Watches and automobiles have been sharing close bonds ever since their first encounter, they both appeal to lovers of mechanics. For the public they represent a sign of the owner’s status. Makers of automobiles love to compare their performances and watchmakers love to record them.
A century old union
This association can be traced back to more than a century ago with Alfred Dunhill, an English entrepreneur aware of the automobile industry’s potential. His company then invented a basic timer to be used specifically in cars. This is not however the name most remembered, TAG Heuer is. As of 1911 TAG Heuer provided chronographs for dashboards to multiple automobile clubs – the Heuer Autavia, a staple of the brand, started out as a dashboard chronograph before becoming its own watch in 1962. Soon after, every watchmaker started crafting car components such as RPM counters, tachometers, clocks.
However, it was not until the early 1930’s that wrist watches became widely used by pilots in races or rallyes. Rolex quickly joined TAG Heuer as one of the pioneers of the bond between these two worlds as they are among the first brand to capitalise on motor racing, particularly when they got involved with Sir Malcolm Campbell, nicknamed the ‘Speed King’. In the 1950’s and especially in the early 1960’s, with the growing popularity of races and fame a pilot could bring, watchmakers and their partners were quick to realise they attracted the same people. It became clear they had to affiliate their image with major automobile events.
If there is a year to remember that symbolises the growing link between these two worlds, it has to be 1963. Rolex became the partner of the Daytona International Speedway in Florida. The name was later given to one of their watches, which was awarded to the winners of many competitions. Rolex sponsors the F1 championship, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans… – while Heuer was creating its famous Carrera a rugged and functional ‘tool’ watch’ aimed at professional drivers, still produced by the brand today.
If watches are not widely used anymore to analyze pilots’ performances, watchmakers and carmakers took their partnership one step further. They reach for new designs, technologies and materials pursuing their ideal of the perfect association between mechanical power and elegance.
Brands associate to create new watches based on iconic cars, but the first one can be traced back to the collaboration between Orfina and Porsche in 1972. The watch uses two specifications from the Porsche 911, its black tachometer and RPM.
In 1994 ‘Girard-Perregaux for Ferrari’ was the first partnership with the ambition to incorporate the car constructor’s values into the watch. What resulted is a 499 limited edition golden watch. Ferrari kept investing in new partnerships now being affiliated with Hublot since 2013. In 2017, for Ferrari’s 70th anniversary, was created the Hublot Techframe Ferrari 70 a watch developed by the Swiss artisan and designed by Ferrari.
Even today with the emergence of digital watches watchmakers continue to create unique pieces finding new ways to associate both worlds. One of these concepts can be attributed to Atelier Jalaper, a brand new watchmaker who throughout its crafting process creates their watch dials from iconic car parts. Both founders, Simon Szleper and Louis Jalaber wish to demonstrate their love for technological and mechanical challenges as well as showcase designs unlike no other.