The dawn of the motorcar was not just huge for global mobilisation, it was also a line in the sand for the watch industry. Speed, fuel economy, journey length – critical measurements involved in establishing a car’s performance were all based on being able to record time. As the automotive industry became more and more competitive, that requirement only became more important.
As the car industry grew, swiftly followed by motor racing, so brands seized on opportunities to produce fit-for-purpose timekeepers – dashboard clocks, stopwatches and ultimately wrist-worn chronographs. That created a platform for closer collaboration, from which relationships between automotive and watch manufacturers sprang up, often resulting in some of the most iconic moments in motorsport, film and fashion.
But which are the greatest? Here, Dubai Watch Week lines up five watch and car collaborations that continue to influence watch design and storytelling today. As interesting as those that made the grade are those that didn’t (see below). Let the debate begin.
1. TAG Heuer and the Carrera
These days, Formula 1 is festooned with watch brands – Hublot and Ferrari, IWC and Mercedes, Richard Mille and McLaren, Haas and Alfa Romeo Racing… The symbiotic relationship between watchmaking, motor racing and the consumer began in earnest with TAG Heuer in the 1960s, when Heuer (as it was until 1985 when it was bought by Techniques d’Avant Garde) collaborated with Swiss driver Jo Siffert and became the first non-automotive brand to put a logo on a racing car. Siffert was an Autavia man, while Heuer would go on to create legion pieces with motorsport connections: Monaco, Silverstone, Camaro, Monza… But it’s the Carrera that has come to define TAG Heuer’s links with motorsport. It was created in 1963 as a racing chronograph and has since become one of the world’s best-selling and most recognised watches.
2. Rolex and the Cosmograph Daytona
Known simply as the ‘Daytona’, Rolex’s totemic wristwatch arrived in 1963 as the continuation of the company’s line of Cosmograph chronographs, first introduced 30 years previously. It was expressly a racing chronograph, locating the tachymeter – a device for measuring speed over a known distance – on the bezel, instead of around the dial (a move pioneered by Omega with the 1957 Speedmaster, incidentally). The idea was to improve legibility, but ultimately it helped define the Daytona’s enduring aesthetic. So too did the use of panda and reverse panda dial configurations, which employed a black and white colour palette for the dial and its three counters. The watch took its name from Florida’s Daytona International Speedway, which Rolex still sponsors today, and would go on to become the world’s most desirable (and difficult to source) luxury chronograph.
3. Richard Mille and Formula 1
Richard Mille is a product of the 21st century, beginning life in 2001 with one model and 17 watches. Not yet two decades on, it has all but cornered the highest end of the market, now producing around 3,000 watches a year with an average price tag in the six-figure space. Throughout, it’s driven its story forward through motorsport, dubbing its watches ‘racing machines on the wrist’ and collaborating with teams, drivers and events across the upper end of the motorsport spectrum. These days, its blue-ribband partnerships include three with the Formula 1 teams McLaren, Haas and Alfa Romeo Racing. Across the Richard Mille range, the F1 influences are clear, both in the use of lightweight, borderline invincible materials, and in the high-tech engineering behind state-of-the-art movements that are resistant to shocks and extreme G-forces.
4. Chopard and Mille Miglia
What’s interesting is that beyond Rolex and TAG Heuer, the links between cars and watches become a little more abstruse. But even then, it’s hard to overlook the long-standing collaboration between Chopard and the historic Mille Miglia race, which has delivered a limited edition wristwatch, or wristwatches, every year since 1988. The watches are rarely if ever technically interesting, but the pairing deserve a spot in the top five because they have become synonymous with one another, and because both have raised their profiles considerably through the association, Chopard as a stylish watch designer and the Mille Miglia as a get-together for high society.
5. Breitling and Bentley
If this seems an obvious addition to the list, it didn’t feel like it. Breitling for Bentley is an outlier in the world of luxury watches with car connections, now sitting as a ‘brand’ in its own right, separate to Breitling’s core portfolio. That has made it feel too much like an accessory, made available to people who buy Bentleys and want the matching key ring, wallet and watch. That’s a branding issue rather than a product issue – the watches themselves are every bit as good aesthetically and mechanically as anything in the Breitling collection. Visually, the link between the two is well executed, too (the hobnailing found across the collection is pure Bentley), and the watches carry a suite of Breitling’s in-house movements, which have so-far proved every bit as reliable as a Bentley engine.
What didn’t make the list…
In some ways, this list is more interesting than the top five, and certainly more polemical. We decided to omit Oris’s 15-year partnership with the Williams F1 Team for two reasons: first, because it didn’t elevate either marque sufficiently to merit a top-five place, and second, because it ended last year (Oris, we assume, losing patience with a sadly declining race team). Likewise, Parmigiani no longer works with Bugatti. We also overlooked the likes of Casio and G-Shock, despite their close ties with motorsport, simply on the grounds that we wanted the list to have a premium feel to it. We did consider some of the smaller independents, particularly Autodromo, a superb execution of a brand centred around the golden age of motor racing, but left it out because it has yet to accelerate out of start-up mode. Same thinking about the wonderful Giuliano Mazzuoli, which appears stuck perennially in first gear. Bremont and Jaguar feels too new to merit the tag ‘significant’, and although we love pieces such as MB&F’s linear dash-inspired Horological Machine No5, it doesn’t define anything in particular. We could go on…