Timing in the Fast Lane
BY ROBERTA NAAS
From the 1930s through the ’60s, as landspeed records were being set and broken at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah by drivers such as Sir Malcolm Campbell, Don Waite, John Cobb and Mickey Thompson (who became the first to break the 400-mph barrier, hitting 406.60 in 1960), watch companies were busy setting their own records in split-second timing and introducing innovative automotive-themed watches. In the 1950s, Heuer (today TAG Heuer) was timing events like the 12 Hours of Sebring, and in 1963 brought out the now-renowned Carrera Chronograph with its quietly confident masculine design; in 1969, the world’s first water-resistant square chronograph, the Monaco, was launched. The striking blue-faced Monaco, with its square counters at three and nine o’clock and blue alligator band, garnered international fame in 1970 when the legendary Steve McQueen wore it in the classic film Le Mans. Today, the Monaco, available with a variety of bold vertical racing stripes on its face, remains one of the most important TAG Heuer collections and is worn by race car driver Lewis Hamilton, among others.
Blacktop racing, endurance and rally races, and land rallies that bring vintage vehicles across thousands of miles of terrain continue to attract brands, which create bold, rugged timepieces that salute the speed and precision of the cars and the white-knuckled resolve and split-second decision-making of their drivers. These high-performance pieces use the finest materials, among them high-tech carbon fiber, stainless steel and titanium. What’s under the “hood” of a watch case is, after all, as important as what’s under the hood of a race car, and collectors of both are similarly avid and demanding. In watches, these demands have given rise to high-caliber movements and a host of extra timing functions.
FROM LEFT: Pierce Brosnan sports a gold Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Duo (much like the one shown at right) in The Thomas Crown Affair, in which he also drives a vintage Mustang. Below, Jaeger- LeCoultre’s Amvox 5 World Chronograph is the fi fth watch created via its partnership with Aston Martin; The Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport is the inspiration for Parmigiani Fleurier’s Bugatti Super Sport watch.
Watchmakers have done more than sponsor and time racing events. They’ve formed partnerships with fast cars (and opulent ones) by making watches that recall interior and exterior features of a prized set of wheels; some even have the capacity to interact with it.
Breitling, a brand requiring serious swagger to carry off, partnered with Bentley Motors in 2003, making exclusive Breitling for Bentley timepieces and designing dashboard clocks for the brand ever since. Breitling also released a limited-edition watch that Bentley owners could order with veneer dials and leather straps that echoed the “limousine’s” interior; it sold out. These Breitling for Bentley pieces bear the Bentley winged insignia.
Similarly, Jaeger-LeCoultre (Pierce Brosnan sports its Reverso Duo in The Thomas Crown Affair) struck up a collaboration a few years back with Aston Martin that resulted in the cuttingedge Amvox watch collection. One model, the Amvox2 DBS Transponder (“the watch that unleashes the DBS”), is fitted with a transmitter that, in response to pressure on the sapphire crystal, remotely unlocks the doors of its wearer’s Aston Martin DBS. The Amvox2 Rapide Transponder has a similar relationship with its namesake Aston Martin, except that the special function—again, activated through pressure on the crystal— consists of briefly turning on the Rapide’s headlights to help you identify it in the dark. Brilliant!
PHOTOGRAPH BY MALCOLM GRIFFITHS (BLANCPAIN CAR); PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PHOTOFEST NYC (THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR)