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Drive time: The 10 most iconic watches of the motoring world

Even if you are not an F1 driver or supercar owner, you can still wear a racing machine on your wrist. CNA Lifestyle looks at the most venerated timepieces associated with motorsports.

Drive time: The 10 most iconic watches of the motoring world

The Daytona International Speedway in Florida has hosted the Daytona 500 since 1959. (Photo: Rolex)

Carmakers and watch marques have been closely intertwined ever since the first stopwatches were designed for automobile dashboards in the 1930s. When  major-league motor racing took off in the 1950s, watchmakers followed closely, developing tool watches to help race drivers gauge their speed, distance and lap times.

These days, almost every tool watch manufacturer has a relationship with an auto firm, race driver or racing team. Typically for both sides – horology and automotive – the goals are aligned. Both strive for high build quality, high performance, precision and reliability.

Then, of course, there is the undeniable wealth, glamour and global reach that is mutually beneficially. With the F1 coming up this weekend, CNA Lifestyle rounds up 10 iconic timepieces that are most closely associated with motoring and motorsports.


The 2018 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Rainbow edition is fashioned from Everose gold, with baguette sapphires arranged in a colour spectrum. (Photo: Rolex)

The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona takes its name from the Daytona International Speedway race track in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Produced in 1963 as a tool watch for motor racing enthusiasts – its three chronograph counters are meant to record lap times – the Daytona gained cult status thanks to actor and racecar driver Paul Newman. In Oct 2017, Newman’s own Daytona sold for a record price at auction.

This year, Rolex revived the Rainbow Daytona in Everose – the brand’s proprietary formula for rose gold. Produced in extremely limited quantities, the distinctive watch, with its 36 baguette-cut sapphires arranged in a rainbow spectrum around the bezel, was initially available only in yellow or white gold.


The Bentley GT “Dark Sapphire” Edition features design motifs inspired by the Continental GT's dashboard and interior elements. (Photo: Breitling)

What began as a one-off venture between Swiss watchmaker Breitling and British automaker Bentley in 2002 has evolved into a partnership that survives to this day.

The collection of co-branded timepieces each sport design motifs inspired by Bentley dashboard or interior elements. These features are evident in the latest timekeeper: 2017’s Bentley GT “Dark Sapphire” Edition, made for the third generation of the Continental GT.

Notice the diamond knurling on the bezel, a grip-enhancing feature found on the car’s rotary controls. The diamond motif is also present on the dial and rubber strap. The watchcase’s deep blue hue, reminiscent of Bentley’s Dark Sapphire livery, comes courtesy of Breitlight, a proprietary high-tech material.


The dials of Chopard's Mille Miglia Racing Colours are inspired by the different nationalities that took part in the race from 1927 to 1940. (Photo: Chopard)

Chopard became the partner and official timekeeper of the Mille Miglia race in 1988, producing a limited collection of timepieces for each edition.

This year’s crop sees two chronographs, known as the Mille Miglia 2018 Race Edition, housed in a steel- or steel-and-18k-rose-gold case. Both feature finely finished dials and movements as well as calfskin straps with rubber linings inspired by 1960s Dunlop racing tyre treads.

This being the 30th anniversary of its alliance with the Mille Miglia, Chopard also unveiled five special edition chronographs with brightly coloured dials. The colours are inspired by the different marques and national identities that competed in the rally between 1927 and 1940: Red (Italy), green (the UK), silver (Germany), yellow (Belgium) and blue (France).


Hublot is the official watch of the Scuderia Ferrari and Ferrari’s official timekeeper. This year, it re-released the Big Bang Ferrari Magic Gold (circa 2012), albeit in a re-styled case and dial.

Magic Gold is a proprietary material that Hublot claims is the hardest gold in the world, thanks to the addition of boron carbide in the manufacturing process. It has a resistance of almost 1,000 Vickers, more than twice that of regular 18k gold.

The new case sports more curves than the original. The dial, though different from the 2012 version, still references Ferrari in many ways. The minute counter at 3 o’clock resembles a tachymeter counter, while the date window recalls a gear selector. A second counter at 9 o’clock recalls an air extractor, while the prancing horse motif is prominently positioned at 6 o’clock.


IWC's Ingenieur Chronograph Sport Edition “50th Anniversary of Mercedes-AMG” is a vintage-inspired timepiece. (Photo: IWC)

In 2004, IWC signed a long-term deal with AMG, the performance brand of Mercedes-Benz. When AMG celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, a commemorative timepiece was in order. Enter the Ingenieur Chronograph Sport Edition “50th Anniversary of Mercedes-AMG”, a watch that took its design cues from vintage Ingenieur archetypes.

To showcase its kinship with motorsports, the watch has a tachymeter scale that, when used together with the chronograph hand, allows wearers to calculate the average speed over a one-kilometre distance.

In addition, the protection against magnetic fields on the case back is inspired by the carbon brake discs that feature on Mercedes-AMG cars. The Ingenieur was developed in the 1950s, and was one of the first wristwatches to boast antimagnetic properties.


The Speedmaster Automatic of 2017 takes its cues from a 1968 model with a Racing Dial. (Photo: Omega)

Although the Omega Speedmaster has the reputation of being the first timepiece worn on the moon, it was originally designed as a racing watch. The first Speedmaster in 1957 was the first chronograph wristwatch to feature a tachymeter scale on its bezel rather than on its dial, which made it handy for racecar drivers to time their laps.

A 1968 version of the Speedmaster came with a Racing Dial, showcasing orange and red minute markers, orange chronograph hands, and an orange logo. This particular model inspired many other Speedmasters throughout the years, the most recent example being the 2017 Speedmaster Automatic.

The orange markings on the minute track reprise their role, but the original three-counter configuration has given way to a two-counter layout. The movement has been upgraded to a contemporary, high-precision engine.


Parmigiani Fleurier's Bugatti Type 390 has a movement built on the transverse axis, like a car engine block. (Photo: Parmigiani Fleurier)

Parmigiani Fleurier has been a partner of Bugatti since 2004. In 2016, Parmigiani Fleurier unveiled a concept watch, the Bugatti Type 390, to coincide with the release of the Bugatti Chiron, the world’s fastest production car with a top speed of 420 kmh.

The Bugatti Type 390 has a movement built on the transverse axis, like a car engine block, and was housed in a distinctively shaped case. It was launched as a working model in Oct 2017, after more than a year of testing and refinement.

Customers can specify the external appearance of the watch, just like how they can customise the look of their cars. They also do not need to be a Bugatti owner to purchase the watch. Conversely, Bugatti owners do not receive special privileges if they want to purchase the watch.


The Richard Mille RM 11-03 McLaren Automatic Flyback Chronograph borrows design elements from McLaren cars. (Photo: Richard Mille)

The link with F1 started when Richard Mille partnered (then-Sauber) driver Felipe Massa in 2004. The company developed several watches for the driver to wear during races, to test their real world performance. Collaborations with other drivers soon followed, as well as racing teams such as Lotus F1 and McLaren-Honda, the latter having signed a 10-year partnership beginning in 2016.

The latest venture in the Richard Mille-McLaren-Honda alliance: The RM 11-03 McLaren Automatic Flyback Chronograph, a timepiece that allows wearers to quickly restart the stopwatch function to time the next lap.

Design-wise, the titanium push-buttons on the case echo the distinctive headlights of the McLaren 720S, while the crown is shaped like a wheel. Titanium inserts on the bezel, adorned with the McLaren logo, recall the racecar’s air-intake snorkel.


TAG Heuer's Carrera Calibre 16 was made to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the Carrera's launch. (Photo: TAG Heuer)

TAG Heuer’s involvement in motorsports is extensive, ranging from being the official watch of Red Bull Racing to the official timekeeper of the IndyCar Series in the US.

The company can trace its racing roots to the Heuer brand of dashboard stopwatches built in the 1930s. But it was the Carrera chronograph wristwatch of 1963 that helped Heuer achieve widespread acclaim, thanks to the pantheon of racing legends on whose wrists it sat. Niki Lauda, Bruce McLaren and Ayrton Senna were among these.

The Carrera currently forms the flagship collection in TAG Heuer’s lineup. Two vintage-inspired pieces were unveiled this year, the 55th anniversary of the Carrera’s launch: A black version with a black leather strap and a blue version with a steel bracelet. Both are three-counter chronographs powered by automatic Calibre 16 movements.


Tudor revived the Montecarlo chronograph in 2013, calling it the Heritage Chrono Blue. (Photo: Tudor)

Rolex might have the Daytona, but younger sibling Tudor has the Oysterdate Chronograph Ref. 7169 “Montecarlo”. This two-counter chronograph from 1973 achieved cult status because of its bold, orange-and-blue, Mediterranean-inspired colourway.

The watch’s nickname stemmed from the resemblance of its chronograph counters to roulette wheels. And while there is no record of the Montecarlo being used at the Monaco Grand Prix, it did not stop enthusiasts from associating it with the glamour of the GP and the jet set spirit of the era.

Tudor revived this model in 2013, the Montecarlo’s 40th anniversary, calling it the Heritage Chrono Blue. The contemporary version followed the original design closely, with subtle changes to the case architecture, an updated movement and new bracelet options.

Source: CNA/ds(mm)