A wristwatch plays a key — and unforgettable — plot point in one of the best films of the 1990s, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
Bruce Willis stars as a veteran boxer betting his life on one last fight. Instead of taking a fall, he double-crosses a gangster and takes to the road… then realizes that his foreign lady-friend forgot to pack an item dear to his heart, his father’s gold WWI Lancet trench watch.
The ensuing flashback scene is a standout among a movie full of memorable scenes. Christopher Walken’s darkly funny monologue is a highlight of an illustrious career, recounting the story of Willis’s father’s death and how his wristwatch had been saved during the war. It’s forever memorable for the hiding spot… and how long long the watch spent in that hiding spot.
The watch itself is a key marker in the history of timepieces. Before World War I, it was common to carry a watch on a chain in your pocket: a pocket watch. Soldiers fighting in the First World War demanded a watch which they could see while using both hands. At the time, wristwatches, or “wristlets” were more commonly made as slight ladies jewelry. There are many examples of soldiers affixing pocket watches to bracelets, often rotating the winding mechanism off-center because it was situated at 12 o’clock instead of the 6 o’clock customary to wrist watches.
The demand for wrist watches saw many brands competing to manufacture “trench watches”. These combined elements of traditional pocket watches (protective cases, or “shrapnel guards”) but included wire lugs to hold a strap.
Lancet was a Swiss brand produced by Lagendorf Watch Company. The watch in Pulp Fiction was a 1918 trench watch, a 15-jewel hand-winding timepiece, the kind of timepiece likely to be carried by a soldier in World War I, as described so memorably by Christopher Walken. Because so many were produced, they’re still available quite regularly on eBay and other auction sites.