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Every Vintage Hamilton Wristwatch in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer

Hamilton Oppenheimer

Detail means everything in film, just as it means everything in watchmaking. So, it’s not surprising that many directors and prop departments pay special attention to the watches on their character’s wrists. And if you watch a Christopher Nolan film from the last few years there’s a good chance that you’ll spot some Hamilton watches, as they feature prominently in both Interstellar, Tenet and now Oppenheimer.

In some respects, this is the film where it makes the most sense for the characters to be wearing Hamilton watches. For one, it’s set in America and Hamilton was based in America until 2003 when it became part of the Swatch group and moved to Switzerland. Secondly, this is a film based in historical events, which to my mind suits the grounded aesthetics of Hamilton far better than sci-fi adventures.

Hamilton CushionB Lexington Endicott Oppenheimer Cillian Murphy

Speaking of history, a key attribute that Nolan wanted to achieve when it came to watches in his film was to have them all be period accurate vintage models. While Hamilton’s archives are deep, they don’t necessarily contain screen-ready pieces from the 40s and 50s. As such, they reached out to well known collectors and enthusiasts to source the watches – much in the same way that you might research and source a grail watch you wanted to add to your personal collection. Although I imagine “Christopher Nolan wants your watch in his film – Hamilton” is an easier sell than “how much do you want for it? – Steve from online.”

Hamilton Cushion B (1930s) – worn by J. Robert Oppenheimer

Cushion B (1930s) – worn by J. Robert Oppenheimer

Ultimately Hamilton were able to procure six stunning vintage watches for the film, so let’s take a closer look. The first three are all worn by Cillian Murphy in his titular role as J. Robert Oppenheimer and they are the Cushion B, Endicott and Lexington. The Cushion B as its name suggests features a cushion case design that screams retro Americana in the same vein as the Vacheron Constantin American 1921 that makes you want to get behind the wheel of a classic car and devour a New Mexico highway. It’s completed with a white dial and oversize Arabic numerals.

Hamilton Endicott (1940s) – worn by J. Robert Oppenheimer

Endicott (1940s) – worn by J. Robert Oppenheimer

Next up is the Endicott which is a little more refined with a round design in a brassy gold-plated colour with matching numerals and hands. It also has a more intricate dial with a sub-counter at 6 o’clock for the small seconds, giving it a more precise feel. It gives it vibe of a watch that a scientist dealing with precision instruments might actually use.

Hamilton Lexington (1940s) – worn by J. Robert Oppenheimer

Lexington (1940s) – worn by J. Robert Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer’s last watch is the Lexington, which is my personal favourite of the trio. A steel model with a round shape, short crown, black dial and white numerals. It has a more military feel to it, like it might be the successor to a Dirty Dozen field watch, but with just enough Art Deco influence to remain civilian. What power in a film about the infinite greys of human morality to have a black and white watch. A physical representation of the quandaries Oppenheimer is facing about good, evil and the bomb.

Hamilton Military Ordonance Piping Rock Oppenheimer Matt Damon

The next two watches Hamilton provided for the film are worn by Matt Damon in his role as General Leslie Groves, Jr. They’re the Military Ordinance and the Piping Rock. We were just talking about the Dirty Dozen and the Military Ordinance might as well be their American cousin, at least in style. It’s built like a tank with a thick bezel and oversize crown made to endure the trials of adventure and conflict. The dial itself is hyper legible in black and white just like the Dozen. If the Lexington left the army to embrace civilian style, then the Military Ordinance is a lifelong veteran.

Hamilton Military Ordnance (1940s) – worn by Lieutenant General Leslie Groves

Military Ordnance (1940s) – worn by Lieutenant General Leslie Groves

Hamilton Piping Rock (1920s) – worn by Lieutenant General Leslie Groves

Hamilton Piping Rock (1920s) – worn by Lieutenant General Leslie Groves

Damon’s second watch is the Piping Rock, which is the most unusual piece in the film. The watch body itself is circular but it’s housed within an open tonneau frame that leads into a wide lug bar. It makes it feel bigger and more imposing while the dial and display are relatively subdued. A Roman Numeral bezel, a railway rack minute scale, very shapely hands. It’s military at a dress parade rather than military setting off a bomb.

Hamilton Lady Hamilton A-2 (1947) – worn by Kitty Oppenheimer

Lady Hamilton A-2 (1947) – worn by Kitty Oppenheimer

The final vintage Hamilton featuring in Oppenheimer is the Lady Hamilton A-2 in 14k gold, as worn by Emily Blunt in her role as Kitty Oppenheimer. It’s incredibly delicate with a 13.5mm x 15mm x 8.7mm rectangle design on a super thin bracelet. Although it’s worth pointing out that all the watches here are very small by modern standards: the Cushion B. is only 26.7mm and the Military Ordinance is the biggest at 32mm. We often talk about watches that are 38/37mm as “vintage proportion” but it’s worth remembering that actual vintage pieces could be a lot smaller than that.

One thing’s for sure, Oppenheimer promises to be a watch spotter’s dream. I’ve already got tickets booked for when it hits cinemas on Friday July 21st.

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About the author

Michael Sonsino

As Digital Editor for Oracle Time, Michael needs an eye for detail, which makes it a good thing that his twin joys in life are miniatures and watches. He's a lifelong fan of fine timepieces, especially those of a more historic nature - if it has a twist of Art Deco, all the better. Recent purchase: Seiko Prospex 1959 Alpinist Modern Re-Interpretation. Grail watch: Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921.