If you’ve ever noticed James Bond’s Omega watch or Bruce Wayne’s Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso in “Batman Begins,” it was not by accident. Watchmakers know that one of the best ways to get you to wear their watches is to place one on the wrist of a movie star in a blockbuster film.
Today, as watches are being showcased more and more by celebrities, people are paying more attention to the types of watches that their favorite stars are sporting. And while watch companies become savvier about marketing their brands through product placement, watches continue to find their way on camera.
In movies, the best product placements use watches as clues about character. After all, watches are one of the many ways that men and women convey their style and taste, so it makes sense that Hollywood uses them to delineate characters’ personas on TV and in film.
“Product placement is an integral part of the movie-making process,” said Doug Harlocker, the propmaster on such projects as “War of the Worlds,” “Oceans 12,” “Spider-Man 2” and 3, and both “Men in Black” movies. “Let’s say that I am working on a film where an A-list actor has been cast in a role where his character can afford anything, one of his obvious accessories to express this with is his watch,” he said.
Ann Roth, the award-winning costume designer for the 2009 movie “Julie & Julia,” is obsessive about getting the watch right for each character. “I can hold up a movie set for hours choosing the right watch,” she said. “I am very particular about the watches that characters wear. It says so much about them.”
In “Batman Begins,” Bruce Wayne wears a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso watch — the iconic flip-over watch with two back-to-back dials — to represent his dual personality. And James Bond films have become famous for product placement, especially high-profile cars. Swiss watchmaker Omega has been flaunting its wares in Bond films since 1995 — the Omega models James Bond wears in the films are rugged yet elegant, just like Bond himself.
At times, product placement is as much about conveying a sense of history as it is about character. For example, in the 2001 movie “Pearl Harbor,” the Touchstone Pictures film included a close-up of a Hamilton Watch worn by Josh Hartnett. Hamilton Watch Co. supplied watches for the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps during World War II, making it a natural for placement in the film.
In the 2003 film “Master and Commander,” starring Russell Crowe, Harlocker contacted Breguet to duplicate a watch that the company had made in the 1700s to use in the film. “They took it on as a challenge and delivered a magnificent pocket watch absolutely authentic to the period at no charge to us,” he said. “What did they get out of it? Well, 100 million people saw that movie and saw Russell using it. It is a strong association.”
The Omega Speedmaster “Moonwatch” famously (and precisely) timed the start and stop of the Apollo 13 engine on re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, allowing for the crew’s safe return home in 1970. Ron Howard featured the same watch in the 1995 movie “Apollo 13.”
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Some watchmakers have direct relationships with actors who wear their brands. John Travolta, for example, is an ambassador for Breitling and wore one in the 2009 film “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.” Denzel Washington wears a Ball Watch in the same film.
Others, like the watch in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” are designed specifically for films. Hamilton Watch Co. was commissioned to make the “2001” watch, a special multi-time-zone piece, for the film. In 2006, Hamilton made a limited-edition reinterpretation of this watch, 30 years after the original film. How limited was this timepiece? You guessed it: only 2001 pieces.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has worn Audemars Piguet watches in movies including “End of Days” and the “Terminator” series. For “End of Days,” Audemars Piguet created a new watch called the Royal Oak Offshore and Schwarzenegger worked with the company on its design.
As watches continue to increase in popularity and visibility, you can expect to see more placements in movies and on TV. Award-winning production designer John Meyer (“Nine,” 2009) insisted that watches “help with the storytelling process,” he said. “It’s a major definition of a person’s character … and the right watch should make perfect sense.”