Porsche Design is more tied into the car brand than ever before
The timepieces produced by high-tech Porsche Design now share more than just a name with the prestige car brand – and are all the better for it
Perhaps better known for its sunglasses, luggage and cooler-than-ice looks, Porsche Design has in fact been a noteworthy name in watchmaking since the mid-1980s. The origins of the company, which became a subsidiary of Porsche AG in 2003, date back to 1972, when Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, grandson of the car maker’s founder and designer of the 911, left the car business to set up the Porsche Design Studio. One of his first commissions came from the family business itself, which was looking for a watch to give to longserving employees: the result, the Porsche Design Chronograph 1, would go on to make history as the very first all-black watch – a look so commonplace today it’s hard to imagine a time before it existed.
Porsche Design (which has undergone a number of name changes over the years; the watches, however, always bore the name “Porsche Design”) never actually built the watches itself. Instead, it worked with various Swiss partners; firstly with a little-known brand called Orfina, then most successfully with IWC, a partnership that gave rise to the world’s first fully titanium-cased watch in 1980 and oddities such as a watch with a dial that flipped upwards to reveal a compass underneath.
From 1998 to 2014 it worked with Eterna (which was itself owned by a subsidiary of Porsche AG from 1995). Sadly, the latter years of this partnership yielded little in the way of interesting watches, as Eterna was sold to Chinese owners in 2011. Then in 2014 it was announced that Porsche Design would be bringing control of its watchmaking in-house.
Today, the watches are designed at Porsche Design’s Zell am See headquarters in Austria and produced in Switzerland by Porsche Design Timepieces AG, benefitting from R&D input from Porsche AG’s team in Stuttgart. The company structure is complex but, in a nutshell, what used to be a brand that traded on its design know-how and derived more than a little cachet from having the word “Porsche” in its name, now Porsche Design is very much the car maker’s in-house watch brand.
Regardless of this history of complicated corporate manoeuvres, talk to staff at Porsche Design and there is a proud sense that their watch business belongs with the
car company. Chief technical officer Rolf Bergmann talks about bringing the car maker’s expertise to bear on the watches, a process which is emerging in the brand’s flagship models, through unique touches such as water-perforated leather straps (smaller holes, closer together, more comfortable) and extremely detailed dial construction. The end results are a bit on-the-nose sometimes – I’ve always thought that one of the best things about Porsche Design was that it didn’t feel like you were buying branded merchandise (hello Ferrari!). But Porsche Design’s new strategy brings it that much closer to the cars in more ways than one: the exclusive, limited editions for 911 Turbo S and GT2RS have been marketed as optional extras to the supercars, available on a firstrefusal basis to the 500 or so individuals who will be taking delivery of the cars and only sold openly via Porsche dealerships after that.
Beyond the aesthetics, the brand has made a statement with the creation of a new flyback chronograph movement, a big investment that was debuted in a limited edition dedicated to the 911 Turbo S in 2017, and is powering three new models this year. One is the superbly titled Monobloc Actuator. It may sound like the kind of thing James Bond would need to prise from the hands of an evil genius to save the world from certain destruction, but it is in fact a quirky chronograph design that does away with extruding “pushers” (watchspeak for buttons) in favour of a split-piece case that rocks from side to side when you want to start and stop timing. It’s quite in keeping with Porsche Design’s history of smooth-sided modern case shapes and neoindustrial textures, but some would also find it a little on the burly side. Much more my thing is the new 1919 Chronotimer Flyback in brown (pictured right) – so Seventies – with its wire frame lugs, tapered pushers and knurled crown. Also worth a look is the more discreet 1919 Datetimer 70Y Sports Car limited edition), a time-only model produced to mark the car brand’s 70th anniversary this year.
I’m not quite ready to declare Porsche Design a force to be reckoned with – the proof of the pudding will be in the sales – but linking the watchmaking in more than just name with its all-conquering automotive namesake is a confident, and confidenceinspiring, move.
Now Porsche Design is very much the car maker’s in-house watch brand
LEFT AND BELOW:1999 Datetimer Eternity 70Y Sports Car limited edition; Monobloc Actuator Chronotimer Flyback limited edition
ABOVE AND BELOW: Monobloc Actuator Chronotimer Flyback Special Edition; Monobloc Actuator Chronotimer Flyback Brown and Leather