I am sitting in a meeting room at Omega HQ in Bienne, across the table from Petros Protopapas, the brand’s head of heritage and the horological equivalent of Q, supplier of gadgetry by appointment to 007.
More Desmond Llewelyn than Ben Whishaw, Protopapas is a natty dresser of the tweed jacket and bow-tie variety, and has the kind of over-informed enthusiasm that revels in recondite knowledge for its own sake; if you want to know the number of teeth on the winding crown on the rare “transitional” Omega Speedmaster Ref 1435.022-68 from the late 1960s, he will tell you (24, for the record). The level of detail I am being given during a briefing on the new Bond watch is so dense that I half expect to hear the words “Now, pay attention 007”.
As popular cultural franchises go, Her Majesty’s least secret agent is one of the longest running: 007 makes Star Wars, and Star Trek for that matter, seem like recent additions to the canon.
Much of the strength of the Bond films resides in the potential for product placement; this is not slipped in surreptitiously but is an integral part of the action and always has been – the novels were strewn with brand names. Whether a supercharged Bentley, a pair of Cartier cufflinks or a Vent-Axia extractor fan, Ian Fleming was always keen to namecheck a brand. It introduced a verifiable factual detail, giving the far-fetched plots a veneer of verisimilitude.
Historically a Rolex man, Bond dabbled in digital as time moved on and, as early as 1981, he experimented with a smartwatch, taking a call from Prime Minister Thatcher at the end of For Your Eyes Only. But since the franchise rebooted a quarter of century ago, Bond has worn an Omega – and every time there is another screen outing for 007, sales of Omega spike.
Bond has become such a part of Omega that, in 2017, the brand launched a Bond watch in a year when there was not even a film. The Commander’s watch (referencing Bond’s naval rank) was a Seamaster with a 007 gun logo counterweight on the second hand and a blue, red and grey Nato strap, issued in a limited series of 7,007. Nor was there a Bond film last year, but that did not stop Omega releasing a watch to celebrate the 50th anniversary of George Lazenby’s only appearance as Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, complete with Bond family crest and rifled barrel dial. I did not see that one coming.
But these watches were placeholders, keeping the Bond horological interest warm for 2020, the year of No Time to Die and the release of a Seamaster 300M that is one of the most interesting Bond watches to date, largely because of the absence of any immediately recognisable Bond design cues. Forget the obvious branding: no gun barrel, no 007 logo, no film name – this is a watch that can sell itself without leaning too hard on Fleming’s fictional spy.
With a Grade 2 titanium case and bracelet, plus new geometry for the dome on the sapphire crystal, the watch features a black-brown “tropical”-effect aluminium dial with vellum-coloured luminous hands and indices that give a vintage feel to the otherwise unapologetically modern watch.
Only the pheon, the arrow-shaped military marking on the dial, suggests that this is anything other than a Seamaster Diver 300M with a retro facelift. “The idea was to look back in our history, as Omega has a long track record of receiving specifications from the UK Ministry of Defence, producing watches and delivering them to the MoD,” explains Protopapas, before embarking on a not-so-potted history of military Omegas.
The pheon appears again on the caseback with numbers separated by forward slashes – a format mimicking that used for genuine military Omegas. The first four digits, 0552, denote this as a naval issue watch; 923 7697 is the number for a diver’s watch; the letter “A” signifies a watch with a screw-in crown; the 007 is self-explanatory; with 62 referencing the first year in which a Bond film was released.
After Omega has gone to such trouble to encrypt the watch’s story in this alpha-numeric code, the 007 logo engraved just below it seems almost surplus to requirements… military surplus, that is.