MAD MEN AND THE VINTAGE WATCH COLLECTOR

by | Aug 16, 2020 | Style, Watches

This past week, shares in Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. rose steadily one day during an extended session. It was announced that the television and movie company’s results exceeded Wall Street expectations. The company’s Starz streaming network was at the core of that, driven by the successful syndication of the television series Mad Men, an American period drama depicting a Manhattan ad agency in the 1950s and 1960s.

Related: Tic Talk: Top 5 new men’s luxury watches for summer 

Mad Men finished its seven-year run in 2015 – with lead character Don Draper’s spiritual rebirth at a hippie retreat on the California coast.

The success of the series in syndication is not a surprise. Mad Men ranks as one of more brilliant, original TV series that came out of television’s so-called golden age (is it still?). So in celebration of all things Mad Men, we wanted to re-run a 2013, first-person account by one our watch writers, Derek Dier (a Toronto-based vintage watch specialist), who supplied the cast of Mad Men with vintage watches for the series. Here is Derek’s story:

The watches of Mad Men, provided by Derek Dier

Most would think a watch enthusiast chooses a watch based on raising his or her status. Perhaps they’ve reached a milestone in their life and want to show off to their peers.

We see it all the time. There’s a flashy, gold Rolex with diamonds. (Most shrug and think it’s a fake.) However there’s a completely different group of watch “fanatics” who worry more about which watch to wear on a certain day, over and above most everything else.

“It’s Mad Men calling”

We collectors are enslaved by the visual pleasure that the metallic object gives off, perfectly encircled on our wrist, with the proper-coloured band adjacent to our juxtaposing shirt cuff pattern.

I admit to being one of these “watch nerds”. It started off innocently when I was about six, dismantling, destroying and always begging for a new watch. Throughout my life many would chastise me for staring at my wrist.

“What, are you in a rush?” they would ask. “You’re always staring at your wrist!”

“No,” I would inwardly be thinking. “I am more interested in the glint of my watch lugs in the twilight, than your boring story.”

Mad Men’s Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm

Like most collectors, from cars to thimbles, when the collection becomes too large, you become a dealer. The same happened to me. With that has come some great – and unique – opportunities to expand what I do. In my fourteenth year of operating my vintage watch website, the phone rang.

There was a female voice at the other end of the line. “It’s Mad Men calling.” That’s exactly what she said.

“Ellen Freund here [she’s the propmaster]. I am looking for watches for the leads of the show and need them rather quickly. Tomorrow.”

1966 style

Well, dreams do come true. I had just finished telling a friend that my ambition was to supply Mad Men with their vintage watches. And here it was, happening live. “That’s something I can do,” I replied.

My wife and I spent the remainder of that August 2011 afternoon envisioning Jon Hamm and Roger Sterling with the perfect watch on their wrists, evoking the perfect 1966 style and characters’ persona.

Mad Men’s Betty Draper, played by January Jones

The leather band, the dial, the watch’s intrinsic metal – all had to reflect that particular character on the show. It would have to be something they would have chosen.

We envisioned Pete Campbell wearing an inherited a watch. Always an opportunist, why would he buy his own when his father-in-law might give him one for free? A 1957 Hamilton Sputnik was chosen for him.

Don Draper would wear simple, low-slung lines with a black dial – mysteriously sleek, inherent quality, but unmemorable. His is a 1966 Omega DeVille. Roger Sterling, slightly brash in his style, would wear a black and silver-dialed Tudor (by Rolex).

Omega fans

In our conversation, Ellen (also a Canadian) requested that Megan’s watch display “youth and modernity”, so we chose a Jules Jurgensen white gold with small diamonds.

During the process of choosing watches, Ellen emailed photos of (show creator) Matthew Weiner’s newer Omega Seamaster watch to me, so we learned Matt enjoyed Omega watches.

Both Jon Hamm (Draper) and John Slattery (Sterling) approved of their watches that afternoon. In fact, Slattery offered to purchase his. I respectfully offered him a duplicate, as I had leased all the watches to the show and wanted to retain them as a “collection”.

Mad Men’s Peggy Olson, played by Elisabeth Moss

Most events in life occur by chance or luck, as some would say. It seems my opportunity to supply the show came about from Omega’s inability to swiftly call back after Mad Men people requested the major watch manufacturer provide some watches to the show. I was next on their call list.

Omega even offered to purchase all the watches I provided after their missed opportunity had passed. I respectfully declined. This was now my baby!

Air-tight non-disclosure agreements

As many people know, Matt Weiner insists on a strict code of secrecy in regards to any information being leaked about the script. So I had to sign a non-disclosure, forbidding me to speak about any watches or storylines until after they had been aired.

As we began to supply further watches to other characters on the show, I would learn of scenes that were to appear in upcoming episodes. Not even to family members did I spill the beans. I love the show too much to spoil it for people who are big fans.

Mad Men’s Don Draper and Megan Draper, played by Jon Hamm and Jessica Paré

Another year passed, and we were now supplying Season 6, which I had learned would be 1968. The main characters’ watches were to remain the same. We were now asked to provide many secondary actors’ watches. That included business people who were hiring the firm for their advertising expertise, friends of the main characters, and even Sally Draper, played by the talented Kiernan Shipka, with her “Merlin the Magic Mouse” watch.

One winter’s day, I received a call from Ellen – exhausted and lightly frantic, requesting a pink dial with diamond watch by Monday. It was a holiday weekend in the USA and she was leaving for the day. “Please help me,” she said.

Visiting the set

There was no way in hell I could just pull out a pink dial, diamond watch, dating to the late 60’s, out of my magic watch hat. Who could? I did find the ideal Hamilton white gold and diamond watch, but the colour had to be the perfect – “Mary Kay” pink, as requested by Matt Weiner.

This was my chance to visit the set, I thought. I asked Ellen if I could fly down to Los Angeles and personally colour the dial and band, then fit the watch on the wrist of the actor.

“Please do,” she said.

Wow, was I excited. A mere mortal like myself visiting the Mad Men set, to be surrounded by the most talented of production people in the world! And it was exactly that.

Upon arrival, a van awaited at the airport with the word Mad Men scrawled on a ripped piece of paper in the window. Cool, I thought. My driver was a surfer and spoke in the California surfer drawl we would expect to hear. The waves were peaking and his thoughts were with the curls. I learned he had worked over 25 years in the movie industry, organizing production vehicles for the stars.

Upon arrival at Mad Men’s L.A. studios, the myriad of endless hallways led to the Art and Props Department, where Ellen introduced me to the uber-talented staff, and set me up on a table with various pink markers to work on my watch. All around me were 60’s vintage Mark Kay items, awaiting the impending shoot. People buzzing, all while planning the cocktails and food for the late night wrap-up.

Jon Hamm’s outdoor oasis

A typical day starts at 10:00 a.m., lunch is at 1:00 p.m., then they work until 1:00 a.m., and all literally “party” at day’s end, in the outdoor oasis/lounge that Hamm donated. With sweat literally pouring from me – “Why the hell do I deserve to be here with these people?” — I finished my paint job and Ellen escorted my to Matt Weiner’s office for approval. Matt approves most everything that appears on the show. “The pink has to be exact,” Ellen says in the hall. “He may not like it.”

Matt reached out his hand, which I shook, stressing. He loved the watches. Ellen then proceeded to give me a tour of all the sets that have appeared on the show. Vast square footage of mesmerizingly accurate rooms of characters’ apartments, offices that reflect the times — the furniture, props, all bursting with the vibrant colours and exactness we have come to adore about the show.

Standing with the rest of the cast

Jon Hamm was directing a scene in the dimness of a set. It was truly amazing.

Later, I sat in Roger Sterling’s white chair while holding a pseudo-cocktail, for a photo. Afterward, we entered a large oval office – full of people. I kept my head down in nervousness, knowing I would be fitting an actor’s wrist. She was new to the show, and was to play Joan’s friend, a Mary Kay saleswoman, who won this watch being a “top seller”.

As I looked upward, I was the only one standing, with the oval table surrounded by seated people. The entire cast in fact. There was silence, as Matthew Weiner reminded us all that we have signed confidentiality agreements and cannot divulge any part of the show.

Making the cover of Rolling Stone

I beaded sweat as Jon Hamm stood up beside me. Also there was the utterly glamourous Christina Hendrix, sexy Elisabeth Moss, a crisp-looking John Slattery, and an interestingly plastic-looking Vincent Kartheiser, plus the rest of the cast. I couldn’t fully, visually ingest the scene.

I felt that I shouldn’t have been in the room. The only one standing, I skulked out the door and breathed. I couldn’t handle any more, and thanked them all profusely for the experience.

One of the associate producer’s sons drove me to my hotel in Santa Monica, where I ordered a giant martini and pondered what I had just intruded upon. As I said, I am a huge fan of the show, so for me, it was greatness.

Jon Hamm and my Omega

Recently I saw my pink dial Hamilton watch on the show, with Joan holding it up to the camera for almost 20 seconds. To me, it felt like a nod to my contribution to Mad Men. Jon Hamm and my Omega recently appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone with my name in tiny print as the supplier of the watch. “Wow,” I thought. It can’t get any better. I made the cover of the Rolling Stone. Well, almost.

TOP IMAGE: MAD MEN’S ROGER STERLING, PLAYED BY JOHN SLATTERY, IMAGES FROM AMC

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