By Roberta Naas | October 1, 2010 | Watches & Jewelry
Around the turn of the 20th century, the automobile-racing and luxury-watch worlds collided, with truly remarkable results for both. What is it that drew these seemingly dissimilar realms—one characterized by the whine of V-8 engines, smoking tires, reckless speed and adrenaline, the other by the utterly silent and incredibly accurate collaboration of hundreds of minuscule parts within a protective case—to each other? A passion for extremes, for one. Car manufacturers push the limits of power, speed and aerodynamics, while watchmakers defy atmospheric and other extremes with timepieces that work perfectly in outer space, the deep sea, the desert or the North Pole. The car/watch affinity was further fueled by a shared quest for precision and drive for excellence that perhaps no other realms quite comprehend—both of these arenas orchestrate the incredibly accurate collaboration of hundreds of mechanical parts under one protective “hood” (be it a car hood or a watchcase). And then there’s the fact that victory on the racetrack comes down to fractions of a second, measured with top-notch timepieces.
FROM LEFT: Bentley Continental Supersports automobile; dashboard of the Bentley Continental Supersports car with built-in Breitling for Bentley clock; Breitling for Bentley’s Bentley Supersports COSC-certified limited-edition chronometer.
IT STARTED WITH A CHEVROLET—IN SWITZERLAND
In 1911, at around the same time Louis Chevrolet (born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, as the son of a watchmaker) migrated to America and cofounded Chevrolet, the very first wristwatches were coming into serial production. Within just a few years, Chevrolet—who raced cars for Fiat and Buick—would sell his stake in his company and go on to compete in Indy 500 challenges. He also went on to found Frontenac Motor Corporation, which produced racing cars.
In response to its pace, technology, materials and mechanical endurance, the finest watch companies in the world aligned themselves with competitive motor sports. It was Breitling that in 1930 presented a stopwatch with a 30-minute indicator and center sweep hand, called Vitesse, which was so accurate police officers used it to check road-traffic speeds. The car/watch connection soon gained momentum, and watch brands sped to get involved in the automotive frenzy. TAG Heuer, Omega, Breitling and Rolex were among the first to roar onto the racing scene, and over the decades watch companies have sponsored races, drivers and cars.
LEFT: Jaeger-LeCoultre Amvox 5 World Chronograph; Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Duo; Pierce Brosnan sports a Jaeger-Le Coultre Reverso Duo in The Thomas Crown Affair, where he also drives a vintage Mustang. RIGHT: Parmigiani Fleurier has been creating Bugatti timepieces in several styles for years; Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport car
Watchmakers have done more than sponsor and time racing events; they’ve formed partnerships with fast cars (and opulent ones) by making watches that recall interior and exterior features of a prized set of wheels. Some even have the capacity to interact with it.
Breitling, a brand requiring serious swagger to carry off, partnered with the storied Bentley Motors in 2003, making exclusive Breitling for Bentley timepieces and designing dashboard clocks for the brand ever since. Breitling also released a limited-edition watch that Bentley owners could order with veneer dials and leather straps that echoed the car’s interior and even bore the Bentley winged insignia; it sold out.
Similarly, Jaeger-LeCoultre (Pierce Brosnan sports its Reverso Duo in The Thomas Crown Affair) struck up a collaboration a few years back with Aston Martin that resulted in the cutting-edge Amvox watch collection. One model, the Amvox2 DBS Transponder (“the watch that unleashes the DBS”), is fitted with a transmitter that—in response to pressure on the sapphire crystal—remotely unlocks the doors of its wearer’s Aston Martin DBS. The Amvox2 Rapide Transponder has a similar relationship with its namesake Aston Martin, except that the special function—again, activated through pressure on the crystal—consists of briefly turning on the Rapide’s headlights to help you identify it in the dark. Brilliant!
A healthy dose of self-confidence lies behind the 2001 marriage of Parmigiani Fleurier and Bugatti: Each wanted, simply, to be first in the world. Parmigiani aimed to be the first watch with traverse movement, while Bugatti sought the title of “fastest car on earth.” After four years of intense research, Parmigiani Fleurier came up with a prototype for the Bugatti watch, with positioning of its five main plates on a horizontal axis offering an unhindered view of the bridges and train wheels. At about the same time, Bugatti launched the Veyron 16B, which was indeed—for a while—the fastest car on record. The collaboration continues today with a just-revealed Parmigiani Bugatti Super Sport watch, which was on the wrist of test-driver Pierre-Henri Raphanel when he broke the world speed record, making the new Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport the fastest auto in the world.
Professor F.A. Porsche—grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, who founded the Porsche automobile company in Germany—started Porsche Design Studios several decades ago and continues to create Porsche timepieces, among other lifestyle items. Newcomers include the Devon Tread 1 with its patented system of interwoven time belts in the watch mechanism that are partially inspired by drive belts on motorcycles. An engineering masterpiece, the Tread 1 uniquely employs a series of fiber-reinforced glass nylon belts that display the hours and minutes. Also just unveiled is the Spyker collection, named for the high-powered Dutch car reintroduced a decade ago following a 75-year absence. Made in Geneva, the watches take their design cues from the car’s intake valves, wheels, logo and more. While the leather for the belts is supplied by the company responsible for the car’s interior, color customization is available for Spyker owners.
Many of these watches take years to develop and often carry price tags just as hefty as those of their luxury-car counterparts. But then, perfection doesn’t come cheap. Especially if you seek a watch that emulates—or even controls, to an extent—a car that quickens your pulse and reflects your lifestyle.
FROM LEFT: TAG Heuer Grand Carrera; TAG Heuer Monaco Vintage automatic; Steve McQueen in the movie Le Mans, wearing a TAG Heuer Monaco watch; race car driver Lewis Hamilton and his TAG Heuer Monaco LS Chronograph watch
From the 1930s through the ’60s, as land-speed records were being set and broken at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah by drivers such as Sir Malcolm Campbell, Don Waite, John Cobb and Mickey Thompson (who became the first to break the 400- mph barrier, hitting 406.60 in 1960), watch companies were busy setting their own records in split-second timing and with introductions of innovative automotive-themed watches. In the 1950s, Heuer (today TAG Heuer) was timing events like the 12 Hours of Sebring and in 1963 brought out the now-renowned Carrera Chronograph with its quietly confident masculine design; in 1969, the world’s first water-resistant square chronograph, the Monaco, was launched. The striking bluefaced Monaco, with its square counters at three and nine o’clock and blue alligator band, garnered international fame in 1970 when the legendary Steve McQueen wore it in the classic film Le Mans. Today the Monaco—available with a variety of bold vertical racing stripes on its face—remains one of the most important TAG Heuer collections and is worn by race car driver Lewis Hamilton, among others.
Blacktop racing, endurance and rally races, and land rallies that bring vintage vehicles across thousands of miles of terrain continue to attract brands, which create bold, rugged timepieces that salute the speed and precision of the cars and the white-knuckled resolve and split-second decisionmaking of their drivers. These high-performance pieces use the finest materials, among them hightech carbon fiber, stainless steel and titanium. What’s under the “hood” of a watchcase is, after all, as important as what’s under the hood of a race car, and collectors of both are similarly avid and demanding. In watches, these demands have given rise to high-caliber movements and a host of extra timing functions.
Oris supports the Formula 1 AT&T Williams team as an offi cial partner (ABOVE). Darryl O’Young, the first-ever double Porsche Carrera Cup Asia Class A champion, is on board as the Oris ambassador and has created a special timepiece with the brand.
Ritmo Mundo creates timepieces for the Indy Racing League, and its watches are worn by all IndyCar Series drivers, including the brand’s ambassador, Helio Castroneves.
Rolex, an important player in the world of motor sports, sponsors the Rolex 24 at Daytona, one of the major endurance races in the world, and presents the Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona timepiece to the winner.
Tissot is the official timekeeper for Nascar and works with its ambassador, Danica Patrick, to create the Danica Patrick limited-edition Glam Sport Watch.
TW Steel partners with Renault F1 Team as the team’s offi cial timing partner and launched the Renault F1 Team collection. Now Dario Franchitti works closely with the brand to create a special timepiece.
January 23, 2019