It was a watchmaker called George Schaeren who first observed the intimacy between cars and watches. Way back in 1918, he had the idea of making wristwatches shaped like the radiator surrounds of glamorous cars — Bugattis, Lancias, Hispano-Suizas — which he sold under the Mido name to members of automobile clubs as a form of membership card.
The sales psychology was brilliant. Only extremely wealthy people could afford such cars, meaning Schaeren could attach hefty price-tags to his watches — and the drivers all wanted one because they liked being able to demonstrate that they owned a Bugatti even when they weren’t behind the wheel.
That same thinking is proving equally successful today as a growing number of watch brands form alliances with car makers. Breitling led the 21st-century race when it joined forces with Bentley a decade ago, since when some 20 different ‘Breitling for Bentley’ models have been produced, ranging from a chronograph to commemorate a world ice speed record to a couple of one-off pocket watches costing six-figure sums.
Another marriage of brands is Aston Martin and Jaeger-LeCoultre, whose partnership was announced in 2004. The initial fruit of the collaboration was the AMVOX 1 alarm wristwatch which was quickly followed by the AMVOX 2, the first ‘vertical trigger’ chronograph, which is controlled by pushing on the glass rather than the buttons. The latest model, the AMVOX 7, combines the vertical trigger system with the additional complication of a power reserve display.
And it goes without saying that Ferrari has been courted by several watch makers over the years, all keen to create the ‘official’ watch of the prancing horse marque. Girard-Perregaux was the first, followed by Panerai, which held the position for little more than three years. Now Hublot, which is also the official watch of Formula 1, is in on the act with its £19,600 Big Bang Ferrari Magic Gold.
Other car-watch collaborations include Parmigiani with Bugatti, TAG Heuer with McLaren, Ball with BMW and Bulgari with Maserati — while owners of the gorgeous Alfa Romeo 8C supercar are encouraged to buy a complex and imaginative timepiece made especially for them by Manometro, the brand established by the Italian designer Giuliano Mazzuoli.
The ‘Contagiri’ watch turns normal timekeeping on its head: its dial was inspired by the 8C’s rev counter and places the numbers one to 12 in a 270-degree arc starting with one at the usual eight o’clock position. The retrograde hour hand is complemented by a digital minute indicator and the watch is wound and set by turning the bezel.
But a watch brand need not be directly linked with a car brand to be an automotive success. A case in point is TAG Heuer, which, although it has formed partnerships with Mercedes-Benz and McLaren-Mercedes F1, is historically linked to the motor racing world through two iconic models, the Carrera and the Monaco.
The Carrera was named after the legendary Carrera Panamericana car race and was worn by racing drivers including Clay Regazzoni and Niki Lauda. This year, the brand created a special edition of the chronograph to mark the 80th birthday of Jack Heuer who created it in 1964. The distinctive, square-cased Monaco, meanwhile, was turned into a horological legend when Steve McQueen wore a blue-dialled version for the filming of the 1971 car race movie Le Mans. One of the latest, limited edition versions commemorates the exclusive Automobile Club de Monaco while numerous other variants include models with dials in Gulf Oil livery and two blue- and white-striped ‘Steve McQueen’ specials.
Another driver’s classic is the legendary Rolex Cosmograph Daytona which was launched in 1963 and became known around the world through the brand’s sponsorship of major automobile events such as the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Legend has it that Paul Newman wore one during the motor race movie Winning. But it’s not a legend, it’s a myth. Newman was, however, subsequently given a Cosmograph Daytona by his wife and regularly wore it (and others) during his secondary career as a racing driver — and now early model Daytonas with so-called ‘Paul Newman’ exotic dials are hugely collectable.
The Omega Speedmaster, meanwhile, first appeared in 1957 with a black dial, luminous hands and a chunky 39mm case that made it an instant hit with automobilists. ‘Our picture shows two sports car enthusiasts racing the clock,’ read a contemporary Speedmaster advertisement, ‘the clock being no clock at all but the new Omega high-precision wrist computer. When the co-driver stops the large second hand at the end of the test mile, he reads off at a glance the time as well as the speed, the latter on the tacho-productometer etched into the rim of the case.’
Stirring stuff indeed — and it’s that strong emotional and mechanical tie between automobiles and timekeeping that has made the ‘car watch’ concept a seemingly unstoppable success. Often, people who can only dream of owning a supercar by, for example, Ferrari or McLaren, ‘live the dream’ in a small way by owning the watch that complements them — a Hublot or a TAG Heuer respectively.
The most extreme example of this recently emerged in the form of a watch called a Scalfaro GTO 1962 Bizzarrini Edition. It celebrates the legendary Ferrari 250 GTO of the 1960s, one of which recently fetched a staggering $35 million. Most of us sure ain’t going to own one of those (only 39 were built) — but the Scalfaro actually contains metal from the GTO owned by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. So you can, at least, have a little tiny bit of a GTO for a relatively affordable €7,950.
Likewise, anyone who has always wanted to compete in the glamorous recreation of the Mille Miglia road race but can’t afford a suitably rare (and expensive) car can, at least, feel closer to the event by buying one of the Chopard limited-edition chronographs created each year to mark the event; in the same vein, Frederique Constant last year produced a limited edition watch to mark the Carrera Panamericana and high-end maker François-Paul Journe this year made a special edition of his ingenious all-aluminium Octa Sport to commemorate the Indianapolis 500.
Cars and watches? They go together like a horse and carriage.
FOUR FOR THE ROAD
BULGARI OCTO MASERATI
Bulgari’s Octo Maserati features retrograde minutes, date and chronograph hands which automatically revert to zero when they reach the end of their range, while the hour is displayed in the aperture below the 12 o’clock position. The centre of the dial resembles a Maserati radiator grille, the transparent case back carries the famous Il Tridente logo and the calfskin strap is redolent of the cars’ upholstery. £20,300. bulgari.com
CHOPARD GRAND PRIX DE MONACO HISTORIQUE
Chopard has backed the biennial Grand Prix de Monaco Historique since 2002 and traditionally produces a dedicated, limited-edition chronograph to mark the occasion. This year’s evokes the 1970s with a matte grey dial highlighted with contrasting orange or blue detailing and a distressed, perforated leather strap. The 42mm case can be had in titanium (£4,870), a combination of titanium and rose gold (limited to 500 examples priced at £7,190) or rose gold only (around £12,000, limited to 100). chopard.com
AUDEMARS PIGUET ROYAL OAK OFFSHORE MICHAEL SCHUMACHER
Michael Schumacher helped to design this latest version of the famous Royal Oak Offshore. Two blue stars and five red ones between 12 and 1 o’clock on the dial allude to his championship wins with Benetton in 1994 and 1995 and Ferrari from 2000 to 2004; the minute track is decorated with a chequered-flag motif and the hour and minute hands look a bit like the silhouettes of a racing car monocoque. The watch will be limited to 1,000 pieces in titanium at £31,550; 500 in pink gold at £50,470 and 100 in platinum — at £83,590. audemarspiguet.com
Autodromo is a new motoring watch brand launched from New York last year by the industrial designer Bradley Price. The initial, quartz-powered models have now been joined by a 500-piece limited edition called the Monoposto which has a dial inspired by the rev counter of a 1950s Grand Prix car’s rev counter and a leather band with a buckle based on a bonnet strap. $875. autodromo.com