Culture Of Time: Why ‘On The Rocks’ Is The Watch Movie Of The Year

Culture Of Time: Why ‘On The Rocks’ Is The Watch Movie Of The Year

“I had him followed. Do you know where he came from the other night? 52nd and 5th…It’s Cartier.” 

That one line, spoken by Bill Murray in Sofia Coppola’s new Apple TV+ film On the Rocks, sets the stage for a rollicking father-daughter romp through moneyed Manhattan, with symbolic timepieces prominent at every turn.

Rashida Jones stars as Laura, a writer who suspects her husband’s having an affair – a suspicion exuberantly enabled by her father, a New York art dealer and socialite played by Murray. The plot revolves around Laura’s birthday, and the two watches she receives as gifts. It’s about fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, and the passage of time – how our lives fundamentally change. There’s no better object to illustrate those ideas than a watch (or in this case, watches plural). But Coppola’s script – she wrote the film in addition to directing it – didn’t always specify the exact make of the watches. For that, she needed a prop master.

Director Sofia Coppola (left) wearing a gold Cartier Panthère on-set while working with the film’s stars, Rashida Jones and Bill Murray.

Which is where David Schanker comes in. Though not a watch guy himself (“It’s just part of the movie process for me,” he says), Schanker definitely knows how to pick ’em. He and Coppola collaborated to choose many watches during pre-production, arriving at a diverse array outfitting nearly every principal character. Here, Schanker takes us watch by watch.

Cartier Panthère

This watch (which, spoiler, appears in the very last scene) holds the most significance. It singlehandedly unlocks the secret of Laura’s adulterine suspicions about her husband. The Panthère De Cartier serves as the movie’s McGuffin, taking Laura and her father on an adventure which eventually – and circuitously – leads back to the watch. 

The Cartier Panthère. The two-tone model pictured above is the variant seen in the film.

As Schanker explains it, “the final watch, the Cartier, might’ve been the only watch scripted. Cartier had a say in what they wanted us to use, and then we let Sofia make the ultimate choice. One option was the Panthère, and the other, the Tank. In the end, she chose the Panthère.” While it’s interesting that Coppola chose the Panthère over the Tank, it’s not altogether surprising. The Tank is the household name – it has that deco, classic, early twentieth-century flair. The Panthère represents a newer generation. It’s a watch born in the 1980s, featuring a sleek bracelet and concealed clasp. Pierce Brosnan and Keith Richards wore one. It stands to reason that the director of Marie Antoinette – a period piece set to the sounds of The Cure and New Order – picked this watch for Laura.

Sofia Coppola directing a scene with actor Marlon Wayans (left) who is wearing a Swatch. Coppola is, again, wearing a gold Cartier Panthère.

Cartier was not merely a fixture in front of the camera, but also behind. Schanker explains, “Cartier actually gave Sofia one watch as a present for the product placement, which she wore on set while directing.”

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date

As with any film, certain material winds up on the cutting room floor. In this case, one watch didn’t even have the chance to make its on-camera debut. That watch is a vintage Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date given to Sofia by her father, director Francis Ford Coppola, the maestro behind The Godfather.

A similar stainless steel, silver dial, Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date to the one owned by On the Rocks director, Sofia Coppola.

“Originally,” Schanker says, “the plan was that the watch Bill gives to Rashida for her birthday is an old Rolex. Sofia asked for it to be an old Rolex. So I showed her pictures of old Rolexes because, well, that could mean a lot of things, ‘old Rolex.’ I wanted to make sure it fit with what she had in mind. I showed her pictures, and she said, ‘You know what? I have a watch just like this. I’m going to bring it in.’ And that was the one we originally intended to use.”

Tonneau-Shaped Jaeger-Lecoultre

As it turns out, they scrapped Sofia’s Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date when it came closer to the day of shooting. Based on Jones’ personal style, Schanker and Coppola introduced a different watch: a vintage, tonneau-shaped, Jaeger-LeCoultre on a leather strap. Schanker sourced – and rented – this watch himself, and presented it to the crew at initial show-and-tells during pre-production.

Rashida Jones, during a scene, wearing a Tonneau-shaped Jaeger-Lecoultre

While a Rolex with Coppola family provenance is cool, an old patinated JLC might be even cooler. “Your watch! I used to love this watch,” Laura says, as she opens her present. “You used to love to wear that. I think it might fit you a little better now,” her father replies. “I bought that after my first big sale.” Right there is the distillation of everything that makes watches special: heirlooms, memories, and family. Unlike a Rolex, this watch has an uncommon look, the kind a child would remember on her father’s wrist. 

Swatch

Prior to receiving her birthday watch, Laura wears a simpler one with a charmingly specific backstory. 

As Schanker recalls, “We looked at a whole bunch of options and talked about what the watches in the film could be. In the middle of a conversation, Sofia said, ‘You know what? Maybe we could use a Swatch.’ And I replied, ‘A Swatch?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, you know, maybe she and her husband wear Swatches, as if the kids bought them for them.’ And I said, ‘Oh, that’s good, because there’s another generation of watch-giving worked into the story.’ That was a brainstorm she had, so I contacted Swatch and ordered a ton of different watches – because when you say Swatch, the variety is endless.”

Rashida Jones (right) wearing a Swatch in On the Rocks.

As a result of that brainstorm, both Jones and her on-screen husband (played by Marlon Wayans) can be seen wearing Swatch watches – and so can one of their children. This is interesting because it inverts conventional watch-giving practice. Normally, it is the parent that chooses the watch for the child, much like Murray giving his JLC to his daughter. But here, that’s turned on its head, making these Swatch watches all the more special.

Mystery Watch

There is, however, one watch that even Schanker couldn’t identify – the one worn by Bill Murray. “I’m tempted to say that he brought his own watch, but I’m not positive about that.” You can see him wearing it twice in the film. Press pause at the 0:20:32 mark. Look closely. If you think you can identify this watch, share it in the comments below.

HODINKEE

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