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

Business Traveller - - CONTENTS - WORDS CHRIS HALL

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

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