Dr No Way: The 5 most implausible watch gadgets of James BondD.C. Hannay
There are many reasons the James Bond franchise is so enduring. From the twisty plotlines, exotic cars, breathtaking locations, jaw-dropping stunt work, and of course, the roguish charm of 007 himself (or herself, shoutout to Lashana Lynch), there’s a lot to like. And of course, those gadgets. So many gadgets. While the recent Daniel Craig films have steered away from some of the more gimmicky pieces of spy kit, Q Branch has delivered an astonishing range of gear to equip Bond for the mission at hand. And with the march of time, the tech has evolved from cringey to contemporary (much like Bond himself). But what about the watch gadgets? “Now pay attention, 007”.
The Bond oeuvre is well-known for featuring iconic references from Rolex and Omega, as well as watches by Seiko, Breitling, Hamilton, Gruen, and TAG Heuer, and yes, some of those have an assortment of pretty cool gadgets built-in. But for every “Yeah, that could work.”, there’s a “What the hell, Q?” for some of the more laughably implausible devices dreamed up by the franchise. What follows is my short list of the best of the worst watch gadgets in the 007 canon.
The Spy Who Loved Me – The Seiko ticker tape watch
In one of Roger Moore’s best outings as the superspy, the film begins with 007 “on the job” (as Austin Powers might say), when he inconveniently receives an incoming missive from MI6. A top secret message prints out from the side of his Seiko digital watch, informing Bond to return to HQ.
Cool gadget, bro, and handy too! Released in 1977, The Spy Who Loved Me predated a lot of technology we take for granted today, including smartphones and wearable tech like the Apple Watch. So the conceit of this watch, the Seiko 0674-5009, is that hidden somewhere in the case is a means of printing out messages via a thin plastic strip. And it’s here where logic goes completely out the window. Popular at the time, the prop department used something called a Dymo Tapewriter label maker, which was a device used to emboss text onto plastic adhesive tape.
It was wildly successful in its day for labelling just about everything, from kids’ lunch boxes to shelves that needed organising, and somewhat unbelievably, you can still buy a modern version. Unfortunately for Bond, there was no way this apparatus was fitting into a watch. And what does 007 do with all those printed plastic messages after he reads them? So many questions.
GoldenEye – The Omega Seamaster laser-cutting torch watch
One of the most legendary watch gadgets to ever come out of the Quartermasters’ lab, the high-powered laser cutting torch has saved James’ bacon on several occasions, including this scene from 1995’s GoldenEye, starring Pierce Brosnan in his first go as 007.
Branch loves them some lasers, and they’re all over the films from Goldfinger to Die Another Day. The pew-pew action of the laser watch even made into the best James Bond videogame of all time, the legendary GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo N64, in the form of a highly pixelated Omega Seamaster.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news: It’s a complete fraud. There is no physical way on earth for a laser of that power to fit into a wristwatch. And yes, some bloke actually built his own laser-emitting watch about 20 years after GoldenEye’s release, but it wasn’t even close to powerful enough to cut thick steel plate.
At 150 milliwatts, it made short work of popping balloons and lighting wooden matches, but fell far short of the 300 watts needed to burn through metal. Around 299,850 milliwatts short, in fact. Taking a cursory spin around the internet, I found several 300 watt lasers available to purchase, but sadly, the one I put in my cart measured about 12 feet by 6 feet and weighed over a tonne.
So the short answer is no, you cannot cut through armoured steel using a watch-mounted laser, no matter how many times you’ve cleared that level in GoldenEye 007.
Octopussy – The Seiko TV watch
Now here’s one that does have some basis in reality: The Seiko G757 TV watch, which actually could show low-res video via its LCD display. In order to watch, however, you were required to hook up an accessory receiver that resembled a Sony Walkman, so the portrayal on screen wasn’t quite accurate.
Additionally, the images on Bond’s watch were much clearer via the magic of film. And of course, James uses the watch for nefarious purposes almost instantly, creeping on unsuspecting women. Because he’s 11.
Besides aging terribly, the technical issue that plunges this one into the territory of the ridiculous is this: where the hell is the camera that the watch is supposedly receiving images from? Some kind of handy floating drone to spy on bad guys? Could it work today? Absolutely, but sorry Q, the tech didn’t exist then. Denied.
The World Is Not Enough – The Omega Seamaster with grappling hook
This one’s all about the volume of the inside of a watch case, and it just doesn’t add up. Bond’s ref. 2531.80.00 Seamaster has received a serious upgrade, and sports a grappling hook mechanism that supposedly fires 50 feet of high-tensile monofilament line capable of supporting 800 pounds.
Unfortunately, there is no possible way for 50 feet of line with that kind of strength to be able to fit inside the watch’s case. Not to mention the firing device and a motor capable of retracting said line. I did the math. Used in deep-sea fishing, the monofilament line would need to be 3.2mm in diameter to support 800 pounds, far too big for the volume of the case.
On top of that suspension of disbelief, a firing device, such as one used in a taser, could not possibly fit inside the case of a 41mm watch, even if it was devoid of its movement. You can take a deep dive into the science here. Not to mention a high-torque motor capable of quickly rewinding the line while supporting the weight. And, oh yeah, there’s an LED light array built into the watch as well. Cool idea, but this one needs a whole lot more R&D, Q.
Dr. No – The Rolex Submariner 6538 radium-dialled wristwatch
Finally, this one is less of a gadget and more of a “yikes”. In Sean Connery’s first outing, 1962’s Dr. No, Bond is testing the functionality of a geiger counter for his upcoming mission. He does so by waving it over the dial of his Rolex 6538 Submariner, confirming the active radiation of the watch’s luminous radium dial plots.
Yup, that thing’s highly radioactive. Good to go! All I can say is, have we learned nothing from the documentary Radium Girls? You’ve got more than enough in your life trying to kill you, James. You don’t need to be jetting around the world with Chernobyl strapped to your wrist. Hard pass, Q.