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A Time-honored Tradition

A Time-honored Tradition
1938 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe. (Photo: Michael Furman)

The relationship between supercars and handcrafted luxury watches is nearly as old as auto racing itself. It’s an association based on mutual admiration and a shared commitment to excellence, evidenced by the historic partnerships forged between automotive and watchmaking icons like Bentley and Breitling and Aston Martin and Jaeger-LeCoultre. But the relationship is about more than shared corporate affiliations.

Talk to any automobile enthusiast and chances are that he or she is fascinated by watches, too. If you drive an expensive sportscar, you are saying something about yourself. Watches make the same statement, only a bit more subtly — and with the added bonus that they don’t take up nearly as much space in the garage.


Whether in a watch or a car, precision performance and elite endurance are the extraordinary results of meticulous and superior mechanical craftsmanship. The more elaborate the assembly, the more valuable the watch or automobile.

“At its most basic, a watch, just like a car, is utilitarian,” explained Ron Jackson, president, Franck Muller NA. “These products deliver a function, but they don’t deliver an emotion. When you move into performance cars, you have a mechanical product that morphs into an emotional experience, and that’s what people who love cars can identify with in watches. Watches and cars share performance, design, style, finishing and more, and when you love and appreciate these details, you want them in other parts of your life.”


Peek under the hood — or bezel — and you’ll discover that high-performance engines make these machines tick. Though a watch’s engine doesn’t roar like that of a car, its intricate movements — the back-and-forth motion of the balance wheel, the travel of the gear train and the sweeping, uninterrupted advancement of the second hand across its markers — mimic the synchronized rhythm of a well-oiled, high-powered engine.

But it’s not just the exceptional mechanics that watches share with automobiles. Watchmakers have long leveraged motorsports to promote their world-class brands. Rolex, for example, is the official timekeeper of Daytona International Raceway, Chopard for Italy’s Mille Miglia and Tissot for MotoGP. Others have relationships directly with auto manufacturers and with the drivers themselves.

“I think GT racing has always possessed something mythical,” said Marc A. Hayek, president and CEO, Blancpain, who partners with Lamborghini (and Hayek himself drives in the Blancpain Endurance Series). “You have dream cars competing, so GT racing has always had a link to the luxury field, and to emotions. GT racing is the perfect link for a brand like Blancpain where you have on one side the classic series, and on the other side something very emotional, very mechanical, but with a ‘gentlemanly’ side.”

French watchmaker Richard Mille credits motorsports with inspiring a great many of his designs, while Swiss manufacturer Patek Philippe used a racecar’s dashboard instruments as the base for one of its Calatrava dials. Tissot has consulted with NASCAR and IndyCar driver Danica Patrick, as well as MotoGP rider Nicky Hayden, when designing special limited-edition chronographs. Stopwatches (chronographs are stopwatches on the wrist) have been commonly used to calculate lap times in autoracing for years, which is critical to gauging speed, position and performance.


The marriage between luxury timepieces and prestigious cars is a fascinating one. Watchmakers continue to be inspired by progressive engineering and sophisticated design concepts, as do their counterparts in the automotive world.