Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood, a Watch Was Miscast

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1969 was a really big year in history. To name a few highlights, we landed on the Moon. Woodstock and Abbey Road defined a generation of music. The Manson murders struck fear into the hearts of good people around the world. And, horologically speaking, the first-ever automatic chronographs hit the market. While seemingly disparate events, the latter two are relevant to Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood.

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio star in Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood. Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

If you haven’t seen the film, don’t worry, there are no spoilers ahead, but to generally summarize, it’s a cameo-filled sequence of events taking place in Hollywood in 1969, loosely centered around Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters, a fictitious actor and stuntman, respectively. As they go about their business, so to speak, they encounter real stars of the era played by stars of today, from Steve McQueen played by Damian Lewis, to Sharon Tate played by Margot Robbie. It’s entertaining in a way that only a Tarantino film can be and very much worth the price of admission. But, this isn’t a film review.

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For watch nerds in the audience, including yours truly, there was an unintended star of the film. Sitting prominently on Cliff Booth’s (Brad Pitt) wrist is a gold watch on a leather cuff. A solid stylistic choice, the watch/strap combo clearly rings of Paul Newman, who likely would have been a friend of Cliff’s, a rugged stuntman who rings of McQueen and sports aviators, a loose Hawaiian shirt over a Champion t-shirt, and washed-out jeans for most of the film.

I was very eager to identify this watch, waiting on the edge of my proverbial seat for it to properly come into frame, when finally a surprising detail came into stark focus. The watch was a “bullhead” chronograph. Immediately, my eyebrow raised. What bullheads existed in 1969? Were there manual-wind bullheads I’m unaware of? Certainly not the Seiko 6138-0040. Perhaps a Heuer/Easy Rider Jacky Ickx? No, no, no, those weren’t around yet, either. Then, as more of the watch was revealed, I figured out what it was. A Citizen Challenge Timer.

Featuring a soft, barrel-shaped, gold-tone case and a gold panda dial ringed with a black tachymeter, it’s a damn sexy watch with a distinct look. While there is never an in-focus close-up of the watch à la the Seamaster in a modern James Bond film, my hunch was confirmed by the folks over at watch-id, who came to the same conclusion.

Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood. Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

Attitude-wise, it perfectly suits Cliff’s character, who I can actually picture wearing a non-traditional brand for the era, like Citizen. Hey, McQueen had a well known affection for Hanhart after all.

Citizen Challenge Timer Ref. 67-9020. Image courtesy of gregoriades.

Unfortunately, this Citizen watch didn’t exist in 1969.

As noted in our article, “Chronography 11: the Citizen ‘Bullhead’ Challenge Timer,” the watches and their impressive flyback 8110 caliber were first released in 1972. Though quickly following in the footprints of Heuer (with Breitling and Buren), Zenith and Seiko, the Citizen was not one of the famed first automatic chronographs from 1969.

Image via vintagecitizenwatches.

While the watch fits the character, I was quite surprised by the inaccuracy given Tarantino’s eye for detail. The watch also feels like such an intentional choice that it’s odd that it wouldn’t have been verified as period-correct. Sure, it has no effect on the film and 99.99% of the audience who watch it will neither know or care, but for us sliver of watch-loving folks, it’s hard to ignore. Of course, I likely missed other inaccuracies around topics of which I am not obsessed. That said, watches are frequently met with gross inaccuracies in film and tv — from the way they work to their appropriateness for the character — which might be worth a deeper dive in another article.

Perhaps it’s best to think of this situation as an easter egg of sorts. A cool, under-appreciated watch — which it certainly is — getting time on the silver screen in what will be, by sheer virtue of its director and cast, a cult favorite for generations. And with that said, I am willing to live with a watch (or another reference from the line) that you can buy on eBay right now for a few hundred dollars being featured in a film on the wrist of a mega-celeb like Brad Pitt over yet another absurdly overpriced luxury or equally unobtainable vintage watch. Intentionally or not, Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood just gave birth to the Citizen “Cliff” Timer, and I, for one, will be keeping my eye out for a good example.

Featured image courtesy of Columbia Pictures

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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
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