This Rolex Submariner Was James Bond’s First-Ever Watch


What’s in a name?

The watch world, for one, is full of nicknames—so many that it can be difficult to keep up in a room full of watch nerds without an encyclopedic knowledge of Smurfs, Hulks, Double Swiss Underlines, Paul Newmans, and the like. Watch guys seem to take particular delight in giving certain watches playful nicknames, and none more so than those from Rolex.

For whatever reason—popularity, ubiquity, visibility, you name it—it’s the Crown whose wares are almost immediately given silly, made-up monikers upon their debut. (Can I interest you in a cup of coffee with your Rolex “Starbucks”?) These are most certainly not nicknames that the brand itself will deign to use, mind you. But using the system does indeed bring some ease to the life of a watch guy—say “Pepsi” and everybody knows that you mean a red-and-blue-bezel GMT Master or GMT Master II, though they may not know which reference.

Let’s take the Submariner as another example. In production since the early 1950s, an almost absurd number of slight variations exist even within the same reference number. (Don’t believe us? Check out this massive guide on the subject from the folks over at Hodinkee.) But subtle differences in text, serif, and color aside, there are several references (and their nicknames) that stand out for their sheer cool factor—one of which is the ref. 6538 “James Bond” Submariner.

In production from roughly 1956-1958, the 38mm ref. 6538 was the fifth Sub reference. Unlike the ref. 6536—which, confusingly, was produced at the same time—that featured a small crown, the ref. 6538 featured an 8mm brevet “big” crown, giving in an off-kilter look that emphasized its character as a serious tool watch tailor-made for scuba diving. As the first Submariner with a chronometer-certified movement, it was available in two versions: On the first, the glossy black dial featured four lines of text, with model information in gilt printing, and the depth rating and chronometer certification in white. The second, two-line dial features—you guessed it—just two lines of text, the reason being that these examples aren’t chronometer certified. However, unlike their four-line cousins, they add hash marks on the bezel between 0-15 minutes, plus a fully red triangle.

Water resistant to 200m, the ref. 6538—also commonly called a “Big Crown” Sub, though it wasn’t the only vintage Sub to feature an 8mm crown—will forever be associated with the James Bond franchise for a famous moment in 1964’s Goldfinger: Bond, appearing in a white dinner jacket, lights a cigarette, using the lighter to check the time on his watch. This ref. 6538, worn in a too-narrow pass-through strap in regimental colors, is seen in a close up just before the explosives Bond had planted earlier blow a cache of heroin sky high. Though also worn by Sean Connery in Dr. No, the first Bond film, it was this close-up of the watch that gave it its legendary status among collectors. (The regimental pass-through strap’s color scheme has become no less famous, with NATOs featuring red, black, and green stripes proving extremely popular to this day.)

Bond would go on to wear other Submariners, and would continue wearing them (and other watches) until the Pierce Brosnan era, when 007 entered its Omega era. These days, early “Bond” Subs are rare—and expensive. Eric Wind, vintage watch dealer/expert extraordinaire, has estimated on his website that there are roughly 10 two-line examples for every four-line ref. 6538 on the market. Furthermore, many bezel inserts were replaced over the years, meaning that a “correct” ref. 6538 “James Bond” is a multiple-six-figure watch without breaking a sweat. Thankfully, you can get most (though certainly not all) of the flavor of this watch via a modern Submariner, which starts at $9,100.(Good luck getting your hands on one of those, either, though!)



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