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.

Hit List: Omega Seamaster Diver 300M Co-Axial Master Chronometer

A cornerstone of Omega’s 2018 introductions, the Seamaster Diver 300M line—introduced in 1993 and completely overhauled this year—now features a larger 42 mm case and a slew of aesthetic and technical updates, including a ceramic diving bezel, polished ceramic dial, and newly patented conical helium escape valve. The timepiece also has a hidden perk: its Master Chronometer Calibre 8800, known for its superior precision and magnetic resistance.

Omega Seamaster Diver 300M Co-Axial Master Chronometer

$4,750; omegawatches.com

Omega Attacks! The Return of #SpeedyTuesday

Watch out! 

A monster of a surprise has struck an unsuspecting watch-buying public once again…

(when you found out the #SpeedyTuesday Speedmaster was sold out)

The event occurred Tuesday, July 10, at approximately 6 a.m. Absolutely no one (and no wallet) was declared safe. Because, on this average summer day, Omega quietly snuck a new #SpeedyTuesday Speedmaster Limited Edition 42mm “Ultraman” under the radar, capturing watch enthusiasts off-guard. Tensions were high as collectors the world over debated how to avert this intense emotional decision. To buy or not to buy? Sadly, the Monster Attack Team was unavailable to aid in this crisis. The clock was ticking. What to do?

How did we get here? Flashback to 1967, when Japanese television introduced the science-fiction program “Ultraman.” A phenomenon of epic proportion, the show went on to reach mythological status, inspiring countless sequels and spin-offs. Among them, “Return of Ultraman” from 1970, in which the black-and-orange Omega Speedmaster was featured as an essential piece of the Monster Attack Team’s kit. Fact and fiction merged, the kaiju (“giant monster”) genre flourished, and the Moonwatch became part of Japanese sci-fi history.

This new 42mm Speedmaster is a fitting tribute; sci-fi design references abound. Ultraman’s superhero mode lasted approximately three minutes, indicated by a trio of orange markers on subdial at three o’clock. The strap-changing tool, made to look like Ultraman’s Beta Capsule, also holds an ultraviolet light; when illuminated, it reveals Ultraman’s hidden image on the nine o’clock subdial. The Speedy’s familiar caseback engraving (“FLIGHT-QUALIFIED BY NASA FOR ALL MANNED SPACE MISSIONS * THE FIRST WATCH WORN ON THE MOON”) is complemented by a unique serial number and #SpeedyTuesday etching, plus a vintage Omega logo and an orange-striped NATO strap, which matches the Monster Attack Team orange uniforms.

Still debating on how to handle this unsought and unsolicited pressure? Crisis averted. As of 8:15 a.m., all 2,012 pieces of the limited-run #SpeedTuesday Ultraman collection (retail: $7,100) have already sold out.

Gomen’nasai, tokei wa kanbaidesu. So sorry, the watch is sold out.

But! Like any good reoccurring installment, you won’t have to wait long: Netflix recently announced a new animated Ultraman series, slated for 2019. Chances are #SpeedyTuesday #3 will someday be appearing on a monitor near you.

Farewell, Ultraman! (for now).


Watch This Space

Do you know the name of the last man on the moon?

The painter Michael Kagan does. This April, sitting in an a Williamsburg studio built one brackish spray away from the East River, he spoke about portraying men on the edge of other boundaries.

“Eugene Cernan knew he was going to be the last. He was up there, looking at earth—not religious at all—he said it didn’t really hit him. ‘There’s earth.’ And then he turns around and looks at the blackness of outer space. That was it. The profound thing was seeing nothing.”

Seeing nothing is an odd aspiration for a visual artist, especially one like Kagan, whose large-format oil paintings are predominately figurative, and often include real figures. His main preoccupation, and most fruitful artistic ground, is men like Cernan—the astronauts who flew during the height of the Cold War in the 1960s and 1970s. Rendered in oil, his portraits combine the slickness and formal strength of their source material: old NASA publicity photos, with a bright palette of black, white, and only a couple of dabs of color. As seen most often, condensed into a square on Instagram—Kagan has more than 19,000 followers—the paintings are entirely sensible and compact, taking no more than the duration of a swipe to comprehend.

“Those Who Came Before Us” 2018. Oil on linen. 96″ x 72″.

As Kagan says, “It’s like—boom, astronaut.”

That consumable nature, a stylish repurposing of midcentury propaganda, caught the eye of Pharrell Williams—himself a man who makes serious coin tweaking material from the Space Age. (Williams’s 2014 smash “Happy” is both wholly his own work and a retread, in vocal style and sonic exuberance, of Curtis Mayfield’s 1970 hit “Move On Up.”) In 2012, having seen a profile of Kagan’s work, Pharrell purchased the rights to three paintings. A year later, they appeared on pieces from his streetwear line, Billionaire Boys Club. Half a decade on, they still trade above retail.

All of which is to say that Kagan’s paintings work great in miniature. On a screen, on a card, printed on T-shirts, the spacemen appear antiseptic and tight, with a geometry befitting the era of rocket science. This, the “seeing something” version, works very well.

“Moonwalk” 2018. Oil on linen. 36″ x 36″.

But sitting in the artist’s studio, an arm’s length from some canvases, you see how Cernan’s appraisal of oblivion, or at least of an indiscernible world, appears in Kagan’s work alongside all this order and shapeliness.  

Take “Mercury 7,” an 8-by-8-foot canvas painted from a pre-flight still taken of the Mercury Seven, the name NASA gave its first class of astronauts. Initially, it seems quite heroic.

“These guys were the ultimate rock stars,” he says of Buzz Aldrin, Leland Melvin, John Glenn, and the others in NASA’s pioneering space programs. “People would clap when they walked into restaurants. They had huge parades down Fifth Avenue in New York. Everyone was behind it in a positive way.”

In the painting, the seven men are posed indoors, but washed, somehow, in the harsh, high-contrast light of the sun unfiltered by the atmosphere. With their visors up, you see that the figures are clean-cut pilots, handsome instruments against Communism. Their transgressions—boozing, speeding, and sexual opportunism—quashed by NASA’s press office, scrubbed from the official portraiture.

Yet, in person, you realize that the smooth convexity of those NASA helmets is rendered by Kagan in topographic daubs of oil paint, used as if its didn’t cost $200 a tube, applied with a squeegee as often as with a brush. The forms waver; the balance shifts. The strokes are dispersed, disordered.

“We Have Felt the Ground Shake” at Bill Brady Gallery.

It’s a small violence: To approach a Michael Kagan painting is to watch the pristine whites of a space suit disintegrate.

Kagan likes that conceptual wiggle—from seeing something, to nothing, and back again.

“Some people say I should take a side photo of my paintings with a raking light, but I don’t want to,” he says. “I like that it tightens up in the small Instagram format, but up close, it falls apart.”

It’s the touch of vertigo that swells between “something” and “nothing” that makes Kagan’s work about more than rockets and space. Where Eugene Cernan had an encounter with the void, we, the earthbound, have the opportunity to encounter art, in hopes of forcing a perspectival shift—to see our institutions as edificial and then, in three steps, dissolve into artifice.

The first watch on the moon? Not exactly. Kagan wears an unexpected yet sentimental Seamaster from Omega. (Photo: Christopher Garcia Valle)

“When you’re in space, you don’t see borders. You just see the globe. Everyone comes back and they question why there’s so much fighting and political strife. One of [the astronaut] goals was to see in the future if space travel could be a normal thing—could we take a bunch of politicians up? Could we take people up and see what good could come from that perspective and new way of thinking?” Kagan says.

From space, through a reinforced window that shares Instagram’s aspect ratio, the world is tidy, creamy, and perfect. Only on the ground, after the Command Module has plopped into the sea, do all the jagged divides make themselves visible, and the sense of unity collapse.