Rolex and cinema

The luxury watch company has long been linked with the magic of the movie business

Jim Carrey in I Love You Philip Morris
 The luxury watch company has long been linked with the magic of the movie business

It may not have been centre-stage, gushing over one of the gold statuettes, but Rolex played a significant supporting role at the 89th Academy Awards earlier this year.

The luxury watch company’s first year as a sponsor of the Oscars cements a decades-long relationship with cinema, on both sides of the camera, in Hollywood and beyond.

Indeed, when director James Cameron sings the brand's praises - “a Rolex is not only a beautiful watch, it's very tough, so what you're saying subliminally to the audience is that character can take the pressure, too; he or she has what it takes,” he says - he's speaking as both a film-maker and an explorer.

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Best known for Titanic - and the love of deep-sea diving it inspired in him - Cameron also took his Rolex Submariner with him to the jungle while filming Avatar. It was there that he ended up giving it to Ropni, the chief of the Kayapo people - possibly a first for any Amazonian tribal chief.

“He gave me some great gifts, things that had great meaning to him including making me one of the Kayapo people with a naming ceremony,” Cameron said. “In their culture, these are treasured things. And I thought, ‘What do I have that I can give him that's like that, something that's very personal to me, and has a value to me that's equivalent to what his gifts to me meant to him.’ So I gave him my Rolex Submariner.”

It was no casual gesture, even for a man who could easily replace the physical object: Cameron had been wearing the Submariner for 20 years. “It was on my wrist when I was making Terminator 2, blowing things up and flipping over trucks riding on a motorcycle sidecar,” he says, and “I was wearing it the first time I saw the Titanic for real through the porthole of a submersible.” The watch clearly had great sentimental and symbolic value.

Cameron is one of the biggest names in the business, but other would-be directors might have even greater reason for gratitude towards the company.

As part of a wider philanthropic programme, which also encompasses theatre, literature, visual arts, dance, music and architecture, Rolex has for 15 years run a Mentor & Protégé Arts Initiative that brings aspiring directors together with the masters of their craft. It echoes the tradition of watchmaking skills being passed down from master to apprentice, and the protégés, who are selected to participate from around the world, spend six weeks or more with their mentor.

“The possibility of becoming his protégé was like a dream come true,” said Celina Murga, the Argentinian director of A Week Alone, after she was teamed up with Martin Scorsese during the making of Shutter Island. “The opportunity of working and being near another person [of this stature] in a close relationship like this one, it has to give me something. [But] what I found interesting was the possibility of meeting people from other disciplines too.”

More recent mentoring connections have included the likes of young Israeli film-maker Tom Shoval, who worked with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the director of Birdman and The Revenant and the first Mexican director to receive an Oscar nomination. This year, Chaitanya Tamhane, who has a critically-acclaimed first feature under his belt, but no formal film-making training, was paired with Alfonso Cuaron, whose films have included Children of Men and Gravity.

Rolex, clearly, can call in some heavy-hitters. And not just in directing either: one Mentor & Protégé arrangement brought together a film-editing teacher and documentary maker with Walter Murch, the Oscar-winning sound editor of films including Apocalypse Now and The Godfather: Part II.

More than 50 young artists have now been inducted into the programme, including seven who are currently enjoying “the invaluable benefit of a personal working relationship with a recognised master in his or her field”, says Rebecca Irvin, Head of Philanthropy at Rolex. “By the end of the cycle, they will all have become members of the global family of remarkable artists supported by the Rolex programme.”

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