Did Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, have a particular wristwatch in mind when writing the original 007 stories? Could it be that Fleming himself wore the first James Bond timepiece?
Only one brand is specifically named as that secret agent’s watch in Fleming’s original 14 Bond editions: Rolex. The greatest detail comes in his eleventh book, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, published in 1963. Here we read of the ‘big luminous numerals” that Bond sees when taking a lazy midnight glance at his chronometer, ‘a heavy Rolex Oyster Perpetual on an expanding metal bracelet.’ The watch is a Rolex Explorer I.
And not just any Rolex Explorer I. My research convinces me that it was Fleming’s own stainless-steel wristwatch, model 1016 with a black dial on a 7206 bracelet, case number 596851. Fleming’s stepdaughter, Fionn Morgan, believes it is the first and only Rolex he ever owned. After her stepfather passed away on August 12, 1964, the watch was locked in a bank vault. There it stayed until the death of her mother — his widow, Ann — in 1981. That was when, following almost 20 years in isolation, it once again saw the light of day.
‘Spookily, it was still going,’ Morgan said to me last May, recalling the day she first picked it up. ‘I am told that this happens with Oyster Perpetuals; your hand sets them off.’ To her the watch was intensely personal, a family heirloom left by a man she loved as if her own blood-relation father. So she did what many of us would do. She gave it to her son-in-law, to wear daily as a touchstone with her past.
That’s how it went until preparations began for the ‘Ian Fleming Centenary,’ a year-plus celebration associated with the author’s 100th birthday on May 28, 2008. In particular, Britain’s Imperial War Museum (IWM) was planning a special 45-week exhibition titled, ‘For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond.’ Mary Gibson, Fionn Morgan’s daughter, loaned for show the Ian Fleming watch that her husband had been wearing. Along with other Fleming artifacts and props from James Bond movies, the watch is on display at the museum in London until March 1, 2009.