Cars and watches go together like strawberries & cream, Bonnie & Clyde or champagne & oysters. The association makes sense. Motorsport and horology share key elements: mechanical precision, innovative materials, complex engineering and the most refined aesthetics.
By the mid-20th century, watch brands were not only timing famous races around the world but were also sponsoring drivers and incorporating split-second timing into their creations. As the decades produced ever faster, lighter-weight cars so the watch industry kept pace using high-tech materials and mechanics that could rival those of their petrol-propelled partners.
Sir Malcolm Campbell appeared in Rolex’s adverts wearing an Oyster he paid from his own pocket…
Ever since Sir Malcom Campbell (holder of nine land speed records) appeared in Rolex’s advertisements wearing an Oyster paid from his own pocket in 1933, Rolex have continued their affiliation with automobile racing becoming official timekeeper of Daytona in 1962 and releasing soon after their first Cosmograph chronograph ref. 6239, the Rolex Daytona, which became one of the most collectable watches ever. The latest features a dial made from metallic meteorite with black chronograph counters at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock and is available in 18kt white, yellow or Everose gold. All three new versions are equipped with calibre 4130 and range in price between £27,350 and £35,100.
Rolex’s passion for motorsport is as vivid today as it was in the 1960s. They are Official Timekeepers of many races, sponsor events such as the Pebble Beach Classic Car Week and the Rolex 24 at Daytona; and are involved with Le Mans and F1 racing.
However, one could argue that the very first car-watch collaboration was that between Aston Martin and Jaeger-LeCoultre in the 1920s as Aston Martin cars were equipped with Jaeger Speedometers (although they were not the only ones). It wasn’t until 2005 though that Jaeger-LeCoultre and Aston Martin released their first watches together under the generic AMVOX name.
A total of seven AMVOX generations were produced. The most famous is probably the second generation, which consisted of three chronographs, one of which carried the transponder that opened the wearer’s car. They were equipped with the patented Jaeger-LeCoultre vertical-trigger chronograph system, which activated the functions simply by pressing the sapphire watch crystal.
A total of seven generations of AMVOX watches were created during the partnership between Jaeger-LeCoultre and Aston Martin…
Since the break-up with Jaeger-Le Coultre, Aston Martin had a brief affair with Richard Mille in 2016 and in February (this is the year of the car-watch weddings!), they announced that Girard-Perregaux would become their official watch partner “effect immediately”. The first timepiece borne of this association is the Tourbillon with Three Flying Bridges – Aston Martin Edition (just 18 pieces). The watch features a 44mm case made of Grade 5 Titanium, the same material used for the bridges finished with black PVC treatment and polished angles.
Another watch brand that jumped early into the driving seat of motorsport was Heuer. Jack Heuer was a big fan of racing and his brand was official timekeeper in many races. He fell in love with the Carrera Panamericana, which prompted him to design his eponymous chronograph, inspired by the instrument panel of a racing car. The Heuer Carrera was launched in 1963, the same year that the Porsche 911 Carrera made its first appearance.
Jack Heuer enrolled racing driver and Porsche dealer Jo Siffert as his first brand ambassador to promote his chronographs. Siffert (known as Seppi) became “the face” of the Autavia ref. 1163T, aka “Jo Siffert”. In fact, Seppi was McQueen’s mentor in the preparation of his “Le Mans” character and the reason why the actor chose a Monaco to wear in the legendary movie. Unfortunately, Siffert died in a tragic accident the same year the film was released (1971) and the relationship with the German car manufacturer faded away.
For most of the 1970s, Heuer partnered up with Ferrari, giving a Carrera to all their F1 drivers and stamping his logo on the cars. In this decade, Heuer was the official timekeeper for Formula 1 racing. Almost all drivers carried its logo on their race overalls.
In the years since, Porsche and TAG Heuer worked together on and off until a few months ago, when the watch manufacturer announced that it was teaming up with Porsche for a long-term partnership.
In the merry-go-round that is the world of affiliations between watches and cars, relationships often don’t last more than a couple of years. Ferrari is a very good example. After working with Heuer in the 1970s, the house of the prancing horse struck a partnership with Girard-Perregaux when it was bought by petrol-head Gino Macaluso. The “pour Ferrari” collection was launched in 1995 with a limited edition of 499 watches, ref. 9015, an automatic 3 register Chronograph with Rattrapante.
In the 10 years of their partnership, they produced some remarkable limited editions, such as the Pour Ferrari F50, a perpetual calendar Chronograph with automatic movement available in all precious metals and in titanium. The highlight was its stunning winder box, a Ferrari-red stand with an acrylic display case. In 2005 the cooperation came to an end – rumour has it – due to commercial interests denting the relationship beyond repair.
Moving on, Ferrari turned their eyes to fellow Italian brand Panerai. They worked together for almost five years (2005/6 to 2010) and saw the production of a collection branded “Ferrari Engineered by Panerai” that included two lines, “Granturismo” and “Scuderia”. Granturismo models featured the prancing horse at 12 o’clock, while Scuderias were detailed with the famous yellow shield that Ferrari racing cars have always worn. None of them carried Panerai’s name on the dial.
Next on Ferrari’s dating list was Cabestan, and then Hublot, which came along in 2012, three years after their collaboration with Morgan for their 100th anniversary. Hublot were required to produce a watch for both Ferrari and Scuderia Ferrari.
The first watches produced for this partnership were Big Bangs with a larger than standard case (45.5mm) and cylindrical bezels. The show-stopper has to be the MP-05 “LaFerrari” from 2013. It was designed and developed in tribute to “LaFerrari,” itself one of the most extreme of Ferrari’s limited edition road cars. The triangular shaped reminisced of Ferrari’s shield and everything in and on it reminded of car parts. Its shell was made of black PVD titanium, with a titanium and carbon insert at its centre.
The partnership finished at the end of last year and less than three months later, Ferrari and Richard Mille announced a multi-year deal, extending from the pinnacle of motor racing in Formula 1 through WEC endurance programmes, Competizioni GT, Ferrari Challenge, Ferrari Driver Academy to the fast-developing Esports category.
Richard Mille is no stranger to the world of Formula 1, having sponsored 40% of the current teams over the years. At present he sponsors Kimi Räikkönen (even if he doesn’t back Alfa Romeo), who bears his own signature model in an RM 50-04, and 2020 F2 Champion Mick Schumacher (Haas). Felipe Massa (now racing in Formula E) even wore his own Richard Mille in the cockpit of his Oris-sponsored Williams car. Cheeky!
Since 2017 (straight after the partnership with Aston Martin came to an end), Richard Mille has been a partner of McLaren with a 10-year contract. Their debut RM 11-03 McLaren Automatic Flyback Chronograph was an immediate success. Limited to 500 pieces worldwide, the watch was powered by two barrels and the movement (caliber RMAC3) had an impressive 55-hour power reserve. Both the bridges and the baseplate for this caliber were made of PVD-treated grade 5 titanium, to ensure the stiffness and functioning of the going train.
The bridges and the baseplate for this caliber were made of PVD-treated grade 5 titanium, to ensure the stiffness and functioning of the going train…
Despite the new deal with Ferrari, it seems that Richard Mille will keep working with McLaren. Their newly launched MCL35M carries the watchmaker’s name and both Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris wear a Richard Mille watch. The fact that Ferrari and McLaren are now sponsored by the same company is going to be pretty interesting since they’re – respectively – the first and third most successful Formula 1 teams of all time and at present, fierce direct competitors.
If you feel a bit dizzy following Ferrari’s dance-book, let’s take a break and examine which I believe it is the oldest and longest-lasting car-watch affiliation still alive: Breitling and Bentley, which started in 2002 when the former commissioned the latter to design the onboard clock for the very first Continental GT due to debut the following year. Breitling produced a unique wristwatch for the owners of the new supercar. Soon a collection known as “Breitling for Bentley” was created with levels of personalization to match those of the car.
The Breitling for Bentley Mark VI was the first of many significant watches produced by the Swiss manufacturer in honour of Bentley. The Breitling for Bentley Premier B01 Chronograph in British Racing Green became a particular fans’ favourite with its green dial and grey subsidiary dials for the counters and matching hand-stitched green leather strap. The watch, fitted with their in-house Caliber 01 movement, also offered a tachymeter and was a COSC-certified chronometer.
Since 2018, Breitling has been integrating special Bentley editions into its core product offering. This year we have seen the Premier B21 Chronograph Tourbillon 42 Bentley Limited Edition, produced in an exclusive series of just 25 pieces. A reinterpretation of the original Breitling Premier wristwatches of the 1940s, it features a 42 mm case in 18k red gold, rectangular chronograph pushers, a gold-brown alligator strap, and a transparent sapphire caseback revealing the Caliber B21 movement with its 22kt gold oscillating weight.
Bremont and Jaguar haven’t done badly either. They first work together for the launch of the Jaguar C-X75 in 2010, for which Bremont developed a unique analogue dashboard clock.
Over the last decade they’ve produced several watch series. This year, to celebrate Jaguar E-Type’s 60th birthday, Bremont developed an exclusive limited edition box set, each of which includes one of the two different coloured bezel chronographs (60 in green and 60 in grey), as well as Bremont’s first ever rally timer, which can be displayed on a desktop stand or fitted into a car. Furthermore, the 120 proud owners of these watches will get the chance to take the wheel of three iconic E-Types and put them through their paces at Jaguar’s Fen End facility.
Bremont’s involvement with the motor world goes even further. Over the years, they had employed several individuals from the Formula 1 world to assist them with the complications presented by machining to very high tolerances. This year they became official Timing Partner to Williams Racing.
Much more recently, in 2017, Roger Dubuis struck a deal with Lamborghini Squadra Corse. The goal was what they called “Raging Mechanics” – high-tech three-dimensional watches made from new materials as screaming bold as the cars themselves. The partnership began with the introduction of the Excalibur Aventador S and there have been several models since, the latest being the Excalibur Huracán STO launched last December. Priced around the £20k mark and limited to just 88 pieces, the watch boasts a Pirelli tyre pattern on the inside of the rubber inlay. The 45mm titanium case is coated in black DLC titanium and features a strut bar that is designed to recall the struts on the V10 engine.
A year earlier, Swiss watchmaker Zenith kicked start their collaboration with Range Rover. The latest product of this fruitful relationship is the DEFY 21 Land Rover Edition, brought to market to celebrate the launch of the new Defender last year. Possibly the most emblematic all-terrain vehicle ever, the Defender needed a watch a bit “rougher” than what Zenith got us used to. They rose to the challenge and the result was a stealthy reinterpretation of the 21st century El Primero high-frequency chronograph, limited to 250 pieces, crafted in a microblasted titanium case paired with a matching closed grey dial.
Not satisfied with their partnership with the British car manufacturer, this year Zenith revealed they would be Official Timekeeper and Founding Partner of Extreme E, the electric off-road racing championship which debuted in Saudi Arabia this past April.
Bell & Ross have teamed up with the Alpine F1® Team this year, after five spent alongside Renault DP World F1® Team. As their Official Watch Partner, Bell & Ross have started this marriage with a collection of six watches, including three ultra-sporty chronographs.
We couldn’t finish this article without mentioning the Grand Dame of the automobile world: Bugatti. Jacob & Co. produced for them several watches, among them the Twin Turbo Furious Bugatti 300+ watch, which boasted the brand’s eponymous movement with two triple-axis tourbillon escapements rotating at different speeds per axis. As if that wasn’t enough, the watch was also equipped with a decimal repeater that chimes the time and a monopusher chronograph that times laps. Created in high-tech forged carbon, just three pieces were made.
Parmigiani Fleurier also worked with Bugatti, producing for them two stunning pieces of horology, the Bugatti Type 370, in honour of the Bugatti EB 15.4 Veyron and the Type 390, after the Bugatti Chiron. The watches were not available for sale but given as gifts to the buyers of the cars.
Words: Julia Pasarón