Mint versions of the wristwatch worn by Sean Connery in the early Bond movies sell for up to $600,000 at auction. We explore how to get the James Bond watch look on a more modest budget.
Budget Bond: Cheap James Bond Watch Options
James Bond, Agent 007 has been linked to a series of wristwatches over the years. Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel featured the suave spy wearing a Rolex Oyster Perpetual –a design also worn by the author himself – but by the time Bond hit the big screen, the watch had evolved.
In Doctor No, James Bond’s first cinematic outing, Sean Connery wore a Rolex Submariner on a leather strap. The most iconic shot of Bond’s watch – and the look which is most commonly sought after by wristwatch enthusiasts – is this one, of Bond’s gilt-dialled reference 6538 Submariner on a striped nylon strap.
In this article, we take a look at the watch – and the strap – and show you some more affordable ways to achieve the look.
The 6538 Rolex Submariner
The reference 6538 Rolex Submariner is a classic piece of wristwatch design. Later models of the watch featured upgraded movements, ceramic bezels and more intricately-crafted dials but this “big crown” model remains popular amongst wristwatch enthusiasts.
The key features of the reference 6538 are:
- A large diameter crown, with no “crown guards.”
- A gilt, painted dial
- No date window
- A domed, acrylic crystal
This article at Bob’s Watches gives a good overview of the features on the classic Bond watch.
Finding a close replica of a Rolex Submariner 6538 is difficult. For reasons of practicality, acrylic crystals have been almost entirely replaced by mineral or sapphire glass. The majority of modern affordable dive watch cases are fashioned after the later model Rolex submariners which have smaller crowns and crown guards to protect the delicate mechanism from knocks. And date functions are near-ubiquitous on even the cheapest timepieces.
There are a few options to get the right look, all of which involve some degree of compromise:
Cheap Rolex Submariner Homage Watches
There is a range of watches made in China called “Parnis”, which – despite the terrible name – are very popular with wristwatch enthusiasts. Some say that Parnis watches share components with some “closer replicas” of famous watch brands, but the ones on eBay come with Parnis-branded or sterile dials. They offer a lot of bang for your buck, usually costing under £100. For a watch with an automatic self-winding movement this is very good value indeed.
Parnis watches are based on a newer version of the Submariner, and so they have crown guards, glass crystals and a date window. However, they are well-made for the price and offer great value.
A reader has suggested this watch from Corgeut as an homage to the 5517 Submariner. It has a gilt dial, big crown, no crown guards and at 41mm it offers a vintage look in a modern style. We agree and think it is well worth seeking one out. Several colours and variants are available if you prefer a bit of colour. It is available on leather (which looks very cool) as well as a bracelet. Price is about £90-£100 which is on the expensive side but it does have a Miyota movement which is a step above the usual quality for budget Chinese watches.
Invicta is the Marmite brand of the watch world. They make some very nice watches with high-quality movements and attractive styling. They also make some absolutely horrendous, gaudy watches. This means they are not so popular amongst watch collectors. The exception is the 8926OB – a really nice automatic Rolex Submariner homage that can be picked up on Amazon for about £100. The Invicta is very frequently on special offer. Keep your eyes open in the Amazon sales and you’ll be able to pick one up for closer to £60 if you aren’t in a hurry. The 8926 has a nice display back and comes in a decent box. It also feels far, far more expensive than it is.
Tiger Concept’s 5508 watch is probably the closest equivalent to the Bond watch we have found. It needs the ‘right’ strap adding to make it perfect, but the case and dial are very close facsimiles of the Rolex 6538. It’s priced at a very reasonable $149 with the DG2813 movement and ships quickly from the Far East. We recommend the DG2813 movement as it is a reliable and cheap workhorse. It has a low beat rate which matches the original Rolex movement better than the smoother, more modern variants.
The James Bond Watch Nylon NATO Strap
According to legend, the reason Connery wore the Rolex on a nylon strap in Doctor No was that it was borrowed at the last minute on set, and did not fit his wrists. The rivetted bracelets on early Rolex Submariners are notoriously difficult to adjust. Instead, the watch was placed onto a Nylon strap which – incidentally – was 2mm to narrow for the watch’s lugs!
The strap in question is actually a one-piece in the movie, but modern straps are almost always the more recent “NATO” style. NATO straps are named after the standard-issue watch band issued to NATO troops. That band is made of a strip of nylon, which slots under the lugs and spring bars of the watch. It then loops through itself before being buckled onto the wrist. The benefit of the loop design is that if one of the watch’s spring bars breaks, the watch will remain attached to the strap.
The colour of the strap is also debated. On early video recordings and TV pictures, the strap appeared to be made up of grey and black stripes. There are many “Bond” straps on the market with this appearance. The grey and black look was also used in the more recent Omega Seamaster James Bond watch from the movie Skyfall. On closer inspection, however, the Doctor No strap is actually made up of red, green and black stripes.
You can acquire a James Bond NATO strap from many online sellers. They are very common on eBay from £2 upwards, or you could invest in a higher quality version from a dedicated watch strap vendor. The size you’ll need for most Submariner-styled watches is 20mm.
Further reading on the James Bond Watch
To find out more about James Bond’s watches, we recommend this article by Gear Patrol.