Style / World of Watches (WOW)

Rolex: A Champion of Cinema

Since the early days of cinema, Rolex and the film industry have shared a synergy that transcends the screen.

Oct 28, 2022 | By Andreas Arphan
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
Image: Academy Museum Foundation

For decades, Rolex watches have appeared on the wrists of many protagonists in iconic films. In one of its first few appearances on the silver screen, Sean Connery donned a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner in the first Bond film, Dr. No, in 1962. This same watch would accompany Bond on his adventures through three more instalments, namely From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball.

From then on, Rolex became a staple timepiece in the world of cinema. Paul Newman sported an Oyster Perpetual Datejust in The Color of Money; Robert Redford checked the time on an Oyster Perpetual Submariner in All the President’s Men; Marlon Brando menaced us out of the shadows while wearing an Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master in Apocalypse Now; Bill Paxton sported a gold Oyster Perpetual Submariner Date in Titanic; and Eddie Murphy wore an Oyster Perpetual Datejust in The Distinguished Gentlemen, famously quipping in one scene, “Oh, another Rolex! I collect these, mine is a slightly older model!”

These are just four examples out of a veritable roster of Rolex appearances in films, many of them considered as classics in the world of cinema. Show, don’t tell, the film axiom goes. And Rolex watches portrayed fortitude in these characters, conveying a sense of toughness and control, along with a sophisticated sense of style.

The relationship between Rolex and cinema is a long-standing one, extending far beyond the brand’s appearances on the big screen. The brand has been equally busy behind the camera in supporting and uplifting the film industry. This is the area where Rolex’s relationship with the film industry has its deepest roots.

Rolex encourages the preservation and transmission of the cinematic arts, promotes excellence and celebrates progress by accompanying living legends as well as budding talents through its Testimonees (Martin Scorsese and James Cameron), its partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the institution, the awards and the Academy Museum in Los Angeles) and the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

Rolex: Perpetuating the Art of Filmmaking

Recognising the importance of preserving these records of bygone, albeit recent, eras, Rolex has dedicated itself to the preservation of film history for future generations. This commitment is realised in two ways.

First, Rolex is a Founding Supporter of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, the world’s premier institution dedicated to the art and science of movies and home to the Rolex Gallery. The Academy Museum offers exhibits and programmes delving into the art, technology, history and social impact of cinema, telling the stories of moviemaking. Exhibitions from this year alone include the ongoing Stories of Cinema and The Oscars Experience, and tributes to filmmakers Hayao Miyazaki and Melvin van Peebles. These stories are celebratory and aim to tell the different aspects of cinematic history.

The Rolex Gallery, situated on the third floor, is a permanent exhibit dedicated to the many aspects of moviemaking — technology, artists, history and social impact and showcasing Paul Newman’s Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona.

The second is Rolex’s support for The Film Foundation, a non-profit organisation established in 1990 by legendary director and Rolex Testimonee Martin Scorsese, dedicated to protecting and preserving motion picture history. The legendary director of classics films Goodfellas, Raging Bull and Casino initiated the Film Foundation when he became aware of the poor state of film conservation, upon viewing a print of the 1955 Marilyn Monroe comedy The Seven Year Itch in the late 1970s. He noted that the print, from the studio’s official archival copy, was only a couple of decades old at the time. Yet, it had faded considerably to a print with muted colours and foggy images.

Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese
James Cameron
James Cameron

As a filmmaker, the lack of detail and poor state of the film disturbed him greatly. He felt that much of the film’s visual narrative quality was lost (no mention is made of what he thought about the audio). From there, he became aware that of the many movies made before 1950, more than half were irretrievably lost, even some Oscar winners. These films had been erased from cinema history and those surviving were quickly deteriorating in quality.

So, he drove the Film Foundation initiative together with his director friends, including George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and to date, the Film Foundation has worked in partnership with archives institutions and studios to restore over 925 films. These are then made accessible to the public through festivals, museums, and educational institutions around the world. Expanding to the world at large, the Foundation’s World Cinema Project has restored 50 films from 28 different countries, and its free educational curriculum, The Story of Movies, teaches young people about film language and history.

Mentoring the Next Generation

Kyle Bell and Spike Lee
Kyle Bell with his mentor Spike Lee

Celebrating achievement and preserving the past are important, but equally important is ensuring the future of cinema. Rolex makes its contribution by promoting the transmission of knowledge across generations through the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

This Initiative, founded in 2002, was developed by Rolex and is one of their first collaborations with Hollywood. The Initiative sees younger artists of exceptional promise — the protégés — selected by established masters to work with them on a one-on-one basis for two years (called a ‘cycle’). Working so closely together creates a mentor-student relationship, enabling creative exchange and catalysing the transfer of knowledge from one generation to another.

The Initiative spans various disciplines that rely on creative ability, including visual arts, architecture, dance, literature, music, and of course film, with the aim to ensure that the knowledge and skills of those disciplines are passed on to future generations.

Out of the 58 Mentor and Protégé duos, eight have been in film. The roster of film mentors reads like a list of renowned film directors: Mira Nair, Stephen Frears, Walter Murch, Zhang Yimou, Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Spike Lee and of course Martin Scorsese. The 2020-2022 cycle, currently still underway, paired Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X and Da 5 Bloods) with native American filmmaker Kyle Bell. For the initiative’s 2023 – 2024 cycle, the mentor will be Chinese film director Jia Zhang-Ke (The World, A Touch of Sin and Mountains May Depart) who will be mentoring Filipino filmmaker Rafael Manuel.

Zhang Ke and Rafael Manuel
Film mentor Zhang Ke and protégé Rafael Manuel

As for Martin Scorsese, he mentored independent filmmaker Celina Murga in the 2008 – 2009 cycle. Along with fellow film director and Rolex Testimonee James Cameron, these two towering figures have a longstanding relationship with the brand. In 2012, James Cameron famously took a Rolex Deepsea Challenge watch on his record-breaking Mariana Trench dive.

Rolex has always maintained close ties with the world of cinema, not only through the presence of Rolex watches in films, but also underpinned by Rolex and Hollywood’s shared beliefs in excellence, fostering talent and encouraging progress, and recognizing the importance of transmitting knowledge to future generations. Through its many initiatives and support for the film industry, Rolex has become an acting participant in Hollywood, of its own right.

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