Eat the Rich: How Watches Signify Class in Saltburn, The Menu, and More

The new class satire Saltburn features some prominent watch-shots—protagonist Ollie Quick (Barry Keoghan) wears a Casio, his friend Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi) can be seen sporting a Rolex Bubbleback, and Felix’s mother Lady Elspeth Catton (Rosamund Pike) wears a Chopard Happy Diamonds, as Quick tricks his way into the family’s good graces before betraying them all.

In films that seek to emphasize class differences, luxury goods like wristwatches are often easy visual stand-ins to show a difference between their worlds, a trick Saltburn is far from the first film to employ.

From Saltburn, Barry Keoghan and Jacob Elordi wearing Casio and Rolex. Amazon Studios

Ollie’s digital Casio fits in with the nice but inexpensive aesthetic of the social-climbing character, while Felix’s Rolex Bubbleback—reportedly Elordi’s own watch—speaks to the character’s inherited wealth and how he treats it as casually as the vintage timepiece he pairs with a Livestrong rubber bracelet. Felix’s mother, Lady Elspeth Catton (Rosamund Pike), wears a Chopard Happy Diamonds befitting a socialite party girl who married into an old money family. At the end of the film, the link between class and watches is highlighted once more when a now-adult and wealthier Ollie is seen to have traded his Casio for a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso.

Other “eat-the-rich” films in recent years have used wristwatches similarly: Take, for another example, last year’s The Menu in which the ultra wealthy Richard Leibrandt (Reed Birney) wears a Cartier Tank, while obnoxious business bro Soren (Arturo Castro) has on a large skeleton dial watch. Or 2019’s Ready or Not, which features a murderous gaming dynasty patriarch Tony Le Domas (Henry Czerny) hunting his new daughter-in-law Grace Le Domas (Samara Weaving) while wearing what appears to be a gold moonphase chronograph (possibly the Sinn 6026).

Dave Bautista wearing a gold Panerai in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Netflix

On the billionaire’s island that serves as the setting for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, a group of wealthy movers and shakers run around trying to find the murderer in their midst while wearing enviable timepieces like the Omega Seamaster 1948 favored by polished and stylish detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), or the classy, subtle Cartier Tank Francaise worn by the corrupt politician Claire Deballa (Kathryn Hahn). Men’s rights influencer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) fittingly wears a burly looking Panerai Submersible, the sort of watch made popular by action movie stars like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1990s. Working-class protagonist Helen Brand (Janelle Monáe) doesn’t wear a timepiece, while an assistant to a former supermodel who gets dragged to the island, Peg (Jessica Henwick), wears a simple digital Casio.

Casio seems to be a regular choice when filmmakers want to show a character is not wealthy, and while sensible considering the low price tag of the brand’s watches, as any watch nerd knows it isn’t an entirely accurate representation. Casio’s strong reputation has made it popular with celebrities like John Mayer, Ryan Gosling, Bill Gates, and Pope Francis. A high price tag doesn’t tell the full story, and just as a very expensive watch can actually be kind of ridiculous, a simple low-budget watch can earn the respect of the watch world.

Jude Law wearing a vintage Swanson on mesh in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Paramount

The ultimate eat-the-rich film might also be the one that understands this best: The Talented Mr. Ripley, in which Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) falls in love with the wealthy Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) and his lifestyle in 1950s Italy, ultimately murdering Greenleaf and assuming his identity. When Ripley steals Greenleaf’s watch, it’s not a Rolex or Cartier or any other major brand watch: it’s a steel watch on a mesh-chain bracelet that has been identified by some as a relatively cheap (and anachronistic) Swanson on a mesh-chain bracelet. But it’s a beautiful piece that matches Greenleaf’s casual, devil-may-care attitude and the “strict allowance, but with a sensational lifestyle” for which costume designer Ann Roth said she was aiming. Which just goes to show: You don’t need money, or eat the rich, to have taste.

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Alec is a writer and editor based out of Washington, DC, currently working as a congressional reporter. His love for wristwatches started at age 10 when he received a Timex Expedition as a birthday present. A film buff and tennis fan, Cary Grant and Roger Federer played influential roles in continuing to develop his interest and taste in watches.