If you are a lover of automotive sports, you know that every fraction of a second counts. That’s why some of today’s finest watchmakers have alliances with cars, races and drivers and deliver top-notch watches for the sport.
A close look at the watch industry reveals a long and storied past when it comes to the world of automotive sports. At the same time that Henry Ford and Louis Chevrolet were beginning to build their first cars, watches were transitioning from pockets to wrists. The two industries grew up essentially side-by-side, almost, with both perfecting the concept of engine excellence. Car-inspired watches became an important arena of the watchmaking world.
By the mid-20th century, watch brands were not only timing famous races around the world but also were sponsoring race car drivers and incorporating split-second timing into their watches. As the decades produced ever faster, lighter-weight cars with aerodynamic abilities, the watch industry kept pace – creating high-tech materials and mechanics that could speed forward like lightning.
Today, we have watch brands that have formed partnerships with automobile brands, that have top racers on board as brand ambassadors, that time the most exhilarating races on Earth and more. Here we take a look at top watch brands with automotive-inspired watches and affiliations.
Jacob & Co. and Bugatti – $580,000
Car lovers know the Bugatti name all too well. This luxury automobile maker is also a record-setting brand, especially since earlier this year when it topped the over-300-miles-per-hour record — clocking in at 304+ miles per hour before needing to hit the brakes or run out of road. The brand is all about exceptional performance, much like Jacob & Co.—whose watches regularly outperform in terms of mechanics, looks, and materials. The newest Twin Turbo Furious Bugatti 300+ watch boasts Jacob & Co.’s wildly advanced Twin Turbo Furious movement with two triple-axis tourbillon escapements rotating at different speeds per axis. As if that isn’t enough, the watch also is 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 are being made.
Roger Dubuis Excalibur Huracán – $52,000
For several years now Swiss watch brand Roger Dubuis has partnered with Pirelli (the brand of tires that are found on Lamborghini cars on the racetracks) and with Lamborghini Squadra Corse. The goal: “Raging Mechanics” – high-tech three-dimensional watches made from new materials that are as screaming bold as the cars themselves. One of the most recent models, the Excalibur Huracán, was inspired by the Huracan supercar and boasts those raging mechanics. Its movement is skeletonized and consists of 233 individual parts that are visible via the sapphire crystal and case back. The watch is crafted in black DLC titanium and features a strut bar that is designed to recall the struts on the V10 engine.
Zenith Defy 21 Land Rover Edition – $ 13,600
Swiss watch brand Zenith – long known for its precision chronograph movements – has been enjoying a strong partnership with the more down-to-Earth auto brand Land Rover. Just recently Land Rover re-introduced its Defender – a dynamic all-terrain vehicle whose relaunch has had Land Rover lovers anticipating with zeal. Naturally, to mark the momentous occasion, Zenith had to celebrate with a watch that was as all-terrain as the car. Also unveiled earlier this year, the Zenith Defy 21 Land Rover edition chronograph is auto-inspired in all of its details. The watch is, of course, equipped with the best Zenith movement on the market: El Primero. It measures events to 1/100th of a second and is chronometer certified. This means that it has been tested under extreme conditions and passed within some very stringent numbers. Crafted in gray with red accents, the watch is equipped with a linear power reserve indicator (50 hours) to emulate car gauges.
Breitling Premier B01 Chronograph Bentley – $ 8,500
It has been nearly 20 years since Breitling and British automaker Bentley first formed their partnership. Few affiliations in the car/watch worlds have lasted this long, so something about the auto-inspired watches and the relationship continues to be powerful. This year Breitling has unveiled some pretty significant watches in honor of Bentley, including the Bentley Mulliner bespoke cars, and specific new dial colors inspired by the car manufacture. The Breitling for Bentley Premier B01 Chronograph in British Racing Green is a particular fan favorite. The green dial with gray subsidiary dials for the counters and matching hand-stitched green leather strap is a winning combination. The watch also offers a tachymeter outer chapter ring for measuring speeds and is a COSC-certified chronometer – attesting to its fine mechanics. The in-house-made Caliber 01 movement equips this car-inspired timepiece.
Hublot Classic Fusion Ferrari GT – $ 27,300 – $38,800
Nearly a decade ago, Hublot formed a partnership with Ferrari that steered the watch brand to the position of Official Timekeeper of Ferrari and the Ferrari Challenge. In this position, the brand regularly works with Ferrari to create timepieces that share the same values in terms of excellence and precision. Hublot has built a host of Ferrari-inspired watches that run the gamut from Big Bang to others – utilizing high-tech materials and over-the-top movements. The brand has even become the Official Watch and sponsor of events for Scuderia Ferrari, the Formula 1 racing division, and Gran Turismo.
Bremont Jaguar – $6,795 – $ 7,295
British watch brand Bremont has a great partnership with British automotive brand: Jaguar. The relationship has led to several impressive Bremont Jaguar watch series that are typically mechanical chronographs with auto-inspired touches such as tachymeter bezels or outer dial rings, colorful accents, and Jaguar colorways. Generally, the chronograph watches are certified chronometers and celebrate the cars. Different editions include the E-Type and the recently released D-Type.
Chopard Mille Miglia – $ 7,400 – $ 9,690
Another very long-lasting relationship between car and watch brands is the Chopard Mille Miglia partnership. Chopard long ago formed a relationship as the Official Timekeeper of the classic car rally known as Mille Miglia. In fact, co-president of Chopard, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele is an avid vintage car collector and regularly participates in the rally through scenic Italy. Every year, the brand creates special Mille Miglia watches that pay homage to the rally and to the vintage cars that participate. Most of these watches are sporty or vintage-inspired chronographs with tachymeter bezels or chapter rings for measuring speed or distance and other features and functions. Most are certified chronometers and all boast the Mille Miglia logo on the dial along with the Chopard insignia.
There is a long and very rich relationship between Rolex and automobile racing. In fact, the brand formed ties in the 1930s with Sir Malcolm Campbell, who set the world land speed record by being the first driver to break the 300-mile-per-hour barrier. He became a fan of Rolex watches and frequently wore them to the races, including Daytona. In 1962, Rolex first served as the official timekeeper of Daytona, and later unveiled its first Cosmograph chronograph Ref. 6239, which came to be named the Daytona. The brand is the Official Timekeeper of races, and a sponsor of key car events including the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Pebble Beach Classic Car Week, among others. It also supports LeMans racing and Formula 1 and has some very important drivers on its brand ambassador roster. Among them: Sir Jackie Steward, Jackie Ickx, Tom Kristensen, and Mark Webber.
TAG Heuer Carrera – $6,750
TAG Heuer has been firmly entrenched in the world of auto racing since the 1950s. In fact, its founder Jack Heuer was enthralled with the Carrara Pan Americana races and designed the now-iconic Carrera racing chronograph in 1963. The bold watch was highly legible and exceptionally reliable – and became the watch of choice for driving legend Jo Siffert. As the brand honors its 160th anniversary this year, it is creating a host of limited-edition Carrera watches to celebrate.
Richard Mille RM 11-03 – $191,500
Swiss independent watch brand Richard Mille teamed with McLaren Automotive Group a couple of years ago and together have built some watches that rival the mechanical precision of the Formula 1 racing team. The tourbillon timepieces are created in extremely limited numbers and boast specially made cases and movements. This RM 11-03 Automatic Flyback Chronograph McLaren watch, for instance, houses the Caliber RMAC3 that is equipped with a 60-minute countdown timer, and so much more. To this day, Richard Mille – which signed a 10-year contract with McLaren Racing – continues to turn out high-performance auto-inspired watches that are jaw-dropping.
About the Author
Roberta Naas is a veteran watch and jewelry journalist who began her career in the early 1980’s, and was the first female watch journalist in the United States. She is the editor and founder of the authoritative watch blog, ATimelyPerspective, has written six books on watches, writes for numerous consumer publications (including Forbes and Elite Traveler) – and always brings forth in her work the essence of what makes watches tick. She tirelessly travels the world in search of watch news and stories that she turns into compelling and enlightening articles.