Sorry for the spoiler, but James Cameron, the director of the two biggest box office films of all time (Avatar and Titanic) has only ever worn Rolex watches. And by ‘watches’, I’m referring to the grand total of two (2) he’s owned in his life. His watch journey, then, is less about the quantity of watches and all about the qualities he appreciates in the only brand he wears.
The second watch, and the reason we’re here, is the new Rolex Deepsea – available for purchase in Australia from the 21st August – with the ‘controversial’ two-tone colour graded blue-black dial and ‘Kawasaki racing green’ font colour of DEEPSEA. Which leaves only one other wristwatch. How long has he owned it? 30 years. How often did he wear it? Every day. How many of his epic films did he direct with it on his wrist? All of them. The Abyss, Terminator, Titanic, Avatar and the greatest movie of all time (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, obviously). Find out which model, and also why the guy that directed Aliens describes the Rolex Manufacture in Geneva as “something out of a science fiction movie” in this exclusive interview.
As a writer who gets to talk to many of his idols, I never cease to be amazed by the gulf between what you expect a celebrity to be like and how they actually are ‘in the metal’, which is such an appropriate pun in relation to the guy who wrote and directed Terminator and Terminator 2 (often referred to as the greatest movie of all time). Not just in terms of their personality or their style, but also their physical presence (Hugh Jackman for example, slouches his shoulders and seems shorter than his height), the intensity or aloofness of their gaze, their dress sense, they way they smell, or the texture of their hands when you press the flesh.
But just like John Connor’s loser stepdad in Terminator 2 to his fridge, I thought I had James Cameron pretty well pinned. I’d researched his interviews, watched the Deepsea Challenge 3D documentary in rapt attention and, only minutes before we met in person I’d observed him patiently do the world’s longest Q&A in a movie theatre with 400 fans and scientists in downtown Sydney Australia.
So when we were one-on-one, finally, in the Gold Class bar of the George Street Cinema Complex I was taken completely by surprise. You see, I was, to put it bluntly, prepared for a schooling. The impression I had of James Cameron, was of a tendentious man, who likes to talk, a man who likes to lead and control a situation.
You can imagine my shock then, when this teacher, this director of people opened our discussion with a question. “You’re really into watches, what do you do?” Back-footed. A mumbled answer, something about how we like stories about watches at Time+Tide. Personal stories. How it’s a possession most people are attached to.
“Do you want to know my watch story?” he offered. The silence on the dictaphone recording confirms that I have must have just nodded, and nodded furiously, because James (or ‘Jim’ as everyone who knows the man calls him) Cameron laughed out loud. “Well, ok, but it’s pretty simple….” “That’s fine,” I say on the recording, “simple is always is good.”
AM: What was the first ever watch you were really attached to?
JC: “It was a Rolex Submariner. Like I said, it’s pretty simple. I just always saw Rolex as the best dive watches. I mean, they invented the dive watch back in 1926. I just always associated the Rolex Submariner with divers.”
AM: Are you a watch person? Have you always worn one?
JC: “No, I don’t collect watches. For me, when they asked me to be a brand ambassador for Rolex… It’s not like I would choose to be a brand ambassador for anything! I’ve always had a Submariner on my wrist. I’ve worn one every day for 30 years.”
AM: What was your next watch after that?
JC: “This one. The newer version of the Rolex Deepsea, you have to look at it in the light…. (he turns and finds a strong yellow ray from a downlight above) it’s the only time Rolex has ever done this in their history (release a commemorative model for a specific expedition). You can see it has a blue dial face that gets deeper to black. It’s not too different to their normal Deepsea dive watch. My wife (of 14 years, actress Suzy Amis, who starred in Titanic and The Usual Suspects) has one too. It’s big on her wrist but she loves wearing it. Why do you like watches so much?”
AM: I just think they’re unlikely survivors. We live in a digital age and there’s this mechanical, 17th Century technology on our wrists. I think people find it somehow reassuring.
JC: “Yeah, it also can’t be stopped by an electromagnetic pulse or a particularly strong solar flare.”
AM: What about the Rolex Deepsea Challenge watch on the arm of the submersible (the Deepsea Challenger) that went 36,000 feet down with you?
JC: “That one was much bigger. It was much chunkier. It was experiencing real pressure. And Rolex whipped that watch together in five weeks from scratch. It’s a huge engineering feat. I don’t think people really appreciate what that means; to go from CAD designs to cutting the metal, to assembling the pieces and delivering, only five weeks later, a completely new design.”
AM: How did Rolex approach you to be an ambassador?
JC: “They asked me ‘What do you think of Rolex watches?’ I said I think of my Submariner as part of my identity as a diver and, they said ‘ah, we want you’.”
(At this point, a woman, overhearing our conversation cuts in and says “For you Rolex may stand for diving and adventure, and you obviously identify with the brand for this reason, but for most it’s more a sign of prestige…”)
JC: “They may have introduced this new model, but Rolex don’t chase whims, they don’t chase pop culture. They really like tradition, their support of exploration science is tremendous and they love the fact that being part of this exploration closed the ellipse on the Bathyscaphe Trieste expedition in 1960 (the first manned vehicle to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench), because they had a watch then that went down on the outside of that vessel too.”
AM: Have you been to the Rolex manufacture in Geneva?
JC: “Yes, I have. And it’s phenomenal. You should see their robotic delivery, their parts delivery system. It’s just phenomenal. It’s like being in a science-fiction movie.”
AM: You’re now one of only a handful of people to touch the bottom of the Mariana Trench, is the itch to explore scratched? In the narrative of your life, was this mission a resolution?
JC: “Oh no, it never gets resolved, it’s open-ended, it’s like science. For every question science asks that is answered, three more become known. The investigation is always ongoing. And I love that about science. The fact that it’s never over. But we can certainly start to rule out a lot of things, a lot of superstitions. I don’t like living with superstitions, I like living with answers, with reality.”
AM: Is that resistance to superstition unusual for a creative? For someone who imagines for a living?
JC: “Is that true? I don’t necessarily think that way. I mean there’s certainly 100 years of science fiction authors who weren’t superstitious and they were really creative people. I think there’s a great creativity in engineering, there’s a great creativity in designing new machines and there’s creativity in physics.”
AM: Is there room for instinct in the sciences?
JC: “That’s a funny question. Scientists will tell you there’s no instinct in what they do, but I believe there is. I believe they almost instinctively, almost holographically process, at a subconscious level, towards an answer. And then they find the facts and data to support the hypothesis.”
AM: Do you mind if we photograph your watch?
JC: “Not at all, but you really need to see it in the light though. The thing is, if you want to do a tight shot you want to catch this blue though, because it fades from blue into black. If you think about how they had to work out the technology to get that gradation, because there’s so much material in science that goes into the colours that they do in their faces and how the colour is bonded to the dial. It’s hard to see in this light just how it graduates from blue into black in the same way that you experience as you get deeper and deeper underwater.”
SPECIAL THANKS FROM THE T+T TEAM: To Louise Hutchins of Rolex Australia for her perseverance in making this interview and shoot possible.