Timing in the Fast Lane
BY ROBERTA NAAS
Breitling for Bentley: This COSC-certified automatic chronometer was produced in stainless steel in a limited edition of 1,000 pieces, and is inspired by the Bentley Supersports automobile.
Around the turn of the 20th century, the automobile-racing and luxury-watch worlds collided, with truly remarkable results for both. What is it that drew these two unique realms—one characterized by the roar of V-8 engines, smoking tires, intense speed and adrenaline, the other by the hallowed halls of a centuries-old craft performed at a bench with hand tools in singular silence—to each other? A passion for extremes, for one. Car manufacturers push the limits of power, speed and aerodynamics, while watchmakers defy atmospheric and other extremes with timepieces that work perfectly in outer space, the deep sea, the desert or the North Pole. The car/watch affinity was further fueled by a shared quest for precision and drive for excellence that perhaps no other industries quite comprehend—both of these arenas orchestrate the incredibly accurate collaboration of hundreds of mechanical parts under one protective “hood” (be it a car hood or a watch case). And then there’s the fact that victory on the racetrack comes down to fractions of a second, measured with top-notch timepieces.
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Steve McQueen in the film Le Mans, sporting a TAG Heuer Monaco timepiece; The TAG Heuer Monaco Vintage; Race car driver Lewis Hamilton wears a TAG Heuer Monaco LS Chronograph.
IT STARTED WITH A CHEVROLET—IN SWITZERLAND
In 1911, at around the same time Louis Chevrolet (born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, as the son of a watchmaker) migrated to America and cofounded Chevrolet, the very first wristwatches were coming into serial production. Within just a few years, Chevrolet, who raced cars for Fiat and Buick, would sell his stake in his company and go on to compete in Indy 500 challenges. He also founded Frontenac Motor Corporation, which produced racing cars.
In response to its pace, technology, materials and mechanical endurance, the finest watch companies in the world aligned themselves with competitive motor sport. It was Breitling that in 1930 presented a stopwatch with a 30-minute indicator and center sweep hand, called Vitesse, which was so accurate that police officers used it to check road-traffic speeds. The car/watch connection soon gained momentum, and watch brands sped to get involved in the automotive frenzy. TAG Heuer, Omega, Breitling and Rolex were among the first to roar onto the racing scene, and over the decades watch companies have sponsored races, drivers and cars.
FROM LEFT: Watchmaker Oris is an official partner of the AT&T Williams car in Formula 1 racing; the Cosmograph Daytona by Rolex is a COSC-certified chronometer; the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Grand Prix is crafted of forged carbon; Blancpain first began its involvement in European motor-racing a little more than a year ago when it became a sponsor of the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo; this Blancpain Super Trofeo Flyback Chronograph is crafted in steel and inspired by the sports car.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MALCOLM GRIFFITHS (BLANCPAIN CAR); PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PHOTOFEST NYC (THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR)