From wristwatch to dash clock
How eight luxury watchmakers forever formed a bond with the automobile.
By Jordan Lenssen
Perhaps it is the complicated mechanics, the timeless designs and the pursuit of perfection that have forever linked the watch with the automobile. They are the ultimate, and often priciest. expressions of function and style. And yet at the same time, can be completely priceless, passing hands over generations, each time with a different story to tell.
The watch has also served one of the greatest contributions to the automotive world: clocking lap times and benchmarking performance figures. It should come as no surprise then, that we would see some of timekeeping’s best matched with their automotive equivalents in what can be described as the luxury world’s most beautiful partnerships.
Breitling / Bentley
It was in 2002 that, for the first time, Bentley had allowed anyone other than its own craftsmen to handle its dashboard instrument design. The following year, the Continental GT wore the first-ever Breitling dash clock and the watchmaker was the title sponsor for the Speed 8 Le Mans racing program. Simultaneously, the famous Breitling for Bentley chronograph line — currently at 14 pieces — was born.
Since then, the partnership has grown to be one of the largest between an auto manufacturer and watchmaker. Breitling clocks can be found on the dash of every Continental and Continental GT, using a black dial and white lettering reminiscent of pre-war Bentley racing watches. Recently, Bentley unveiled an ultra-limited Breitling Jet Team Series GT Speed edition of seven cars. But the ultra pièce de résistance is the auto-rotating Breitling Mulliner Tourbillon found on the all-new Bentayga SUV. Named after the Bentley workshop, the dash clock is available in white or yellow gold with a mother of pearl or black ebony hardwood face and eight diamond number markings.
IWC / Mercedes-Benz
Founded in 1868, the Swiss watchmaker from Schaffhausen is known for its pilot watches, classic faces and distinct hands for clear time readouts — perfect for flying, or in this case, driving. IWC also makes some of the most dependable, accurate mechanical Swiss movements around, so it would only make sense equip an automaker of similar excellence.
Last year marked the tenth anniversary of the IWC and Mercedes-Benz partnership, which has seen the watchmaker’s name on the dashes of the C63 Coupé, CLS, SL, SLK (and successive 2016 SLC) and the S-Class, arguably the pinnacle of Mercedes-Benz technology, luxury and performance. Along with limited edition models, the partnership has even extended to the Mercedes-AMG F1 team, where both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have an IWC watch image imprinted on their left glove.
Jaeger-LeCoultre / Aston Martin
The relationship between Jaeger and Aston Martin (then Bamford & Martin) began even before Edmond Jaeger and Jacques-David LeCoultre formally partnered in 1937 to create Jaeger-LeCoultre. Jaeger began developing dashboard instruments in the 1920s, and by 1925, supplied the likes of 95 per cent of race-winning cars. Outfitting Bentley, Ferrari, Jaguar and MG among others, it is with Aston that the partnership stuck. Jaeger instruments adorned Aston Martin’s first car, the Coal Scuttle, as well as the class-winning Aston Martin 1 ½ Le Mans racer in 1932 and 1933 (and the later DB2 and DB3S racers.)
The partnership was revisited and formalized again in 2004, resulting in an ongoing motorsport sponsorship and a number of Aston-inspired timepieces. The Jaeger-LeCoultre AMVOX limited edition series in particular, features a sapphire crystal that will actually lock or unlock your Aston Martin depending on which side of the glass you press. No wonder they’re the brands of choice for James Bond.
Rolex & Bloodhound SSC
Rolex’s ties to automotive and motorsport are immediately obvious when looking at its sponsorship efforts in Formula 1, Le Mans, the Monterey Motorsports Reunion, and the 24 Hours at Daytona. That race is, of course, what the Cosmograph Daytona is named after, and what each driver receives should they win the yearly event. As such, it only makes sense that the company widely regarded as the ultimate in mechanical watches would outfit the ultimate land speed vehicle.
Undergoing final preparations ahead of its land speed record attempt later this year, the British supersonic car (SSC) is aiming to match or exceed 1,000 mph (1,690 km/h), essentially obliterating its own current record of 763 mph (1,228 km/h). The Rolex Special Equipment department was tasked with engineering the two most essential gauges in the car, a bespoke 1,100 mph speedometer with Mach 1 and max speed indicator, and a stopwatch measuring minutes and seconds. Each instrument uses built-in power backups and independent GPS transponders to send information, easily making this the most technologically-sophisticated watch and vehicle pairing on this list.
TAG Heuer & motorsport
Edouard Heuer had long mastered the art of timekeeping before his company was bought and merged with the TAG Group in 1985. Heuer began producing dashboard timers in 1911, but it was his grandson, Jack, who cemented the company’s motorsport involvement in 1958 after misreading the 12-hour Autavia stopwatch by a minute, finishing a Swiss car rally in third, instead of first place.
Jack developed a new stopwatch with larger, clearer readouts and a large minute hand. The result was six dashboard pieces including the new Auto Rallye and Monte-Carlo, which showed elapsed hours in a separate window, becoming a staple for the world’s best rally drivers.
Heuer continued its huge innovations in motorsport, first timing Ferrari’s Le Mans and Grand Prix efforts in 1972, then becoming the official timer of Formula 1 from 1974 to 1982 (and 1992-2003). Its Automatic Car Identification Timing System (ACIT) was revolutionary, using individual vehicle transponders and a finish-line timing receiver — a concept still used to this day.