“Mad” About ’60s Watches

Mad About '60s Watches

The fourth season of AMC TV’s Emmy-award-winning drama series Mad Men premieres in late July, and the show’s fans have the date circled. The series, which follows the lives and careers of Madison Avenue advertising executives in 1960s New York, has not only wowed critics and fueled revivals of that era’s fashions and classic cocktails — its famous attention to period details has provided substantial fodder for watch enthusiasts.

Some examples of the ongoing discussions and debates:

• The show’s use of real companies as clients for the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency is well established, even in throwaway lines of dialogue. A Season Two episode shows young copywriter Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) on a blind date in a restaurant. When Peggy and Carl, her date, discuss what their families do, he remarks that his sister works as a secretary for Bulova in Flushing, Queens. As pointed out on the International Movie Database (www.imdb.com), this is a gaffe: Bulova was indeed based in Queens in 1962 when the scene takes place, but not in Flushing: it was in Jackson Heights (specifically, 72-20 Astoria Boulevard). The headquarters moved to Woodside, Queens in 1982.

• In a Season Three episode, which takes place in 1963, account executive Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) struts into his colleague’s office beaming about the gifts he has just received from a satisfied client: tickets to the Mets game (the Mets were, of course, a very new team in 1963) and the new watch that he is wearing, which he proudly refers to as a “Hamilton Electric.” The first Hamilton Electric watch was released in 1957, and remained popular until the first quartz models rendered them obsolete in 1969. Ken’s Hamilton watch only makes a brief appearance onscreen, but some believe it may be a Hamilton Ventura, which at the time would have been a very hot item, as it had been seen on the wrist of Elvis Presley.

Ken Cosgrove shows off his new Hamilton Electric, a gift from a satisfied client.
Ken Cosgrove's Hamilton


• Of course, the most popular topics involve the series’ leading man, the dashing, enigmatic Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm. The foremost question on the minds of TV watch watchers is, “What is Don wearing?” In fact, the character has worn two distinctly different watches since the series began. In the first season, Don sports a watch in a round steel case, with a white or silver dial surrounded by a black outer ring. Speculation has abounded about this watch, with various Internet sources guessing its identity: an Omega (either a Seamaster or a Suveran), a Rolex Cellini, a Universal Genève Polerouter, even an Elgin. Since there has been no definitive word from anyone associated with the show, this discussion continues.

An Omega? An Elgin? A Rolex Cellini? The manufacturer of Don Draper’s watch from the first season has not yet been definitively identified.
Don Draper's mystery watch

Don's mystery watch up close


• In Season Two, sharp-eyed viewers have noted that Don begins wearing a noticeably different watch, with a rectangular case that appears to be yellow-gold. While this one also sparked some debates, its identity is easier to definitively discern. In an interview with AMCtv.com, the show’s prop master, Gay Perello, reveals that she and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner wanted to give Don a new timepiece during that season (presumably, for storyline reasons, one that would reflect the big raise that Don gets when he makes partner at Sterling Cooper). They chose a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, which Hamm at first didn’t care for, calling himself “more of a round watch face guy.” However, when Perello showed him the Reverso’s features and he started flipping and playing with the two-sided case, he began to really like it. The watch (by most accounts, a Reverso Classique) also proved an appropriate model for Don’s wife Betty (January Jones) to have his initials engraved on the caseback, a scene written into a later episode. The only controversy left here is whether or not it was even possible to purchase a Reverso in the U.S. in the early 1960s. Despite the fact that the watch was introduced in 1931, the question of when JLC watches were distributed in the States seems to be a subject of some debate.

Don upgrades to a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso after making partner in the series’ second season.
Don Draper's JLC Reverso

Don Draper's JLC Reverso

• Betty’s own watch — a gift from Don in the Season One, which took place in 1960 — has also sparked a fair amount of speculation, with several sources guessing that it is a ladies’ Benrus, and other Mad Men fans saying that the Benrus was far too inexpensive a watch for a classy, affluent guy like Don to give his wife as a present. Most significantly, the watch may be an anachronism: the sticklers on IMDB.com are certain that it is a quartz watch, which obviously would not have existed in 1960. How does one identify it as a quartz model without being sure about the brand? Another mystery for the watch community to unravel. Perhaps Season Four will provide some answers, or at the very least, some more helpful, close-up camera angles.

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