We all know that cars and watches go together like a horse and carriage – but just how far back does the symbiotic relationship between the two actually go?
It can be traced to 1918 when a young watch maker called Georges Schaeren founded the Mido brand, soon after which he had the ingenious idea of making wristwatches shaped like the radiator surrounds of cars such as Bugattis, Lancias and Hispano-Suizas which he sold to members of automobile clubs as a form of membership card.
The sales psychology was brilliant because only extremely wealthy people could afford cars, meaning Schaeren could attach hefty price tags to his watches – and the drivers all wanted one because they liked to be able to demonstrate that they owned a prestigious, sporting car even when they weren’t behind the wheel.
Other watch makers quickly jumped onto the automobile band wagon, with manufacturers such as Cartier, Craftsman and Patek Philippe all creating models that were designed to be easy to read while in the driving seat, sometimes with dials that were unconventionally positioned in order to make them more instantly visible.
Especially wealthy enthusiasts, such as Italy’s Count Felice Trossi, even had their car watches custom-made. Trossi, who was elected president of Scuderia Ferrari when he was just 24, was pictured on the cover of the team magazine in 1937 wearing his bespoke, 46mm Patek Philippe ‘monopulsante’ driving wristwatch over the pristine white cuff of his button-down shirt. It sold at auction in 2008 for $2.2 million).
The car watch trend persists today, with many brands forming allegiances with high-end car marques, race teams or motoring events, and others simply producing models with a driving theme. Here are six of the latest.
Chopard Mille Miglia GTS Azzurro
The historic Mille Miglia old car rally usually passes through the most beautiful parts of Italy in May, but the Corona Virus outbreak meant this year’s has been postponed until October. While we’re waiting, Chopard – which has sponsored the Mille Miglia since 1988 – has released a pair of 2020 Mille Miglia special editions called ‘GTS Azzurro’ with rich blue dials One version is a steel and rose gold power reserve model that will be made in an edition of 500, and the other is a steel chronograph, 750 examples of which will be available. £8,450 (Power Control); £6,460 (chronograph). chopard.com
Jacob & Co X Bugatti Tourbillon
Jacob & Co. has created a remarkable new watch in honour of the Euros 2.5m, 250 mph Bugatti Chiron hypercar. The ‘Jacob & Co. X Bugatti Chiron Tourbillon’ aims to ‘reproduce the visceral sensation of the iconic Bugatti 16-cylinder engine’ by incorporating a miniature representation of the 1,500 horsepower motor within the movement. Activate a pusher and the ‘crankshaft’ turns, the ‘pistons’ pump and the ‘turbos’ spin. The whole performance takes place beneath a massive sapphire crystal affording a clear view of the 578-part flying tourbillon movement that is suspended on four car-type shock absorbers, while the 60-hour power reserve can be monitored on a miniature ‘fuel gauge’. £250,000 jacobandco.com
Breitling Premier Bentley Mulliner Edition
Dating back to 2002, the Breitling and Bentley partnership has proved to be the longest-running of any between a watch brand and a car marque. This latest chronograph in the series is designed to complement the recently-launched ‘Mulliner Collections’ cars, in particular the Continental GT Mulliner Convertible, and will be limited to 1,000 examples. The 42mm, steel watch gets a silver dial and an inner bezel and subdials in contrasting blue, while a red seconds hand and central minute scale recall the convertible’s red-stitched interior. The Arabic numerals replicate those of the GT’s Breitling clock and the blue, alligator strap echoes the ‘Imperial Blue’ leather of the car’s upholstery. £6,580 breitling.com
Zenith Defy 21 Land Rover Edition
It’s now more than three years since Land Rover and Zenith announced joined forces, during which time we’ve seen special watches honouring the Range Rover SV Autobiography, the Velar and the Evoque. And now it’s time for the one many Landy fans have been waiting for – a chronograph designed to complement the long-awaited new Defender. Described as a ‘rugged and stealthy reinterpretation of the 21st century El Primero’, the minimalist design combines a microblasted titanium case with a grey dial, a linear power reserve display and the merest hint of colour. Driven by the celebrated, self-winding El Primero movement, the model will be limited to 250 pieces . £11.400 zenith-watches.com
Bell & Ross BRV3-94 R.S. 20
Paris-based sports watch brand Bell & Ross has marked its fourth year as the official timing partner of the Renault F1 team with a trio of new chronographs, our favourite of which is the snappily-named BRV3-94 R.S. 20 pictured here. The 43mm watch echoes the racing team’s black and yellow livery, while a subtle pattern around the minute track recalls the hard-fought prize of the chequered flag. Just 999 examples of the watch will be made, and they can be had on a black and yellow ‘carbon effect’ calfskin strap or a steel bracelet. £3,500 bellross.com
TAG Heuer Monaco Grand Prix de Monaco Historique Limited Edition
The Monaco’s real claim to fame should have been that it was the first waterproof, square-cased, self-winding chronograph when it hit the market in 1969 – but its finest hour came two years later when Steve McQueen strapped one of the original, blue dial versions to his wrist for the making of the motor racing movie Le Mans. Almost 50 years later and after TAG Heuer’s merciless marketing of the association, the Monaco is officially a ‘cult watch’. This all-new, red and silver limited edition marks the brand’s recent appointment as the official timing partner of the biennial Monaco Historic Grand Prix (this year’s edition of which was cancelled). Just 1,000 will be made. £5,560 tagheuer.com