James Bond definitive watch guide
Skyfall (2012)

THE MANY WATCHES of the James Bond franchise is often a hot topic of conversion. From the manual, the automatic and the digital watches. The grappling-hooked, laser-beaming, magnetic, radio frequency, and the television watches. The Swiss, American and Japanese watches. The merchandisable, marketable and highly monetisable watches. More than any other franchise, more than any other thing, the watches of James Bond, above all else, gave us something we always wanted… a watch that went “Kaboom!”

And Bond watches did indeed go “Kaboom!”

But explosive as the watches were, personal taste obviously has its play to part in the whole “best Bond watch ever” debate. So, if you had to assemble an all-time top seven James Bond film watch collection, based on utility, novelty and beauty (and never once do all three combine), what would it look like?

Below, Esquire takes on the arduous task of listing what we think to be the seven best James Bond watches of all time. In chronological, chronometrical order:

Sean Connery Gruen Precision 510 watch
Scottish Watches

1. Gruen Precision 510 – Dr. No

The first Bond watch seen on screen, a 17-jewel, 34mm gold number strapped to Sean Connery at the gaming tables in Dr No (1962), and it may have been the actor’s own. Now defunct, Gruen was a US company that began making wristwatches in 1908 using first German and then Swiss components, and swiftly became one of the leading manufacturers of mid-range timepieces, not least with its Curvex models that clung to the shape of the wrist. 

What Connery’s dress watch lacked in hipness it made up for in old-school classicism, perfect for after-hours chemin de fer and seduction. But it’s certainly not the watch of an action man. Accordingly, when Bond is called to smash and chase things, he’s wearing a more durable Rolex Submariner ref 6538. This may also have been Connery’s own, but who wouldn’t want to believe the legend that it belonged to producer Cubby Broccoli, who supposedly took it off his own wrist and tossed it to Connery before things got serious down in Crab Key. But the Gruen didn’t go quietly, and those who have looked closely have also detected its quiet appearance in From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), You Only Live Twice (1967) and Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

Breitling Top Time ref 2002 in Thunderball

2. Breitling Top Time ref 2002 – Thunderball

Finally, in Thunderball (1965), the fourth movie, Bond gets a watch with a purpose. Described to him by Q as “useful and unobstructive”, his chunky Breitling Geiger counter detects radiation from two stolen atomic bombs, and the world is saved from the terrible intentions of Spectre’s Emilio Largo, hoorah. The watch is a unique prop, a metal ellipse around the Breitling’s regular round face, and it was assumed lost for more than 45 years before being bought at a car boot sale for £25 and then sold at Christie’s in 2013 for just under £104,000. Breitling never graced Bond’s wrist again, although the company’s life-saving Emergency model, with its SOS transmitter for downed pilots and stranded explorers, would surely have been a decent match.

Rolex Submariner ref 5513 in Live and Let Die.
Live and Let Die

3. Rolex Submariner ref 5513 – Live and Let Die

Setting the gadget bar high, this one marked Roger Moore’s debut and began the direct and ignoble link between Bond’s wrist and no-holds sexism. But before we go there, we should log the first brave-new-world appearance of the Bond digital. In 1973, near the start of Live and Let Die, with a woman in his bed, Moore hears knocking at his door and consults his silver Hamilton Pulsar P2 with its red flickering display. It is 5:48. The display appears so briefly, and the hour is so ungodly, that he must check it again. It is still 5:48. 

Shortly afterwards, with his visitors admitted, Moneypenny hands him a ticket for New York and his old watch “repaired” by Q. If only all repairs were this good. His Rolex came back from the menders with a bezel doubling as a strong magnet, demonstrated early on by attracting the spoon from a nearby saucer. The magnet will, if you ever doubted it, soon be used to unzip the back of a woman’s dress, but the bezel has another use, too, as a rotating saw that will later come in useful to cut off rope around Bond’s hands. The saw prop was auctioned at Phillips in 2015 for CHF365,000 (£310,000), the catalogue declaring it “the most recognisable watch in history”; a good price for an item that didn’t tell the time (because the case didn’t actually house a watch mechanism).

Seiko DK001 Quartz LC ref 0674 in The Spy Who Loved Me
The Spy Who Loved Me

4. Seiko DK001 Quartz LC ref 0674 – The Spy Who Loved Me

The Seiko was the early star of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), kickstarting the plot as Roger Moore is summoned back to MI6 by ticker tape. Extraordinary to think that this silver day-date “splash-resistant” was once considered the hottest ticket, but pair it with the miniature-telex-meets-Dymo-sticky-label-printer and you have the beginning of a beautiful quartz friendship. Many more Seikos followed, including the “smart” Memory Bank Calendar M354-5010 in Moonraker, the H357-5040 Duo-Display in For Your Eyes Only (1981), and three round-face Seikos in 1985’s A View to a Kill (it was basically the Argos catalogue). Roger Moore sure drew the short straw when it came to the classics. But then again, we have skipped all mention of Octopussy (1983), in which he wears not only the Sports 100 G757-5020 with a “lap” indicator, but also the unforgettably sexist deployment of…

Seiko Liquid Crystal TV Watch in Octopussy

5. Seiko Liquid Crystal TV Watch – Octopussy

Of which all that needs to be said is that Bond employs this watch only once, and not truly to advance the plot. Instead, he uses it — in long and close-up zooming style — to show the cleavage of a woman working in Q’s gadget factory. In case you somehow missed it, the time above the cleavage image advanced while the cleavage image was on display from 19:10 and 38 seconds to 19:10 and 39 seconds on Tuesday the 18th of an unidentified month.

Omega Seamaster 300 in GoldenEye

6. Omega Seamaster 300 – GoldenEye

So much watch-fuelled fun for Pierce Brosnan. Not only a laser gun on his and Omega’s first Seamaster appearance, in GoldenEye in 1995, but also this Seamaster with a grappling hook four years later in The World is Not Enough. I want a grappling hook on my watch. You want a grappling hook on your watch. Only Bond had a grappling hook on his watch.

The Omega Seamaster Diver 300M Co-Axial Master Chronometer
No Time to Die

7. The Omega Seamaster Diver 300M Co-Axial Master Chronometer – No Time To Die

The latest one and in some senses one of the least. Least flashy; least loaded; least weighty. Everything else points to this as one of the best-looking Bond watches ever. I haven’t yet seen how Bond deploys it in No Time to Die, or whether it bears any relevance to the plot at all (it’s a diver’s watch, obviously, and the dial luminescence is strong, but neither of these hint at anything unusual). All the specifications — 42mm, black dial, titanium case and titanium Milanese mesh strap — suggest a weather-worn appearance. Ah, the symbolism again: long gone is the shiny, over-built beefcake of the Seamaster Professional, for here comes the less-is-more. The new model has “62” engraved on the back of the case, marking the year of the first Bond movie Dr No. All of which suggests some sort of perfect circle for the agent’s 25th year with Omega.

This article by Simon Garfield originally appeared on Esquire UK.