What Every Succession Character’s Watch Says About Them
Mr Nicholas Braun and Mr Matthew Macfadyen in “Succession”, series 4, 2023. Photograph courtesy of HBO
On paper, Succession should never have worked. This is not just a show about rich people – it is about that minuscule 0.01 per cent, the kind of social circle where one private jet is considered arriviste. Unlike Mr Michael White, whose series, The White Lotus, luridly pokes fun at these echelons of society, Succession’s creator, Mr Jesse Armstrong, wants us to care, to see the trials and tribulations of the Roy family as something universal, Shakespearean even. A tale of fathers, sons, inheritance and birth rights. And he does it with watches. In other series, luxury watches exist solely as signifiers. In Succession, they are character ciphers, plot devices and commentaries.
This was made apparent in the first episode. Prospective son-in-law and contender for most obsequious man in television Tom Wambsgans presents patriarch Logan Roy, CEO of Waystar Royco, with a Patek Philippe, joking that, “It’s incredibly accurate. Every time you look at it, it tells you exactly how rich you are.” Logan doesn’t even try on the watch. Instead, it is given to a Latino family as a bribe to keep quiet about son Roman’s behaviour towards their little boy. The power play is all there in that gift. Wambsgans’ inferiority, Logan’s derision; that the Roys are so rich that not only do they have easy access to a watch most people can’t even get on a waiting list for, but they can dismiss it as not worth their time or attention.
“First, I want to say that a lot of wealthy people are very normal and understand the damaging, dysfunctional or destructive impact money can have on their and their children’s wellbeing,” says Dr Ronit Lami, a wealth psychologist and therapist to ultra-high-net-worth individuals. “So, they strive to develop a balanced attitude to their wealth as well as to do a lot of good with it. However, this is all down to the characteristics of a person and how balanced they are. I do also see people who are defined by, and use, money or externals as a tool to gain control, to manipulate or have more confidence, therefore having their identity wrap around money, external or achievements.”
This is certainly true of the Roy family and their watch collection. The watch each one of them wears speaks volumes about their psychology, their place in the family and the way they perceive themselves.
Mr Brian Cox in “Succession”, series 3, 2021. Photograph courtesy of HBO
For a man with a healthy bank balance, Logan does not do flashy. “Logan only loves someone if they do something financially savvy and then withdraws his love if not,” says Mr Carmine Pariante, professor of biological psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London. This would explain why he isn’t one to splash out on showy watches, but favours subtle dress styles, the perennial classics of the watch world. He has been seen wearing a Breguet Classique, possibly an Hermès Arceau Le Temps Voyager and even, on one occasion, a Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous, which suggests he’s either man enough to wear a woman’s watch or that he pays so little attention to what he’s wearing he hasn’t noticed that he’s picked up Marcia’s watch instead of his own.
Mr Jeremy Strong in “Succession”, series 3, 2021. Photograph courtesy of HBO
Kendall presents the most interesting case, partly because his watch collection is so varied, going from Patek Philippe’s Nautilus to a Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle World Time. “Everything in Succession is transactional,” says Pariante. “The only thing that gives someone importance is how they show their personal wealth.” This would certainly explain why Kendall, in a somewhat stylistically misguided fashion, pairs his limited-edition Vacheron Constantin Harmony Monopusher Chronograph with a baseball-shirt hybrid while performing an excruciating rap to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Waystar Royco. The watch is an outward signal of just how much money he has in a situation where he is open to ridicule. It could also be a reason why, as we go into season four, his watch choice has become bolder. In a recent GQ interview, the actor who plays him, Mr Jeremy Strong, revealed that he asked that Kendall wear a Richard Mille, a brand whose modus operandi is being expensive, which suggests Kendall is still using his money as an emotional crutch as everything falls apart around him.
Mr Kieran Culkin in “Succession”, series 2, 2019. Photograph courtesy of HBO
In contrast to Kendall, Roman sticks to one brand – Rolex. Usually steel, generally with Roman numerals, obviously. The watches themselves aren’t flashy, but they are still steel Rolexes, which these days are harder to find than Waystar Royco’s moral compass. This feels at odds with Roman’s off-colour jokes, unconventional sexual preferences and self-defeating behaviour, but you could argue that a reluctance to deviate from a uniform shows an outward need to present a self-assured front to conceal that inside he’s a little boy lost.
Ms Sarah Snook in “Succession”, series 3, 2021. Photograph courtesy of HBO
For the first three seasons, Shiv’s watches were those of a classic Park Avenue princess – Cartier, mostly a Panthère, with the occasional Pasha. They are less conventional than, say, a Tank. They don’t make a particular statement, but speak, instead, of quiet luxury. It is possible to surmise these watches were a gift from Logan, because, in season four, as she steps out from under her father’s control, her Cartiers have been replaced by what appears to be a big, bold, masculine Breitling Navitimer.
Mr Alan Ruck in “Succession”, series 3, 2021. Photograph courtesy of HBO
“A controlling parent, like Logan, creates wealth in order to dominate,” says Lami. “Sometimes, when children grow up with such a role model, unless they have another balancing role model, such as their mother, grandparents or a good nanny, they can become power hungry, manipulate or want more to compensate for how they were treated as children.” Although not as overtly power hungry as his siblings, Connor still wants to please Daddy. Something he does by trying to prove his self-sufficiency from The Firm in incredibly misguided fashions, which includes running for US president. This may explain why he favours a vintage Breitling. One of Logan’s cast-offs or a sentimental connection to his mother’s past? Either way, stills from season four suggest this Pollyanna has cast off his rose-tinted view of the past and replaced his Breitling, and possibly his ambitions, with an unidentified design with a gold dial.
Mr Matthew Macfadyen in “Succession”, series 3, 2021. Photograph courtesy of HBO
“As a visual statement, it’s much stronger if you can give value to something you can see,” says Pariante. “That’s why movies show cash changing hands in big piles rather than a text from Barclays. You always want an object or a totem and here the watches are a clear representation of that.” For the arch traitor Tom Wambsgans, his new-for-season-four Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph in stainless steel is a clear visual totem. Throughout the previous three seasons, when he has been dominated by his wife Shiv, he has been seen sporting Cartier watches in a mirroring of her watch choices. Now he is out on his own, he has signalled his new independence with a choice of watch brand loved by big players in film and music, a position to which he no doubt aspires.
Mr Nicholas Braun in “Succession”, series 3, 2021. Photograph courtesy of HBO
It’s not so much the watch Cousin Greg acquires, but the way in which he acquires it that is significant, illustrating, as it does, how the Roy family use material possessions as power plays. In season three, Kendall convinces the naïve Cousin Greg to spend $40,000 on a Rolex Submariner seemingly in steel (a significant over-valuation even in today’s hyped-up market). To start with, it seems that Kendall has offered to pay for the watch, but he laughingly shrugs off this assumption later, leaving Greg, too awkward to back out, on the hook. That Greg has no idea how much a Rolex should cost is emblematic of the fact that, although he’s wearing the dinner suit, he is still clueless about the world in which he finds himself. Kendall exploits his inexperience for the amusement of his friends and reinforces the hierarchy of humiliation visited upon him by Logan down through the family.
What clues do the watch choices for Succession’s final season give about where all this is heading? Roman still has his Rolex (with Roman numerals this time), as does Cousin Greg. Shiv has ditched her Wasp-approved Cartier for what appears to be a Breitling Navitime. If the Cartiers represented the outward show of unity in her marriage to Tom, what might this say about her personal life now? Tom has gone full Jay-Z. Kendall, as well as the Richard Mille yet to be seen, also appears to be sporting a DLC-coated Rolex, so at the very least, we can infer that his tastes, like his psyche, continue to yo-yo all over the place.
GoJo founder Lukas Matsson, the calculating tech bro who provides an emotionless nemesis around which the Roy psychodrama can swirl, is surprisingly traditional in his tastes and sports a stainless-steel Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris, rather than the Silicon Valley stereotype of either an Apple Watch or no watch at all. Perhaps it is a nod to the Covid-era flurry of watch-collecting interest among the crypto set. The change of wrist attire suggests the ante has been upped, but will anything change?
“It’s unrealistic from a psychological perspective that these people are going to change,” says Pariante. “Maybe one of them will, but it will be at a big price. It will have to go up in flames.” At least we know they’ll be wearing decent watches when it does.