A week ago, Sir Sean Connery passed away and, with him, took a true legend of cinema and, indirectly, of the watch world. Consider this a horological obituary to the late Sean Connery.
The death of Sean Connery last Saturday caught me by surprise. Ironically, I heard the news whilst enjoying my most Bond-esque weekend in quite some time in a hotel in St James’s. Whilst, on the face of things, this was simply the death of a film star, his passing seemed was rather more significant.
This was the man whose performance in the early Bond films shaped my childhood as I waited behind the sofa with bated breath for 007’s triumph over a string of ever-more-unlikely villains. Later, as a lover of watches and cars, this influence, even if accidental, grew ever more. So, what did Sean Connery bring to us as an actor and, more importantly, as an icon of masculinity? Welcome to the horological obituary of Sean Connery.
There is certainly no doubt that Sean Connery was an icon through (but not exclusively for) his role as the first and perhaps best portrayal of James Bond, 007. Consider his first appearance in Dr. No (1962). Whilst undeniably rougher than later pictures, the recipe for awe in the eyes of all from schoolboys to grown men was obvious: here was a daydream of exotic locations, adventure and a certain sexuality alien to contemporary Britain.
With each film, Connery was a constant in ever-more-enticing scenes from tearing through the alps in the stunning Touring Superleggera-designed Aston Martin DB5 to venturing beneath the waves in the widescreen majesty of Thunderball (1965). Inevitably, each of us took something different from this fictional life whether it was wanting to drink, drive or dive. Even today, when the attitudes and plotlines of these films seem dated, one has to marvel at the sheer spectacle they presented and the cool manliness of Sean Connery.
The watch world needs icons. After all, the importance of a watch, whether personally or publicly, is found in the way it makes us feel. This can relate to rarity, engineering, craftsmanship or design. Perhaps more powerful than all of those, however, is the association which we make with a watch in relation to its achievements and who we may have see wearing it. In this light, the watch world has lost a truly influential individual with his quintessential Rolex Submariner ref. 6538.
Upon hearing the news, a trip to down Pall Mall for a Vesper Martini at Duke’s, Ian Fleming’s old haunt, was in order. Whilst there, sporting a black, knitted silk tie as in Goldfinger (1964) it was impossible to avoid considering just why the watch world has such an affection for Connery and his 007 appearances. Of course, Bond was hardly the only memorable performance of this actor with Highlander (1986), The Name of the Rose (1986), and The Hunt for Red October (1990) being a few favourites of mine. Nevertheless, it was the Rolex Submariner seen from the very beginning of Connery’s tenure which stuck.
In my opinion, it was precisely because the use of this dive watch was as unintentional as it was obvious for this character. This wasn’t a carefully curated watch to enhance the Rolex brand. In fact, it wasn’t even the most recent model but was instead simply a watch which, with its glowing dial, simply timing bezel and water resistance was the perfect companion for a man of this era. In this context, the Submariner wasn’t a status symbol: it was simply a pairing of the very best design with the very best quality. Nothing more.
Of course, Connery wore other watches including a Breitling and his own Gruen yet it was the Submariner which seemed to suit him most successfully. His style was very over-the-top with no space for flares or bright colours. Instead, his suits fitted well but didn’t hug the frame and, more casually, a black polo shirt and jumper were perfectly adequate. This seems far removed from the ultra-branded image of the 007 franchise today and, to an extent, explains why no matter where these films go in future, Connery’s Bond will always remain the benchmark and the truest interpretation of Ian Fleming’s vision. For this reason, let me end this obituary to Sean Connery by saying that his horological influence will always remain as the Submariner ref. 6538 will always be — in short — the business.