The Bond watch that time forgot
Update 7/6/2016: This Rolex chronograph is actually for sale at ArtCurial, not at Beverly Hills Pawn. Click here for the full story.
When you think of James Bond's wristwatch, what watch appears in your mind? It is likely that answers will vary from generation to generation. Those who grew up watching the classics will almost certainly go straight to Sean Connery's Rolex Submariner "Big Crown" Ref. 6538 and those whose first Bond is either Brosnan or Craig will think of either the Omega Seamaster Professional 300M Ref.2541.80.00 or the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M Ref. 126.96.36.199.01.001. There will be a few people reading feeling very smug having answered Greun, the watch that was on Connery's wrist during the opening of his first adventure, Dr. No. Some of you who prefer the more light-hearted romps of Roger Moore might have said the Hamilton Pulsar from Live and Let Die and some might have mumbled the Heuer Professional from The Living Daylights quietly under your breath for fear of being outed as a Dalton fan (I'm one of you, don't worry.)
If the watch world wasn't full of wonderful geeks memorizing references numbers and case sizes I would have wagered that no-one thought of Rolex Pre-Daytona. However this would be doubting the watch community's thoroughness but even if this information was rattling around in your brain I doubt it would be at the tip of your tongue. In the sixth film of the series, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, one time Bond George Lazenby became the first and only Bond to wear a Rolex chronograph whilst on screen, specifically the Rolex Ref. 6238. Previously in Thunderball Sean Connery had sported a Breitling Top-Time marking the first time the British secret agent had worn a mechanical chronograph (This watch was sold at Christies in 2013 for $160,000).
It's not surprising that time has let the "Lazenby watch" fade from popular memory. Those who grew up watching the Brosnan and Craig eras will only know Bond was an Omega man and those who prefer the older films will mostly have their memories of other watches eclipsed by the Submariner that was featured in more films than any other watch. Despite never being mentioned in the books, the Submariner is seen as the Bond watch by Bond and watch fans alike. Despite being a historically important chronograph, the Ref. 6238 had the misfortune of being worn by (who many consider) the worst James Bond. In recent years popular opinion has swung back in favor of On Her Majesty's Secret Service with acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh writing an open letter expressing his love for the film saying it was cinematically "the Best Bond Film". Regardless of what you think of the film, the watch itself is nothing short of glorious.
"Bond surveyed his weapons. They were only his hands and his feet, his Gillette razor and his wrist-watch, a heavy Rolex Oyster Perpetual on an expanding metal bracelet. Used properly, these could be turned into most effective knuckle busters." –Ian Fleming, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
Released in 1963, the Rolex Chronograph Ref. 6238 was the last Rolex chronograph before the release of the Daytona in 1965. Whilst the Daytona (especially the Paul Newman) is perhaps the most well-known Rolex chronograph amongst the watch community I believe the 6238 is far more suited to Bond. It is functional as a chronograph but is more refined and sophisticated compared to the Daytona. Inside the watch is a hand wound Valjoux 72 movement one of the best chronograph movements ever. Measuring at 35mm it is very small compared to contemporary chronographs and is minuscule compared to Craig's 42mm Planet Ocean from Skyfall.
The standard silver dial Ref. 6238 reaches between $20,000 to $30,000 at auction with the rarer black dial variants going for more than double on some occasion. The particular model that Lazenby wore in the film had a silver dial, with black hour and minute hands and a red chronograph second hand. What is unique about this Bond watch is that at the time of filming it was five years old. Can you imagine Daniel Craig walking onto screen today wearing a five year old Planet Ocean? In every outing as Bond, Craig has never re-worn the same reference from a previous film. The same model yes, but always the most current reference available.
It is no secret that Lazenby had no history of acting and was an male model by profession so he went to great lengths to get himself an audition for the part once Connery was confirmed as not coming back. He bought himself a Rolex Submariner Ref.5513, he went to Savile Row in London and managed to get hold of a tailored suit that Connery had never picked up and wore that to his audition. In his audition he lied about his acting career saying he had made films in Russia, Czech Republic and other countries hoping that Producer Cubby Broccoli wouldn't be able to find out the truth. At a later date he was told to attack a stunt man and instead of stage fighting, landed a punch right in the unsuspecting man's face. It was this physicality and on-screen presence that won him the role as Bond. His personal Ref. 5513 is seen throughout the movie but the Pre-Daytona is prominent during his undercover operation in a Swiss Clinic in the alps.
After production for the film ended, the wardrobe and prop department began selling certain costumes and accessories and a very lucky production assistant bought the Rolex Ref. 6238 that Lazenby had worn during the film. It remained in his possession for just under forty years until surfacing in at Christies in 2003. Lot. 168 was estimated to sell between $8700 & $12,000. It ended up selling for $39,936. Unfortunately the watch was fitted with an incorrect bracelet for the reference however it did come with a production still of Lazenby wearing the piece and the original receipt from Bucherer of Switzerland to Eon Production dated October 23rd 1968. The winner of Lot. 168 died a few years afterwards and his daughter then sold the watch onto Matthew Bain Inc where in 2010 it was sold again, this time with a period correct bracelet.
Obviously we don't know who purchased the watch and for exactly how much though one blog at the time lists the price at $250,000, however there are no screenshots or proof of this amount. The owner of this piece did not have it for very long as at some point in the last few years he sold or pawned the watch to Beverly Hills Pawn which is where the watch currently resides available for sale. I contacted the pawn shop who said that it has been on their inventory for several years and on thier website at $120,000 for around one year. The price might seem very high compared to other 6238 sales however consider that the Rolex buzz-saw prop from Live and Let Die sold for $365,000 then it seems damned reasonable in comparison. Unfortunately whilst the production still has remained with the watch, the original receipt to Eon is no longer present with the watch.
I suspect that it has stayed in the possession of the pawn shop for so longer because no-one would looking for a Bond watch would expect to look there. It might not be the most famous Bond watch nor was it worn by the best Bond but horologically speaking it's easily his best watch. If you have the money and the desire then I suggest acting fast though, it's not like you've got all the time in the world.