Ambition, Success, and the Watches of The Iron Claw

Climb up to the top rope with me for a few minutes, and let’s look upon the roles we play within the watch enthusiast community: are we a face or a heel (or likely somewhere in between)? The Iron Claw, my personal favorite film of 2023, forces this type of introspection onto its viewers. The audience is dealt heaps of toxic masculinity and likely some generational trauma, dumped from Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany) onto his sons Kevin (Zac Efron), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), David (Harris Dickinson), and Mike (Stanley Simons). Much of this hinges on Fritz’s perceived failures and an idea he states early on in the film, “If I want to be a star, I need to act like a star […] The only way to beat IT is to be the toughest, the strongest, the most successful. The absolute best.” In more ways than one, we all wrestle with being our best selves and wanting to be perceived as something we aren’t. 

The theme of becoming and appearing as if you’re the best plays a role, at times, in the watch world. And, wouldn’t you know it, Rolex makes an appearance on the wrists of at least three characters to subliminally drive this theme home. In the film Rolexes are worn by Fritz Von Erich, his son Kevin Von Erich, and Ric Flair (Aaron Dean Eisenberg). 

Holt McCallany as Fritz Von Erich

In the opening scene of the film, when Fritz is speaking with his wife, Dottie (Maura Tierney), about what it means to be and appear as a star, he is trying to defend the decision to lease a Cadillac that they cannot afford in order to convey this appearance. Ironically, Fritz is arguing this point while the family mobile home is hitched to said Cadillac. He plays into this appearance even more later in the film, and one of the ways this is shown is through his gold Rolex Day Date, or as Rolex fans lovingly call it — the President. However, this watch is also known by some as the Texas Timex. The Iron Claw takes place largely in Texas, and this Rolex became known as a symbol of class in the state — even if you weren’t classy. 

There have been quite a few folks who have written on the subject of what our watches say about us, but do we give real consideration to what motivates us to buy a watch on a personal level? What does this purchase mean to us, and what perception will it convey to others? We may say we don’t care what people think about us, but barring a few outliers, we all care a little about what we choose to display about ourselves. This particular watch was chosen for Fritz in the film because it conveys the personal success that Fritz wanted to achieve for himself, and the vicarious successes of his sons that he desperately wanted to live through and wanted credit for instilling. It’s worth noting that in one of the promotional photos for the movie Fritz sits in front of his sons wearing the iconic Rolex, and in the same photo of the real family Fritz is wearing an entirely different watch, which leads me to believe this was a conscious decision to drive home the point of his character.

Ric Flair

Ric Flair, on the other hand, has said many times in his real life wrestling promos that he’s “the man,” and part of being the man is to wear a Rolex watch. He does a version of this monologue in The Iron Claw, where he states as much. He only flashes his watch for a moment, and I was unable to tell which model it was, but we are expected to believe that he is indeed wearing one. Flair, who is obviously playing to his wrestling persona, was known to be a heel — one of wrestling’s greatest triumphant villains. This is a notable difference from Fritz who, both in the ring and out, is seemingly less of a caricature of himself. Ric Flair makes his way to the ring adorned in a flashy bedazzled robe, flowing platinum hair, and his over-the-top entrance music, the tone poem “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” composed by Richard Strauss and famously used by Stanley Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey, heralding the Dawn of Man. So, he’s clearly going above and beyond to play an ego-driven villain here, whereas Fritz had long since lost his grip on the persona of the heel and has muddled the distinction between the show and reality. 

Kevin Von Erich is left to filter through his father’s murk. He longs for his father’s approval, while there’s a weight pulling the needle of his moral compass. Kevin wears what appears to be a two-tone Rolex Datejust in the film. A less flashy piece than his father’s. The significance I take away from this is that for the majority of the film Kevin believes in his father’s credo of being the best to achieve a status so high that nothing can hurt you. So he mimics his father’s passion for perceived success. It’s important to note that Kevin, as well as his wrestling brothers, carry the ring persona of a “face,” the altruistic heroes of the ring. However, outside the ring, Kevin and his brothers always attempt to put their love for one another before anything that happens on the job, while their father seeks to have them compete for his affection through who is most successful in the ring. And, as Kevin finds out, it may not be worth wearing the mask of success as you might lose yourself and those you love in the process. 

Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich, wearing what appears to be a Rolex Datejust

As watch enthusiasts we are on a seemingly endless path of finding watches we enjoy wearing, and that perhaps represent an aspect of us as individuals; or, we might wear a watch that exudes something we would like to see more of within ourselves. 

None of this should be taken as any sort of slight toward Rolex wearers, though. In fact, I believe Rolexes are used in the film simply because of how successful they are at delivering a product that gives its wearers immense pride. Whether or not we let that pride be all-consuming is up to us. We should be the ones wearing the watch, not the other way around. 

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Chris Antzoulis is a published poet and comic book writer who over-romanticizes watches. Ever since his mom walked him through a department store at the budding age of six and he spotted that black quartz watch with a hologram of Darth Vader’s face on the crystal, he knew he was lost to the dark side of horology. He is currently eye-balling the next watch contenders now caught in his tractor beam.