Watching Movies: Nicolas Cage Steals The Declaration Of Independence While Wearing A Rolex In ‘National Treasure’

Watching Movies: Nicolas Cage Steals The Declaration Of Independence While Wearing A Rolex In ‘National Treasure’

Our watch-related movie of the week indulges in a little gonzo patriotism.

There’s a treasure map hidden in invisible ink on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Well, not really – but Nicolas Cage believes there is, in National Treasure (2004). The film follows Benjamin Franklin Gates (played by Cage) as he races to find the treasure before the bad guys do first – and the FBI’s hot on the case, as well. Gates solves riddle after riddle leading to the treasure, all the while wearing an iconic timepiece.

Nicholas Cage and his Rolex Submariner, alongside Diane Kruger in National Treasure. Photo courtesy: Alamy

Why We’re Watching

The Fourth of July is upon us. In theory, this holiday commemorates the Second Continental Congress’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence. In reality, it’s a firework-popping, beer-drinking, hot-dog-grilling, red, white, & blue blow-out. While there were no secret societies hiding messages on the back of important American historical documents (as far as we know), National Treasure is as fitting a movie as there is when it comes to celebrating the Declaration and – of course – watches.

Benjamin Gates (Nicholas Cage) confidently pairing the Submariner with a tuxedo, in National Treasure. Photo courtesy: Alamy

The plot is a doozie. Gates and his sidekick Riley Poole (played by The Hangover’s Justin Bartha) hatch a plan to steal the Declaration of Independence – kicking off a journey that takes them to all manner of American landmarks. The only problem is, Gates’ former partner Ian Howe (played by Sean Bean) is trying to match them step-for-step.

Nicholas Cage and Justin Bartha in National Treasure. Photo courtesy: Alamy

Throughout the film, Gates wears the most recognizable timepiece known to man: The Rolex Submariner. His is the Sub Date (so named for the date complication visible beneath the Cyclops magnified date window). It appears to be the ref. 16610, a reference which had an impressive run of over two decades ending in 2010. Notable features are the gloss black dial, aluminum bezel, and small applied markers with white gold surrounds.  The original Submariner was born in the early 1950s as a tool for divers – it also happens to be one of my favorites.

The Rolex Submariner ref. 16610 – similar to the watch worn by Nicholas Cage in National Treasure.

You would think that a U.S. history junkie like Gates would opt for something more, well, American. Early Hamilton or Timex watches spring to mind. But it wouldn’t be a Nic Cage movie without at least one head-scratching decision.

When We’re Watching

Early in the film, Gates befriends Dr. Abigail Chase of the National Archives (played by Diane Kruger). By befriend, I of course mean that he kidnaps her after successfully stealing (as promised) one of America’s founding documents. She’s understandably skeptical, until seeing with her own eyes the secret message hidden in the document. Gates’ team of patriotic bandits make their way to Urban Outfitters – as one does when evading law enforcement – to buy new clothes. At the cash register, a conversation breaks out over a clue to the treasure. Gates needs a $100 bill to solve it [01:12:15]. The cashier won’t just give it to him though. “Here. I have this diver’s watch,” says Gates. “It’s called a Submariner. I dive with this, it’s actually quite valuable.” He then proceeds to trade the watch for the cash (temporarily, of course) and decipher the clue. During this scene, you can see the woman behind the register examining the watch. The camera gives a glimpse of the Oyster bracelet and clasp.

Benjamin Gates (Nicholas Cage) using his Rolex Submariner as collateral, in National Treasure.  Screengrab courtesy: The Walt Disney Company

Gates is eventually thwarted by the FBI after a misstep in Philadelphia. Luckily for him, Chase hatches a plan to shake him from the bureau’s grip – cutting a deal with his enemy, Howe. In a car ride with Howe’s goons [01:32:56], Gates makes a phone call to Chase, who explains everything. In a pretty tight shot (he’s sitting in the middle of the backseat), you can see he has his Submariner on very loosely. The watch’s glossy black dial, white markers, and black aluminum bezel are fully visible, dangling over the side of his wrist, as he makes his way closer to the elusive treasure.

The Rolex Submariner hanging loosely on Gates’s wrist in National Treasure. Screengrab courtesy: The Walt Disney Company

National Treasure (starring Nicolas Cage, Sean Bean, and Diane Kruger) is directed by John Turtletaub, with props by Robert Griffon Jr. and score by Trevor Rabin. It’s available to stream on Disney + and to rent on iTunes or Amazon. For more on the Rolex Submariner, click here.

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