You’ve probably spotted a Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master on the wrist of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now (1979) and the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust 36 on Paul Newman in The Color of Money (1986). These two examples are just a drop in the ocean of films Rolex watches have appeared in; other movies include Titanic (1997), Argo (2012) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013).
What all these big-screen sensations have in common are characters that display toughness and grit — and the fact that Rolex never asked to be in them. Even if it had been a strategy Rolex was keen on, it wasn’t necessary; the watches in front of the camera were either personal favourites of the actors wearing them or had been specially chosen by directors who wanted to convey a character’s sense of fortitude and control.
While iconic timepieces in iconic films aren’t a revelation, it might surprise some to learn that Rolex’s commitment to the cinematic realm goes much deeper than stealing screen time.
Every year, behind the stage and spotlights lie a luxurious enclave where presenters at the Academy Awards can gather and mingle before heading out onstage. This specially designed lounge in Dolby Theatre — where the Oscars are held — is the exclusive Oscars Greenroom, and Rolex has been in charge of kitting it out since 2016.
Featuring a different theme every year, Rolex’s interior design team has in the past transported guests to a plush Hollywood apartment, a bar with gold and green accents and, in 2019, the bottom of the sea as a celebration of the brand’s Perpetual Planet initiative to protect the environment in the face of climate change.
The message of conservation continued with its 2020 Greenroom design. Modelled after a cosy observatory, warm-toned furniture sat snugly amid surroundings mimicking the stark and icy landscape of the North Pole. Special lighting was also designed to simulate sunrise and sunset — a play on the passage of time — in the world’s most frigid region. Rolex’s philanthropic causes are many, and high-profile partnerships like this help spread the word.
Preserving cinematic excellence
In keeping with the brand’s continuing mission to safeguard precious cultural knowledge for future generations, Rolex also became a Founding Supporter of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
Currently under construction on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, the museum comprises 50,000 square feet (about 4,650 square metres) of exhibition galleries and a 1,000-seat theatre, (among other facilities), designed by Pritzker Prize- winning architect Renzo Piano. In addition to screening films and displaying memorabilia, there will be a dedicated Rolex gallery where visitors can retrace every film the brand has played a role in.
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is scheduled to open in April 2021, which ties in nicely with the (delayed) 93rd Academy Awards on 25 April 2021.
A bridge between generations
Rolex’s philanthropic programme for the arts has one unique element: the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. Since 2002, the programme has paired more than 50 mentors with protégés in dance, literature, architecture, fine arts, theatre and, of course, film.
And only the best are selected. The masters Rolex selects for the most promising arts students are industry titans — directors Zhang Yimou and Stephen Frears as well as film editor and sound designer Walter Murch are but a few of the big names who have contributed a year to share their knowledge and experience with aspiring filmmakers.
The legacy continues into 2020-2021 with mentor Spike Lee and his protege Kyle Bell. Lee, whose body of socially conscious work — including BlacKkKlansman (2018) and the newly released Da 5 Bloods — has never been more relevant in the current zeitgeist. The matchup is wonderfully concordant, especially with Bell’s career focused on his Native American heritage and telling “stories that don’t get told or whose voices are not heard”. His documentary, Osiyo: Voices of the Cherokee People, won a Heartland Regional Emmy Award in 2016, and he was named a 2019 Sundance Indigenous Program Full Circle Fellow.
These four esteemed Rolex Testimonees will continue to inspire future generations of filmmakers
01 | Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Bigelow didn’t become the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director by playing it safe. The film that earned her the award, The Hurt Locker (2008), explored the perilously addicting yet not often acknowledged effect war had on the people fighting in battle. Bigelow dexterously handles violence and tension, with pieces like Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and Detroit (2017) edging viewers just a little out of their seats in righteous outrage or suspense. Her works often spark difficult conversations, but such discourse is also what ignites inspiration, which she believes should be at the core of any relationship between mentor and mentee. “It is not only incumbent on the person providing the knowledge or transferring the knowledge,” she says. “It’s a dialectic.
It’s a communication. It’s a way of providing a text and then how that text is received, and that is where knowledge is transferred.”
Director’s timepiece: Oyster Perpetual Datejust 36
Even after 75 years, the Datejust remains one of Rolex’s most recognisable watches. Its fluted bezel, waterproof Oyster case, Cyclops lens over the date, and five-piece link Jubilee bracelet have made it a modern watchmaking icon, while a timeless design makes it easy to dress up or down for glamour or daily wearability. Bigelow leans towards the former, with a 36mm model featuring a dark rhodium dial and diamond-set bezel, and an Everose Rolesor bracelet.
02 | James Cameron
The commercial success of James Cameron’s films is the stuff of legends. His most memorable works, Avatar (2009) and Titanic (1997), set numerous performance records in the United States and internationally. Titanic held the record for the highest grossing film in history for 12 years, only surpassed by Avatar, which maintained that record for another decade.
His productions, which are characterised by strong female leads, an emphasis on nature, and innovative uses of visual effects, are, as he insists, the result of collaboration: “There’s this idea that the auteur shows up with a perfect vision, but it doesn’t work that way. Even for somebody like myself who writes my own material, I come in with a hazy out-of-focus picture and then I work with the artists to refine that picture. I love to surround myself with the most talented people available and then just riff, just jam, like a jazz combo.”
Director’s timepiece: Oyster Perpetual Rolex Deepsea
Cameron’s themes of man or machine versus nature is no accident. He backs a number of environmental charities, and is also a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. In partnership with Rolex and the National Geographic Society, Cameron broke the record for deepest solo dive when he reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench in 2012. Little wonder that a Rolex Deepsea now accompanies Cameron on his offshore duties. The Rolex Deepsea is a robust 44mm dive watch engineered by Rolex for deep-sea exploration with a phenomenal water resistance of 3,900m. Its uni- directional ceramic bezel and corrosion-resistant Oystersteel case add to this timepiece’s toughness.
03 | Alejandro G. Iñárritu
There are only three directors in Hollywood history who have won the Oscars for Best Director two years in a row, and Alejandro G. Iñárritu of Birdman (2014) and The Revenant (2015) fame is among them. While Iñárritu’s work can be broadly categorised by long takes, non-linear storytelling, and even elements of magical realism, they can all be tied together by his call for empathy towards his main characters. On the importance of guidance, Iñárritu believes a teacher’s role is to instil confidence in his students. “When you are able to express your human experience and translate it into images that reveal to you who you are, that is already poetic,” he explains. “We all have that ability, we just need someone to discover us.”
Director’s timepiece: Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II
Legible, stylish and functional, the GMT-Master is arguably the most popular travel watch of all time. And when its successor, the GMT-Master II, arrived in 1982 with an independently adjustable hour hand in addition to the rotating bezel, there was no stopping the torrent of demand for this iconic watch. While the GMT-Master II in Oystersteel with a Jubilee bracelet might be the most popular iteration, Iñárritu’s Everose Rolesor edition with its bezel featuring a Cerachrom insert
in black and brown, marries elegance with performance.
04 | Martin Scorsese
A towering figure in cinema, you’d be hard- pressed to find someone who’s never heard of the most-nominated living director in the world. With a career spanning over 50 years where he churned out cultural touchstones like Goodfellas (1990), Taxi Driver (1976) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), there’s no doubt countless directors have been inspired by the likes of Martin Scorsese. The man even has a filmmaking course on Masterclass, such is his dedication to his role as a mentor. Says Scorsese: “As a mentor, you’re experiencing the art through a student. I always get excited by all the young people coming up to me and suggesting they want to make a certain kind of film, and I guide them as best as I can. When I see whatever they do, it means something to me [knowing] I had a little bit to do with that. It keeps me alive creatively.”
Director’s timepiece: Oyster Perpetual Day-date 40
Launched in 1956, the Day-Date was the first of its kind: a waterproof, self-winding chronometer with date and an instantaneous day spelt out in full. It also became the watch of choice for numerous presidents, visionaries, and leaders, and to this day, is available only in precious metals. Sporting a 40mm yellow gold case with a white dial and fluted bezel, Scorsese’s luxurious timepiece is crisp, classic, and worthy of his achievements.
This story first appeared in the October 2020 issue of A Magazine.