The mythology of James Bond is a pop culture phenomenon in that even if you haven’t seen the movies, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the titular character. For a lot of people that means debonair style and sometimes ridiculous accents, but for watch fans, it’s all about the Rolex Submariner.
When Sean Connery debuted as the first-ever Bond in 1962’s Dr. No., he etched himself into Rolex history with his choice of timepiece: the Submariner reference 6538. As the world’s first dive watch, it was a sensible choice for a 007 who was never afraid of getting wet during his pursuit of saving the world. “[Bond] could not just wear a watch,” wrote James Bond creator Ian Fleming in his book Casino Royale. “It had to be a Rolex”.
Sometimes referred to as “The Big Crown” thanks to the oversized winding crown and no crown guards, the model packed a distinct vintage look and played off nicely against Bond’s off-duty style of summer polos and camp shirts. Without his wearing it — as he also did in Russia with Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball — the Submariner would not become what many regard as the most famous watch of all time.
“The Rolex Submariner has taken on an interesting life,” said writer, author, and luxury brand consultant Ariel Adams. “Because it’s not just a steel dive watch, it’s a Rolex steel dive watch, and everyone from politicians to actors to soldiers wear it.”
Bond’s watches have variated in the intervening years as product placement has infiltrated the movie world — who can forget the skin-crawling Casino Royale scene in which Eva Green asks Daniel Craig if his watch is a Rolex, to which he replies, “Omega.” But back then Rolex was not the type of company to pay, and some even speculate that the watch seen in Goldfinger‘s iconic lighter scene was actually one of Connery’s personal possessions (others, however, claim it was borrowed from a producer). Either way, so synonymous did the watch become with Connery’s tenure as Bond, fans today still refer to 6538 versions as James Bond Submariners.
As a part of Hollywood history, these watches have also been highly sought after — in 2018, a 6538 featuring a rare Explorer dial sold for $1,068,50, making it the most expensive Rolex Submariner ever sold at auction. Like Connery remains the most emblematic Bond, the Submariner remains Rolex’s most emblematic model.