live and Let Die (1954). Nine years later, Rolex is mentioned an unprecedented seven times as Bond’s own purchase in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963).

Although James Bond is a fictional figure, Ian Fleming invariably looked to reality for details. He gave a trade name for 007’s shirts. Aston Martin is an actual car. Authentic brand references helped him sweep readers along through fantastic situations by hooking them to the real world with citations his audience was likely to know through advertising.

For me, “Bond” serves as a creative theme for the watches I collect; the literary James Bond watch is where I start.

Dating Watches through Fleming’s Writing Routine

Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond stories between January 1952 and August 1964, following a strict, selfimposed cycle to produce one book per year, resulting in a total of 14.

With his second novel, Live and Let Die, he established a routine that all but the last two books would follow to publication. His preliminary research and notes organization began some 18 months out. Individual manuscripts were then written, start-to-finish, during the initial two months of the year prior to publication. Over the course of the next 12 months, those complete drafts were revised, fact-checked, and edited to final form.

Understanding this history is critical in accurately dating references to physical wristwatches. So the sequencing above, for example, at least initially suggested to me that the Bond Rolex in Live and Let Die would have had to be based on something from the fourth quarter of 1952.

This is consistent with my review of the typed Live and Let Die manuscript archived in the Lilly Library on the campus of Indiana University at Bloomington. The word “Rolex” in Fleming’s own bound edition there appears on page 111.

The larger context of the Live and Let Die plot makes that watch mission-specific. In other words, Fleming didn’t intend to define Bond’s personal watch choice, but, rather, deliberately used the Rolex name to validate a tool watch among a larger inventory of diving gear and weaponry he described as having been received by 007 from his quartermaster (“Q-Branch”) in London. “Rolex” merely enhances plot credibility, in this case, giving his protagonist the ability to check the time while submerged. It’s on par with “Champion,” maker of the Live and Let Die harpoon gun, also sourced from Q-Branch.

In an earlier chapter that describes preparations for the dive, Jacques Cousteau is named more than once as a source from which Bond was learning through books he’d borrowed. This mirrors Fleming’s own real-life research technique. He had just struck up a friendship with Cousteau at that time and even visited with him during his work surrounding discovery of the 2,200-year-old Marcus Sestius wine ship off the Bay of Marseilles.

All the evidence I’ve seen points to a high likelihood that Captain Cousteau provided quite a bit of technical detail, if not motivation, for sequences related to Bond’s climactic 300-yard swim in Live and Let Die. Exciting as this association may be, however, I would not connect it to a specific watch nor to any particular Rolex model.

Ian Fleming thought no more of that Rolex than as an efficient shorthand to substantiate a wristwatch that could perform as required on a commando mission to mine an enemy ship, moored at an anchorage of about 30 feet. His writing shows not the slightest trace of his otherwise characteristic attention to detail when describing physical pieces he’d seen (e.g., Where is the dial luminescence and rotating bezel — obvious and extremely relevant, if these had been features of a developmental Submariner that had served as its basis?).

Responsible research requires that I draw this line as well. Editors at WatchTime felt the same way, deleting a discussion of Jacques Cousteau from the earliest draft of my feature article.

Further reason to avoid overreaching here comes from evidence of just how effective Fleming otherwise could be in using horology as a means of carefully defining characters and enriching plotlines.

His first novel, Casino Royale (1953), features a shadowy Swiss figure who is “a traveller in watches.” Fleming’s first script treatment (1959) for a proposed 007 motion picture provides the heroine with a cover story of working for customs in search of stolen Swiss watches. He gave other high-profile characters important timepieces by Patek Philippe in 1955, Cartier in 1956, and Girard-Perregaux in 1957. One story published in 1961 even used a radium-painted watch dial to test a geiger counter.

Photos from the 1950s clearly show that Fleming wore a variety of different watches into his Bond era. These were alternatively on bracelets and straps. He seemed to favor lower-profile cases and dark dials, simply decorated, with no complications of any sort.

So I concluded many years ago that it was not due to oversight, nor for any lack of interest or knowledge that Ian Fleming had chosen to be so oblique in defining the James Bond watch. Nor was it out of any reluctance to get into the particulars of Bond’s individual tastes, since Fleming otherwise routinely explored the minutiae of Agent 007’s preferences in food and women.

Naming James Bond watch brands throughout the series would have perfectly, intimately served Fleming, then. But that’s not what he did.

Why not? Because, purposefully, Bond’s watch needed to be a commodity due to the nature of his work. This is confirmed by the copy of a letter provided to me by Lucy Fleming, the author’s niece. In correspondence dated June 5, 1958, Ian Fleming responded to a fan by the name of B. W. Goodden, stating that the practice of James Bond, “in fact, is to use fairly cheap, expendable wrist watches on expanding metal bracelets….”

Thus, not only is the reference to Rolex in Live and Let Die an anomaly, but, as I wrote above, it is an exception that had to be allowed to credibly have a wristwatch available to function underwater. Otherwise, it was Fleming’s clear intent for all James Bond watch choices to be generics, through Goldfinger (1959). In no case before 1961 was there an actual watch he referenced from the real world. So long as watches meet the criteria of “cheap” and “expendable,” worn on “expanding metal bracelets,” any number of timekeepers fit the bill as James Bond watches in books one through ten.

And this is how the earliest James Bond watch was presented on the wrist of an actor. See Barry Nelson in the Chrysler Climax Mystery Theater version of Casino Royale for CBS television, October 21, 1954. That show aired less than six months after the May 5 publication of Live and Let Die.


Literary-Bond versus Movie-Bond

Things were different when EON Productions began shooting scenes on location for its first James Bond film, Dr. No, on January 16, 1962. Harry Saltzman and Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli were the producers; Terence Young directed. Actor Sean Connery was James Bond. His movie-Bond was wearing a Rolex Submariner when Ian Fleming famously visited those sets and interacted with the cast that January.

For decades, many have cited this to justify arguments favoring a Sub model as the original James Bond watch: Fleming was there. He wouldn’t have missed noting the details of the watch Connery was wearing in character. Fleming’s style and number of references vis-à-vis the literary-Bond watch significantly changed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — unquestionably written after having seen the movie-Bond watch.

A close read actually shows that Ian Fleming resoundingly rejected the Sean Connery Rolex when giving specifics for his own literary-Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. For that book, he gave Agent 007 the same metal bracelet discussed in his B. W. Goodden letter; in the Connery film, the watch is obviously worn on a dark, textured strap with a buckle. The Submariner in Dr. No has only markers, not numbers, like the Rolex in Chapter 14 of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Much later in 1962, Playboy magazine asked Fleming for a “description of James Bond,” and he responded on December 11. This letter is quite consistent with his then-unpublished manuscript of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and strikingly dissimilar to Connery’s Bond. Fleming favored for Bond his own, personal traits of “blue-grey” eyes and short-sleeved shirts (even with a suit).

He also wrote: “Wears Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch.”

However, there’s no evidence that this might somehow have been a personal rejection of Connery, himself, in the role of Bond. In fact, Fleming’s stepdaughter Fionn Morgan was present at one of the first meetings between the Bond-creator and Bond-actor; she remembers an immediate acceptance and a good rapport. Nor was Ian Fleming adverse to having EON Productions influence his novel in progress. Note his mention in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service of the virtually unknown Ursula Andress, who played female lead in Dr. No. Fleming simply wanted to hold some elements of the literary Bond’s choices to himself. This included giving 007 his Rolex Explorer.

Among those less sure that a Submariner must have been the original intent of Fleming, there have been a variety of curious attempts to guess the true Rolex type. From a snapshot by Mary Slater to the professional session done by Harry Benson, period photographs have been examined in search of clues. An excellent history titled James Bond: The Man and His World, by Henry Chancellor, features one stock image of a Rolex Oyster Perpetual that caused some to erroneously claim “Mystery Solved!” in 2005.

I have long been convinced that the answer was to find an actual Rolex, or perhaps a number of Rolex wristwatches, that were worn by Ian Fleming himself. My approach, then, had been to make direct inquiries over the years to the Ian Fleming Will Trust, biographers, and surviving contemporaries of Fleming.

Initially, the clearest answers I’d gotten were most discouraging: Very few personal effects of this nature survived the author. Ironically, it was a particular Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean that led me to identify the original James Bond Rolex of Fleming’s time.

On March 8, 2006, amidst all sorts of secrecy surrounding the newly cast Daniel Craig, I became the first to identify the wristwatch he’d wear as Agent 007 in the so-called franchise reboot, Casino Royale. Although I’d been studying Bond watches since the 1970s, it was this Omega Planet Ocean that made my name synonymous with James Bond watches.

Following the unprecedented public acclaim with which Casino Royale was received, attention slowly shifted to preparations for the Ian Fleming Centenary, timed to what would have been his 100th birthday, on May 28, 2008. As part of this, the Imperial War Museum in London was planning to open a special exhibit on April 17, 2008, titled, For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond.

Family members were approached for artifacts, and Fionn Morgan supplied items never before displayed in public: a pair of her stepfather’s cuff links and his only surviving wristwatch—a Rolex Explorer I (according to her clear recollection, the only Rolex he’d ever owned). That’s where I came in. I specifically identified this illusive “Oyster Perpetual” for the first time in detail and provided historical context.

To revisit and expand a bit on my WatchTime feature, the Ian Fleming Rolex is a model 1016 Explorer, case number 596851. It still has the factory-delivered 7206 riveted, hollow-link (nonexpanding) bracelet with the number “58” on its endpieces. The mechanism is a Rolex 1560 caliber.

James Bond’s Radioactive Watch Dial

The original dial under the “superdome” crystal of this wristwatch is what fascinates me the most. It had indices painted with radium-226, no doubt providing the referent for Fleming when he wrote of Bond’s watch on page 154 of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, first edition: “The big luminous numerals said midnight.”

Debate surrounding luminescent material containing a radioactive isotope of the element radium has received excellent technical coverage in previous BULLETIN issues. I wasn’t in London when the Fleming watch decision was made, but I’m told that concerns related to radium exposure came down to a decision that its dial be replaced prior to showing it at the Imperial War Museum.

The photograph of the watch that appears on page 89 of the February 2009 WatchTime was taken after that change.

So, in addition to being aged, the original dial would have only had the word “SWISS” below its 6 o’clock position, as opposed to “SWISS – T < 25,” as seen in WatchTime. It also had a minute-track insert. Finally, the word “Rolex” was in a slab serif typeface, and the crown logo had a more squared proportion than later versions of the 1016.

I’ve been able to access a similar Rolex Explorer with a 596,xxx serial number for comparison and analysis by the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Its caseback markings date its production to the fourth quarter of 1960, placing it—and the original Bond watch, with an identical caseback—nicely into the retail window I wrote about in WatchTime.

This virtually identical watch, which still has its original dial, will be on display at the 2009 NAWCC National Convention in Grand Rapids, MI.

Manufacture date, markings, and other important Fleming-Bond watch configurations described in this BULLETIN article have been confirmed by Rolex UK.

Last May 28 I was at the Lilly Library in conjunction with Ian Fleming Centenary commemorations. While there, I took time to pull from their archive an original On Her Majesty’s Secret Service uncorrected proof, which would have been printed shortly before that novel was first published on April 1, 1963—almost six months after the October 5, 1962, premier of Dr. No starring Sean Connery. I found that Ian Fleming had not only continued to make changes to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service well into spring 1963, but among those he’d made a key correction in reference to the James Bond watch.

But there was no effort to reconcile a consistency with the movie-Bond wristwatch. The singular “Oyster Perpetual” wording in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service could have easily been changed to “Submariner” at that late date. It wasn’t.

This was a period of unique challenges for Ian Fleming, intimately, as the creative force behind 007. Litigation stemming from an earlier attempt at a movie deal sought to wrest credit from him for various successes of the James Bond icon. A massive heart attack in 1961 mandated radical changes to his active lifestyle. The Spy Who Loved Me (1962) was an experimental departure from the popular formula that Fleming had established for the book series, and it was resoundingly panned by critics.

Then, with the Dr. No movie, the world of Tinsel Town got him caught up in a measure of playacting choreographed to blur the lines between his actual service with the Department of Naval Intelligence during World War II and the fictional exploits of his fantasy secret agent.

In my WatchTime article, I wrote that it was “hard to imagine that Ian Fleming would have let the last detail of Bond’s Rolex model be determined by someone else.” My research leads me to conclude that that “someone” was three-time 007 film director Terence Young. In an interview published in 1981, Young described the nature of his rivalry with Fleming at that time over how the James Bond character would be presented going forward.

I’m confident that the Bond creator held fast to key details of the character as reminders that it would always be “Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007” (as, in fact, the lead to each new movie states even to this day).

In You Only Live Twice (1964), Fleming made what I read as yet another insider passage for which he is famous—this time, to horologists. In defense of the post-World War II greatness of England, James Bond gives only one specific: “…we still climb Everest….” Here again is implication of Ian Fleming’s propensity to keep almost any scrap of information he came across and to use it however he could in his stories. Period Rolex documents connected his Explorer to the climb he had Bond reference. I don’t think that is coincidence.

In my opinion, there is indeed one specific brand, model, and configuration for James Bond’s first watch — just one. That’s what I’ve written about here.

It’s hardly a surprise to prove that Ian Fleming first wore the original James Bond watch (and I suspect that Sean Connery would be among those most happy to agree). But the question for this BULLETIN article was not “Where—?” but, rather, “How was it found?”

That answer required discussions with those who actually knew Ian Fleming, professional examination of his Rolex, physical contact with the author’s own James Bond writings, and a geiger counter. Even then, my proposal draft to WatchTime was substantiated by some 168 footnotes before going forward — a field assignment quite worthy of Agent 007 himself.

This is how I found the original James Bond watch.

# # #

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Old 18 March 2010, 09:21 AM   #3
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Great info! Thanks for taking the time to post.
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Old 18 March 2010, 09:27 AM   #4
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What fascinating research, thank you for making it available.
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Old 18 March 2010, 10:59 AM   #5
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Great stuff Dell.. well researched and written..

Thanks for putting it up on TRF.........
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Old 18 March 2010, 11:03 AM   #6
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Most excellent reading Dell !
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Old 18 March 2010, 12:02 PM   #7
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Because of this forum, I've learned so much in so little time. My many thanks.
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Old 18 March 2010, 12:16 PM   #8
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picking mine up tomorrow...pics following soon, Mr deaton! mine= rolex 1016 explorer. original UNTOUCHED radium "swiss" gilt dial...non hacking 1560 movement. serial 596600, caseback dated IV.60.....oh so close to Ian's watch!!!!!!!!!!! I cannot wait to get her back and show it to you guys!!!!!!!!!
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Old 18 March 2010, 10:31 PM   #9
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Icon3 Speaking of Rolex Forums--

Thanks for the great feedback and encouragement here, guys.



Again, one of the main reasons I chose to host these articles permanently on the Rolex Forums was due to my experience with you all through the many intelligent, thoughtful Threads that we've shared here. So, to sorta leverage that here, I took a quick trip down memory lane and am Posting LINKs to a few of them for review along with the articles themselves.
What a great place we have for a Forum here! Ian Fleming, Rolex, and James Bond - all in perfecty sync.

That reminds me: Is it possible to embed YouTube videos here?


Last edited by delldeaton; 19 March 2010 at 12:08 AM.. Reason: adjusted URL on one of the links
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Old 20 May 2010, 07:34 AM   #10
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Very nice, thanks for sharing the research
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Old 20 May 2010, 03:10 PM   #11
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Fantastic job Dell

You and your Bond watch info are in the new June 2010 Watch Time magazine on page 26.

I will scan and post soon
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Old 22 September 2010, 12:17 AM   #12
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...great Stuff, Dell...

...as shown in our GTG thread, there is a photo of you and 3 of us TRF'ers at the National Watch & Clock Museum.

...and of course, I am so happy you chose one of MY bands for YOUR watch!

...always a pleasure to see your literary presentations!

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Old 6 November 2010, 02:23 AM   #13
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Icon20 Images of Ian Fleming's James Bond Rolex

It's been a while since I've been able to make it back to TRF, and, of course, to this Thread. Thought you might be interested in a few things from the "Bond Watches, James Bond Watches" exhibit, which continues to run at the National Watch & Clock Museum through next April 30, 2011.

First, as I've shared with folks during the personal tours I periodically guide through the exhibit when I'm in town, I was the one who actually couriered the Ian Fleming watch from its top-secret family location to the Museum. That further gave me exclusive access to extensively photograph it.

Here's one of those images.


Second, not only are still and video photography prohibited in the exhibit, but it's further a rare occasion that the Fleming-Bond Rolex 1016 Explorer is actually shown ticking while on display. So far, it's only been exhibited in operation twice. The last time was in mid-September, during our special "Bond Enthusiasts Weekend," where I made the following video and posted it to the James Bond Watches YouTube Channel.

"James Bond Watches: Alpha to Omega"

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to post these updates.

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Old 6 November 2010, 02:27 AM   #14
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Fantastic post and great story in WatchTime.
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Old 6 November 2010, 02:44 AM   #15
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Thanks for posting such an informative thread Dell!

I hope this one becomes a Sticky because I'd love to be able to refer back to it from time to time.
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Old 24 December 2010, 12:48 AM   #16
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I read all the 14 books one summer. It's great reading. The character is quite different than in the movies. I have watched all the movies also of course.
Great articles!
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Old 24 December 2010, 04:41 PM   #17
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Good info!
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Old 25 December 2010, 08:58 AM   #18
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Being relatively new to the forum, I just discovered this thread. Many thanks to Dell for all his efforts and willingness to share.
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Old 3 July 2011, 02:18 AM   #19
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nice article, makes me wanna read up on the written novels vs the movies. thanks for sharing.
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Old 27 December 2011, 01:42 PM   #20
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wow what a great read!! Thx for those wonderful articles....
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Old 21 January 2013, 10:51 PM   #21
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1016 is a great model, unfortunately the style has been heavily modified in the modern Explorer
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