Automobile + Watch Guide
Tracing the intersection of cars and watches
In recent years, automakers and watchmakers have gotten together to create timepieces in their cars and watches to pair with them. We examine what makes these collabs tick.
RROCKS SLIDE ALL around as I look out of the Range Rover Velar’s window. The professional driver in the passenger seat is an ex-Camel Trophy terrainchallenging competitor; he tells me to move the wheel a little to the left, then a little to the right, and then to give it a shimmy as we plow through rutty roads high on San Gorgonio Mountain.
On my wrist is the newest collaboration between watchmaker Zenith and Land Rover, the $8,700 Zenith Chronomaster El Primero Range Rover Velar. With its black ceramic-coated aluminum case and brushed gray dial offsetting copper-colored hands, it’s a handsome piece. This watch is all the more special because it’s powered by a classic movement, the El Primero, which in the watch world is akin to a classic Porsche flat-six and is one of three movements that changed the modern watch industry.
Later that evening, chatting about cars and watches, Land Rover’s nattily dressed chief design officer, Gerry
McGovern, who sported a gold Audemars Piguet Royal Oak on his wrist, remarked: “People don’t really need these things—cars and watches—but they desire them.”
That desire and connection between watches and motoring began in 1919 with Vacheron Constantin. Vacheron was one of the first manufacturers to the flip the movement and crown 45 degrees so drivers could better read the time while keeping their hands on the wheel. In 1919 the dial was aligned to the left, and then in 1921 it flipped to the right. Although these driver’s watches couldn’t time laps like a chronograph, they sure looked good behind the wheel of a Bugatti Type 30. They still do; Vacheron Constantin has sent out a slew of reissued Historiques American 1921 over the past few years, which dazzled even the most jaded collectors.
Not until the 1950s, though, and the launch of the handwound Valjoux 72 chronograph movement, did the idea of watches and cars begin to burrow deep into the minds of watch and car collectors. That movement powered, among other things, early Rolex Daytona, Heuer Carrera, and Universal Geneve Compax models, classic and much sought after automotivethemed watches from the golden age of hand-wound chronographs. Later—but before the quartz-watch revolution of the 1980s put the classic Swiss watchmaking industry under threat—the 1970s saw the release of the workhorse Valjoux 7750 and ETA 2824 movements, many of which power the grail watches now on collectors’ wrists. Although many highend watches have shifted toward in-housedeveloped movements, the vast majority of today’s watch internals are still based on the design of these two movements. The situation isn’t much different than Pagani or Aston Martin using engines sourced from AMG, as these movements, like the engines, feature their own custom parts and tuning.
Although these objects’ mechanical souls have much in common, anecdotal evidence suggests a car person is often a watch person, yet watch people are rarely into cars—and not for lack of trying on the part of watch brands.
“Like a lot of car dealers, my first big watch purchase in the mid-1980s was a Rolex Presidential, in yellow gold, of course,” says Ed Tonkin, an affable Portland, Oregon-based watch collector. “It’s a wonderful watch but very cliché, as every car dealer has one strapped to his wrist.” From there, Tonkin amassed an insane collection of more than 400 rare watches from Greubel Forsey, Audemars Piguet, and the first “super watch,” a Ulysse Nardin Freak #1.
Tonkin’s family owns the oldest Ferrari dealership in the U.S. and also collects cars,
PALM SPRINGS, California —
The Zenith Chronomaster El Primero Range Rover Velar features the classic automatic El Primero 400B movement housed in a 42mm case made from black ceramic-coated aluminum.
Left: Land Rover design boss Gerry McGovern sees similarities between the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the cars he helps his company create. Right: Car dealer and watch connoisseur Ed Tonkin.