Part of the fun of spotting watches in movies or television shows is the brand recognition. Can the the make and model be identified, or is the dial obscured just enough that the brand cannot be made out? Often times the watch is on screen but too distant to be identifiable. Finding that brand and even the specific model is the true ultimate goal for the movie watch spotter. There are times though that even after knowing the brand there is still a surprise. The watch is a fake.
Anyone who has been really following the watch industry the past decade knows that counterfeit watches have gone from poor knock-offs for a few bucks that can easily be spotted to costly, high-end, nearly perfect matches to the real thing. The morality of such a topic is not for this post, but rather why would the movie industry – who is already spending millions and millions of dollars on their product – chose to skimp on a watch that may or may not have screen time?
Perhaps the earliest appearance of an admitted counterfeit watch on screen dates back to 1973. In this instance it was on the television show “All in the Family” and its appearance was for that of humor. Archie thinks he is buying a $300 Omega watch for only $25 from a friend. Since the transaction took place in a parking lot everyone is quite sure the watch is stolen. Archie breaks the watch and upon seeking out repair learns that he bought an “Onega” and it is worth $8.00. Lesson learned: don’t buy watches in a parking lot. Humor aside the episode is interesting for the fact that even forty years ago counterfeit watches were present and at least somewhat in the popular knowledge. It was not something I had even considered being present at the time and it shows how pervasive the desire is for luxury items, even if you cannot afford the real thing. In this case the counterfeit was the central part of the story and the use of the watch makes sense.
Another element that might lead to the choice of a counterfeit is the value of the watch. While the desire might be for a character to wear a specific piece, it is not realistic to procure based upon wardrobe budgeting. Yes, the logical conclusion would be to obtain a genuine piece with the available budget rather than going for a fake. Another aspect of the cost comes in when considering what action the film may have and what abuse the watch will have to endure. Rather than abuse and break an expensive watch, a fake may be chosen as somewhat of a “stunt double” for the movie. This was the case in the 2011 film “Drive” starring Ryan Gosling who wore a counterfeit Patek Philippe. The prop master of the film made the choice of the watch and had a half dozen of the watches available as needed. The watch selection in this case was in keeping with the character from the book who owned a very nice watch that was given to him by his father. To that end a higher end brand was desired but a fake chosen to take the abuse of filming. One wonders though if a mid-range priced watch may have still been able to be a convincing part of the story without having to flash a fake watch on the screen. The same can be said of the TV show “24” where in the first season the lead character, Jack Bauer, wore a (poorly done) fake Rolex Submariner.
Using watches as props in a movie is another reason for obtaining and using a fake watch. If the watch is to be disassembled and modified on the surface it makes sense to do it to something that is not a genuine piece. For a counterfeit it might be a better fate to be used in such a way. An example comes from “Undercover Brother” from 2002. In this comedy the lead character is a secret agent who has his own fair share of gadgets, including a Breitling Crosswinds that shoots a sauce out of the crown. Really. It’s a watch that serves up a condiment. For the sake of humor and keeping a genuine watch from harm a fake was used as a prop.
In the case of other films though, the watch is there simply to be a watch and has no connection to the story from the standpoint of it being a counterfeit. Take Kill Bill Vol. 2 as an example. The protagonist, The Bride, lifts her wrist to check the time at one point and her watch is a very clearly fake Rolex Daytona. For those in the know it is easy to spot as the subdials set up in a calendar configuration rather than the proper chronograph. Is the watch a fake because of her character? Or just because they needed a quick prop to fill the shot? Either way those who know watches can easily tell the watch is not the real deal. Another clear appearance of an improper chronograph subdial layout comes from the 2009 film “Obsessed” where we find what is supposed to be an Omega Speedmaster that is clearly no real Speedmaster and the television show “Moonlight” (about a vampire detective) shows off a poor fake of a Panerai.
In the case of the average person most of these watches will go unnoticed as counterfeits as they are flashed on the screen. For the watch-nerds they will stick out like sore thumb and the question as to how important was the watch or brand that a fake had to be used over something else genuine will remain. The practice is sure to continue but the ever vigilant watch spotter will have their eyes open to spot the fakes.
by James Enloe