Oppenheimer, the new film by Chrisopher Nolan, opened this weekend. And if there’s one thing we know we’re going to get with a Nolan film, it’s a very loud soundtrack. But if there are two things, the other is probably the use of a handful of Hamilton watches throughout. The director has forged a partnership with the brand going back to Interstellar in 2014 and Tenet in 2020. Both of those films used Hamilton watches that were customized in some way, and played integral roles in the telling of the story. For Interstellar, the “Murph” watch allowed Matthew McConaughey’s astronaut character to communicate through time and space with his daughter back home on the farm, thereby imparting secrets of quantum physics that would later save the planet (or something). And in Tenet, a Hamilton BeLOWZERO was custom fit with a backwards running timer, because, well, it would take too long to explain. But the point is, these watches played a real role in Nolan’s storytelling. They were props, but not just props.
Oppenheimer is a whole other kettle of fish, however. Unlike Tenet and Interstellar, Nolan’s latest is based on actual events, specifically the building and detonation of the first atomic weapons. Without sci-fi flights of fancy and what we anticipate will be some adherence to the historical record, there’s no need for the watches in the film to perform parlor tricks – they just need to exist as watches in the way all watches did in the World War II era. As tools for the military, for the scientists, and for everyday people going about their daily lives who simply need to know the time.
To that end, Hamilton took an old school approach to sourcing watches for Nolan’s latest: they reached out to an established network of dedicated vintage collectors known to have pieces from the era, and picked a slate of appropriate watches for the film’s major characters. Along with the film’s costuming, set and production design, and other details, the watches are meant to add a layer of authenticity to the endeavor. It’s a small thing, but if you’ve seen any of Nolan’s films, you know that small things matter a great deal to him.
Three key characters can be seen wearing vintage Hamiltons throughout Oppenheimer. The title character, J. Robert Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphy, wears a Cushion B, Endicott, and Lexington at different points in the film. These references were chosen for their Art Deco styling, primarily, and a feeling that these models would be appropriate for a leading theoretical physicist and scholar. Oppenheimer’s wife, Kitty Oppenheimer (played by Emily Blunt) wears a Lady Hamilton A-2 crafted from 14k gold. Another facet of Hamilton’s history, their military heritage, is seen on the wrist of Matt Damon’s General Leslie Groves, who can be seen wearing a Piping Rock and Military Ordnance on screen.
Hamilton, it’s worth pointing out, has a long and proud history of being a go-to watch brand in the film industry, well beyond the works of Christopher Nolan. By their count, Hamiltons have been featured in over 500 feature films and television shows over the years. In the Nolan films alone, you can get a good sense of the variety offered by Hamilton as a brand that makes them such a logical choice for films, and the use of these vintage watches that cover a surprisingly full range of watch styles of the WWII period drive home the point that the brand has been woven into our culture in a unique way.
The use of real vintage watches that have been curated by the brand is notable in Oppenheimer. Movie and watch fans can easily recall instances where the watch is not quite right for a particular time. Sometimes they’re just a little off, and the error is only noticed by eagle eyed watch enthusiasts. Other times, the discrepancies are far more glaring and obvious, even to the untrained eye (hello, Argo). Hamilton’s involvement and their ability to procure specific examples of vintage watches speaks to Nolan’s dedication to period details, as well as the brand’s commitment to showcasing their history in an authentic light.