For many, the lasting image of Sean Connery will be their first: the camera slowly scanning over him in a casino in Dr. No. “Bond,” he says, introducing himself to all of us. “James Bond.” Or maybe the lasting image is the moment in Goldfinger when Bond first asks for his martini “shaken, not stirred.” If you’re a watch fan, though, the definitive Connery-as-Bond image comes after he plants barrels of explosives in Goldfinger’s opening scene, wearing a white tuxedo and flicking on his lighter to check the time. The flame lights up the watch that was on Connery’s wrist throughout all four of the Bond films he starred in: the Rolex Submariner 6538 “Big Crown.” The 6358 was the Submariner that accompanied Connery on the first four of his Bond movies—whatever your first memory of Connery, this is the timepiece to go with it.
For generations of men, Connery’s Bond, defined what it meant for a man to be manly. Men wanted to dress like him, drive like him, fight like him, and, uh, shag like him, too. So when Connery sparked his lighter and lingered over his Submariner, it cemented the watch as an icon in the eyes of millions. “The spotlight shown on the Submariner on Bond’s wrist was hugely important in shaping people’s tastes around the world,” says Paul Boutros, who has auctioned off Bond-worn Rolex pieces as head of Phillips Watches, Americas.
But as beloved as the Submariner is now, it sorely needed this boost from Connery to become the icon it is today. In Ian Fleming’s original Bond books, the international man of mystery is described as wearing a “heavy Rolex Oyster.” This would have been a natural fit for Bond: tasteful and elegant if slightly anonymous, just like the tuxedos and suits Bond wears. The Submariner, though, is something else: a distinct diver watch with all the markings of that style—a numbered bezel and fat indices for hour markers, all intended to be easily legible underwater. The particular model Connery wears, the “Big Crown,” gets its name from the enlarged winding knob on the right side of the piece. (It’s also notable for its lack of crown guards—the sloping bits that typically appear next to the winder.) The model is now so closely associated with 007 it’s known as the “James Bond Submariner.”
The impact of Bond wearing the Submariner was felt on a number of levels. Perhaps most importantly, it showed the Submariner worn in a completely new way. In 1962, when Dr. No was released, the Sub was mostly a diver watch worn by actual divers. “Sales of sports watches such as the Submariner were relatively weak in comparison with the Datejust during this era, as the model was only first launched in 1954,” says Boutros. “The relative rarity of these models from the early years is proof of this.” But Connery’s Bond used the Submariner much in the same way modern collectors do decades on: he wore it in his swim trunks on a boat , but also in a tuxedo while chatting up Honey Ryder at a soirée. And as collectors have folded so-called “professional” watches into everyday life, it’s probably no coincidence that the Bond co-star Submariner became perhaps the most famous and recognizable mechanical timepiece in the world. In its obituary for Connery over the weekend, watch site Hodinkee wrote that the Bond star “will forever be remembered as the man who sold a million Submariners.”