A Commander-Worthy Watch

When it comes to brands, James Bond can be as fickle as he is with women. Over his 56-year tenure as 007, the legendary super-spy has changed everything from cars and tailors to vodka and caviar.

His watch allegiance, however, has been a bit more steadfast. At least since Pierce Brosnan first donned an Omega Seamaster for 1995’s Goldeneye. Before that, there were Rolexes and even (gasp!) a digital Seiko, but in the last quarter-century, Bond hasn’t gone into action (nor set foot in a casino, luxury hotel, private jet, or sports car) without the iconic dial of Omega’s most famous diving watch strapped to his wrist. When Daniel Craig hits the big screen this spring in No Time to Die for his final outing as Bond—wearing a Seamaster Diver 300M with a “tropical” aluminum dial evoking the aged brown hue of vintage timepieces—it’ll mark the ninth film in which the character has relied on Omega to keep him punctual. 

“The materials and mechanics of our watches are truly innovative, just like Q’s lab,” says Omega president and CEO Raynald Aeschlimann. “And of course, an Omega is simply a beautiful timepiece to own. 007 likes to look his best on assignment, and he has therefore chosen a truly appropriate watch.”

The Omega Seamaster Diver 300M Co-Axial Master Chronometer 007 Edition. omegawatches.com Photo courtesy of Omega.

Marketing speak aside, all this should come as no surprise to watch aficionados and collectors. Bond is, after all, the type of guy who would wear a handsome timepiece, one that’s both masculine and debonaire without ever being too flashy. Ian Fleming, Bond’s literary creator, was a Rolex man himself, and when it came time to put 007 up on the silver screen, it was producer Cubby Broccoli who—according to Bond lore—lent Sean Connery his Submariner while on the set of 1962’s Dr. No.

These days, things are done a bit more officially, with Bond becoming a poster boy for product placement. Tomorrow Never Dies had so many corporate partners, in fact, that its entire production budget was covered well before anyone yelled “action,” and the Craig-era films have kept ticking thanks to a slew of lucrative tie-ins, from Sony to Heineken. 

Surprisingly, this isn’t the case when it comes to Omega. Rather than pay for play, as it were, the Swiss watch brand’s relationship with the Bond series is much more organic; one that’s deeply rooted in the rugged character of 007. However, if it wasn’t for the keen insight of a costume designer, Bond might never have clasped a Seamaster to his wrist to begin with. 

“While working with Omega, we decided that a lightweight watch would be key for a military man like 007. I also suggested some vintage touches and colors to give the watch a unique edge. The final piece looks incredible.” says star Daniel Craig. James Bond (Daniel Craig) prepares to shoot in NO TIME TO DIE an EON Productions and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios film Credit: Nicola Dove © 2020 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Back in the early 1990s, the Bond producers had reached an impasse. The previous film, 1989’s License to Kill, had been clobbered at the box-office (everything from Batman to Fletch Lives beat it), the Cold War had finally ended, and Timothy Dalton relinquished the reins to the role. For the first time in the series’ storied history, the Bond brass faced a scary question: Had audiences outgrown the character? The answer, thankfully, was no. All it would take was the casting of Brosnan, then a slick-looking Irishman known for his role on TV’s Remington Steele, and a slightly updated, more P.C.-image to revive the series. Gone were Bond’s beloved cigarettes, in was a female boss (one that called him a “misogynistic dinosaur”), and Q Branch rolled out a German car made in America. But while the producers fussed with the 007 formula to keep their character current, it was costume designer Lindy Hemming who looked backward when determining Bond’s new watch of choice.

“[Lindy] knew about Omega’s real military history and decided that it was the most realistic watch for a stylish commander to wear,” says Aeschlimann, referring to the fact that Fleming had made his most famous creation a veteran of the Royal Naval Reserve. “Just look at history! Omega was the biggest supplier of Swiss watches to the allied forces during World War II. We have also been chosen by numerous military units around the world. So, if Commander James Bond was a real character, then Omega is the watch he most probably would have been issued.” 

That’s all well and good, but why specifically the Seamaster? After all, Omega has outfitted numerous men of action, from Elvis Presley to JFK to Buzz Aldrin, all of whom wore other models. 

Lasting and lightweight, the 007 Seamaster is made from Grade 2 titanium, with a “tropical” aluminum bezel ring and dial. The anti-magnetic 007-edition diver is powered by OMEGA’s Co-Axial Master Chronometer 8806. Photo courtesy of Omega.

“The Seamaster was the evolution of those early military watches,” Aeschlimann continues. “It’s robust, it’s reliable, it’s a divers’, and it performs just as beautifully in a casino as at the bottom of the ocean.”

Indeed it does. For all four of his outings as 007, Brosnan wore his Seamaster everywhere, from the baccarat tables of Monte Carlo to the depths of the South China Sea to the off-piste ski slopes of Azerbaijan.

By the time Daniel Craig slipped into the tux, the world had changed yet again, and once more 007 needed to be reinvented. In contrast to Brosnan’s glib take, as well as the over-bloated action of the films in which he starred, Craig’s time as 007 has been marked by a grittier, darker sensibility. It’s one that adheres more closely to Fleming’s original vision, in which Bond can—at times—be a coldhearted killer. 

Built Bond Tough. Photo courtesy of Omega.

Over the past 14 years, the style of 007’s Seamaster has been adjusted accordingly to the new films’ stripped-down aesthetic.  

“When Daniel Craig stepped into the role, he definitely wanted his “own” Omega to define the character,” says Aeschlimann. “Like the character, the watches have become darker, often including materials such as black ceramic. We’ve also diversified what [Bond] wears. For example, a Planet Ocean for the adventurous side, and an Aqua Terra for the sophisticated, charming side. And, of course, we’ve made the watches grittier and tougher for a military man, incorporating NATO straps and, in the latest watch, the use of tough titanium and a titanium mesh bracelet.”

The work of a close collaboration with Craig (a man who’s known to tinker with Bond scripts, and even recruit punch-up writers like Emmy-award winning Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge), the latest Seamaster is a stunning, slimmed-down 42 mm timepiece that’s as stylish as it is lightweight. And while it doesn’t feature a detonator or a laser, it is imbued with a sense of Bond history.

“[Daniel is] also a vintage watch collector and has a real passion for classic watches, so we integrated a few touches from history into the design,” says Aeschlimann. “Really, it was about sharing ideas and having discussions, and everyone is so pleased with the result. The producers…are great friends to Omega and after 25 years together, the conversations flow so naturally.” 

With “No Time to Die” delayed until November 2020, the Bond franchise continues to rock on. Photo courtesy of Omega.

Independent Streak

What if you could start again?

What if you could, in a single moment, sweep away your entire past—your history, your foibles, your failures, and your successes? What would you gain, and what would you lose? You’d presumably lose some hard-earned lessons and prestige, with the tradeoff of acquiring a certain blissful ignorance, a happy naivete in terms of How Things Are. You might go about rebuilding something steeped in tradition, aware of what came before, and yet different. Better even.

That, anyway, is the proposition put forth by horologer Ming, a relatively new player on the scene that approaches luxury watchmaking from the perspective of a startup. This means watches crafted with an Old World mindset—using the best parts to make the best whole, with designs that nod to time-honored notions of elegance—but made and sold using 21st-century methods, bypassing retail entirely to sell the watches online, directly to consumers. Oh, and they’re based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The Ming 19:01, a concept for the ultimate daily wear watch, currently available for pre-order at ming.watch. Photo courtesy of Ming Watches.

“The reality is, we’re in the wrong part of the world,” says Ming Thein, the brand’s co-founder and lead designer. “There is no watchmaking ecosystem in Malaysia. There never will be. There’s no demand for it. Basically [that means] we don’t have baggage. We can look at things from a modern business standpoint. We [the founders] have run our own businesses. I look at what works in today’s economy and look at what the best way to apply that to the watch business is. It’s not a passion project—we have to operate as a modern business does.”

For a brand so young, success has come with astonishing speed. Ming took home the Horological Revelation prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève last year, awarded for the brand’s 17.06 Copper, one of three iterations of the brand’s refined yet modern entry-level watch. (All three have already sold out.) “For me personally, the names you read about when you start collecting and gathering knowledge, it’s gone from what you read about those people and you see those watches and you see what the fuss is about, and you meet them as a collector or through friends, and then you’re on stage with them,” Thein says of taking home the award. “It’s so surreal. I had pinch-me moments, imposter syndrome, all as I was standing there giving a speech. It was a huge moment for us.”

The gradient sapphire dial of the Ming 19:02 Worldtimer, a design signature, masks the titanium 24-hour disk under the dial that displays the time across multiple time zones. Photo courtesy of Ming Watches.

In addition, the brand’s watches often sell out quickly, and the few on the resale market often go for no less than what they went for originally, and typically much more than that, a fact Thien justifiably points out with pride. “We don’t discount. You’re paying more now. But in the long run, you’re losing less if you choose to sell it,” he says. He notes that, at its peak, Ming’s debut timepiece, the 17.01, was trading at $3,000 to $5,000. (It retailed for $900.) “Honestly I look at that and think no way is that offering intrinsic value,” Thein says. “But I’m flattered.”

But though this has led some to label Ming an overnight success, the reality is that these accomplishments were the result of years of hard work and development. Indeed, you could trace the brand’s development to when Thien was in his teens and got into Seikos and Swatches before graduating to an Omega Dynamic chronograph. He also fell in love with photography, a passion he later pursued full-time after a corporate career. (He eventually spent time as a brand strategist at Hasselblad.) “The world tends to pigeonhole you,” Thein says. “For me, both are creative openings. The gear is an enabler. Photography’s an enabler to translate an idea into an image. Watchmaking is an enabler to translate an idea into an object. It’s similar, but not. A watch is not something you can produce on your own.” (He still accepts the occasional commissioned work.)

The ASE220.01 micro-rotor automatic movement by Manufacture Schwartz-Etienne, a unique configuration exclusive to Ming. Photo courtesy of Ming Watches.

By the time he co-founded Ming in 2017, he (and the five other members of the collective) had refined his design tastes through years of collecting and impassioned conversations online. This included a design language that Thein aptly describes as art deco meets Tron. “We take the classical bits and make them modern again, but not in a retro revival way,” Thein says. “I won’t do ornamentation for ornamentation’s sake. There are a few things we do on every piece—a ‘0’ instead of a ‘12.’ Flared lugs. Radial symmetry. Curved straps that harmonize with the case. We won’t do anything that isn’t round. We don’t do subdials or anything that’s asymmetric.”

All of which brings us to 2020, which may prove to be the most pivotal year yet for the young brand. Ming will be introducing not one but three new watches, all featuring what Thein calls the brand’s second-generation design language. (A third iteration is already in development.) The triad includes a diver, an ultra-thin watch, and the flagship, a chronograph, which will retail for under $30,000. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time,” Thein says. 

Beyond that, Thein is already thinking at least five years ahead—both a habit and a necessity, given the timeframe of designing, developing and then testing a new design. (The brand’s timepieces are designed in Malaysia, made in Switzerland using Swiss movements, then packaged in leather pouches made by hand in Kuala Lumpur—a handsome and charming finishing touch.) “We are still very new,” Thein says. “We’re finding our way in terms of operations, design, identity, and everything else. I think that we have a lot more runway in front of us. There’s a lot we can’t predict. It’s an unconventional operation. But for people to give us that level of trust and share the dream with us, it’s very special.”

The “horological revelation.” The Ming 17:06, the long-sold out slate version of their Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève winner timepiece. Photo courtesy of Ming Watches.

Beats Per Minute

Hit all the right notes with a choice selection of innovative blacked-out watches. Get into the studio, step into the spotlight, and let everything else go dark.



Why So Serious?

Created as a fitting tribute to DC Comics’ villains, RJ reimagines the character watch with a mischievous glint in its eye.

The world of high-end watchmaking can often be a sober and serious place. But in the world of RJ, haute horology and a sense of wonder aren’t mutually exclusive. The brand’s playful timepieces have smiles built right into their DNA. 

The limited edition titanium RJ X Joker houses the RJ20142 self-winding mechanical bidirectional movement.

Founded in 2004, and relaunched last year under the creative direction of CEO Marco Tedeschi, RJ has made its mark on modern watchmaking thanks to surprising collaborations. These draw inspiration from pop culture iconography, ranging from Marvel and DC Comics superheroes to beloved video-game characters like Super Mario, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man. If you’re looking for a tourbillon with an artisan-crafted Pokémon dial, this is where you’ll get it. There is even a pavé diamond and pink sapphire-encrusted Hello Kitty timepiece.

“We attract a wide range of people who want something different and, most importantly, something fun,” Tedeschi tells Watch Journal. “It’s essential for me to have a product you can identify by the wrist. There is simply no way to mistake an RJ for anything else in the world.”

That is certainly true of the brand’s two newest pieces. The first is a colorful callback to Batman’s original nemesis, The Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime made his DC Comics debut in 1940 and has been the arch-enemy of Gotham City’s crime-fighting bat ever since. The Joker’s distinctive look — purple-and-green clothing, exaggerated facial features — come through in RJ’s laser-engraved titanium tribute, which features hand-painting and is limited to 100 pieces. It’s a killer chronograph in every sense.

For those after a more conceptual homage, RJ is also offering a timepiece inspired by another one of Batman’s iconic foes: Two-Face. Calling on the villain’s conflicted nature, one half of the watch is pristine, while the other half is cleverly “burned away” (just as the character’s face was in the comics) to expose the skeletonized movement inside. It’s exactly the type of timepiece that attracted Tedeschi to RJ.

The RJ Two-Face represents the good vs. evil struggle of Batman’s former ally, Gotham City’s District Attorney Harvey Dent. Acid sold separately.

“I was interested in the brand for two main reasons,” he says. “The first was the main concept, which was the core product having a material that has a fascinating story incorporated within the watch, and, of course, the collaborations.”

For Tedeschi, leveraging those partnerships is the key to success moving forward. That means bringing more of RJ’s watchmaking in-house and starting to produce its own movements in Geneva. Here, he sees opportunities to make his company’s timepieces even more unique. 

“We are going to increase the collaborations, and the idea is to work on the character differently,” he says. “Before we used to have a dial…. We are now, being a manufacturer, able to incorporate the collaboration with the movement itself.”

The addition of in-house mechanicals will no doubt yield unconventional results. But diving into the unorthodox is simply a matter of course for RJ. In addition to the pop culture-inspired collaborations, the brand is known for its DNA Concept watches, which bring history-making material to the wrist. One such watch used steel from the Titanic; another contained actual moon dust. The RJ6919, released earlier this year, has pieces from the Apollo 11 spacecraft integrated into the bezel. 

The dial coloration is hand applied, meaning no two watches will have the exact same makeup.

(Tedeschi, on how RJ sources these fantastic materials: “It [the metal] was sourced from the original refinery, even from the same batch of steel they used in the Titanic. For the Apollo, we bought the various artifacts from different parties at an auction.”)

The CEO is staying tight-lipped about what surprises will be coming our way soon, allowing only that RJ is “currently following other sales to purchase additional unusual materials.” What Tedeschi can reveal is that the shape of the watch, with its distinctive case protective “bumpers,” will always remain the same. 

“The shape is quite simple, integrated within the case, we will never exclude having the case shape without the bumper in the future,” he says. “The essential thing is to have those four elements at 30 degrees from the primary axis. That’s how we define the RJ watch.”  

That faith in the DNA is a large part of the brand’s bright future under Tedeschi. It’s also a statement of confidence in RJ’s place in both popular culture and watchmaking. This is why Warner Bros and DC Entertainment are continuing to join forces with Tedeschi, bringing their most infamous characters to life as rare, limited-edition watches. Seeing the finished Joker product, it seems that faith is well-placed. For collectors with a comic-book bent, the only question left is this: Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?

The Arraw RJ Joker comes with interchangeable straps in alligator or rubber with contrast stitching.

Summer Camp

“Be Prepared.” The Boy Scouts motto suggests that in order to avoid mishaps, you must be ready for any type of emergency that might arise. Designed for action, this selection of military-inspired watches truly are ready for anything—from the frontlines of Hollywood to a weekend of hunting, camping, and fishing. Never be taken by surprise again, and always remember to bring snacks.

Photographs by Junichi Ito
Styling by Stephen Watson
Prop Styling by Linden Elstran

Breitling Aviator 8 B01 Chronograph 43 Curtiss Warhawk, $7,710; breitling.com
Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Nightlum, $3,800; bellross.com
Zenith Pilot Type 20 Adventure Bronze with “Matrix” Calfskin Strap, $7,100; zenith-watches.com
TOP: TAG Heuer Aquaracer Quartz, $1,600; tagheuer.com
BOTTOM: Tudor Black Bay Steel 41 MM, $3,525; tudorwatch.com
Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph Bronze Limited Edition, $5,000; montblanc.com
LEFT: Luminox Navy SEAL, $395; luminox-usa.com
RIGHT: G-Shock The Mudmaster Limited Edition, $380; gshock.com
LEFT: IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic Spitfire, $4,350; iwc.com
RIGHT: Longines Heritage Military, $2,150; longines.com
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