The job of the prop master in a film can be a complicated affair. They are responsible for making sure the items found on the actors and around the set of the film fit into the time period of the story and are both historically accurate and match the needs of the script. Sometimes that means locating a vintage watch to fit into a previous time period, or one that at least looks like it would fit into a previous era. Others would require a futuristic looking watch to fit into a movie set in the future that either could be conceivable as still being around or just look like it is from the future. The below are a few examples of watches that are out of their time either forward or backwards, some that pull it off, and some that don’t.
Aliens is the wildly popular sequel to the 1979 thriller, Alien, continuing the story of Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley. The film finds Ripley in the year 2179, and teaming up with a group of Space Marines to find out what happened to the colony on LV-426, the planet where Ripley and the rest of the crew of the Nostromo first encountered the alien xenomorph. Throughout the film a futuristic looking watch can be seen on Ripley’s wrist. It has a round case with a large, rectangular section on the right side with two black buttons on the top and bottom. The watch is the Seiko Speedtimer 7A28-7000. The Speedtimer was designed in the early 1980’s by renowned Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro.
Giugiaro is most well known for his automobile designs, but has also done designs for cameras, firearms, motorcycles and two Seiko watches (the other being the Macchina Sportiva). The 7A28-7000 Speedtimer is a quartz chronograph with the pushers encased in the previously mentioned rectangular portion of the case. The use of the Speedtimer makes sense for Aliens production. The watch would have been available at the time of the filming and it’s designed differently enough to look futuristic. Additionally it is likely that the watch would not be well known to the general population as well. The Speedtimer is quite rare these days, but can still turn up if one looks long enough.
The Bank Job (2008)
Jumping forward in terms of the production year, the next film takes place in the past. The Bank Job, starring action movie actor Jason Statham, tells the tale of the very real Baker Street robbery set in 1971. In the film, Statham’s character Terry is approached by ex-model and friend Martine about a job. Specifically, a robbery involving a certain safe deposit box. Terry assembles a team who devise a plan to enter the bank vault by tunneling into it from the basement of a store the team rented. Lots of action and thrills follow Terry and the gang throughout the heist. Near the end of the film, Terry is seen checking the time on his watch: a Heuer Monaco. The model is the blue dial with white sub-dials, the classic version worn by Steve McQueen. Only, it’s not. The model used in the film is a modern TAG Heuer Monaco. Since the design of the watch looks relatively the same as the original it is easy to see why the prop master selected the modern version. Most people probably would probably not be aware that the logo is different between the modern and the vintage, with the addition of TAG above the Heuer. Sill a good choice for the character and the period of the film.
Avatar is the second James Cameron movie on this list and also the second that takes place in the future. In this alien love story, set in the year 2154, a military unit is working to clear the indigenous alien race (the Na’vi) from the moon Pandora. The planet is rich with a precious material that is scattered throughout the planet. In order to attempt to move the natives to mine the material the natives are infiltrated by humans using alien avatars which they control remotely. As he spends more time with the Na’vi, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully develops a relationship with one of the natives and an understanding of the people. He makes the choice between his orders and doing what he feels is right in an epic final battle. Throughout the film several Casio wrist watches can be spotted. Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez) all wear Casio G-Shock watches. They are all modern time pieces and not fabricated for the film and good choices for the Marine characters. Another watch that does look futuristic appears on Norm Spellman played by Joel David Moore. He sports a Tokyoflash 1259 B, which uses LEDs to tell the time.
Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple: Secret of the Chimneys (2010)
With Secret of the Chimney’s we have a story orignally written in the 1920’s, filmed in 2010 and set in the 1950’s. This Miss Marple mystery takes place at Chimneys, the home of Lord Caterham, who is negotiating a trade agreement with an Austrian Count. The residence was once a popular place to be but has declined and is in a run down state. After the Count announces his intent to purchase Chimneys he is later found dead. It is up to Miss Marple to solve the crime before anyone else dies. Given the period in which it was set obtaining a watch from that era is still quite possible today. In the case of this Miss Marple film the props department instead chose a modern watch they felt looked like one from the period in which the film was set.; in this case a modern Lorus quartz watch. The case and dial style are reminiscent of the period of the film, but Lorus did not go into production until 1982. Another dead giveaway is the Quartz text that appears on the dial above 6 o’clock. With the attention to detail on the rest of the set dressing for the film it is surprising the watch was not a proper period piece.
This thriller, set in 1979, stars Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez, a CIA expert who is tasked with getting escaped hostages out of Iran. The movie is a fictional account of the actual events of the U.S. hostage crisis. Mendez creates a cover, acting as a Hollywood film producer who is scouting locations for a science fiction movie. In reality he is there to smuggle American hostages out of the country. Affleck wears a Rolex during the film, however the watch appears to change throughout. Part of the time it looks like a period correct Rolex Submariner, other times it is clearly a modern Rolex DeepSea. There is one story that says Affleck was given a replica prop Rolex to use for the film, but he wanted the “real deal” and bought the DeepSea and wore it for part of the filming. Either way it is quite an oversight to have a watch available from 2008 forward in a film set in 1979.
The last movie on our list is another that takes place in the past, this time 1968. Phantom tells the story of a Cold War Soviet missile submarine captain who is given the command of a submarine for one last mission. This secret mission is to use a device called the Phantom which masks the noise signature of the sub to make it appear as another vessel. A KBG agent present on the sub has an additional mission to start a war between the United States and China using the Phantom device. The captain and his crew are forced to fight to take back the ship and prevent war from breaking out. In this taught thriller, Ed Harris plays the lead as the captain of the sub, Demi. In several instances we can clearly see his watch, a Ulysse Nardin Maxi Marine Chronometer. A very cool watch, but one very clearly not available in 1968. In this case it seems not a single care was given to being historically accurate.
The above inconsistencies may only matter to us in the watch community, sure. Every group of enthusiasts will notice things that stand out for their interest, whether it is brands and advertisements, cars and transportation, clothing or hairstyles. While not necessarily essential to the film to have a characters watch be historically accurate, that attention to detail would show that the makers of the film care enough about the product to put the time into making sure every detail is right.