Precision engineering. Artful design. Exclusive prestige. The kind of machine you can enjoy using every day. Are we talking about the finest automobiles or timepieces? We're referring to both, because these and so many other superlatives and qualities can be attributed to both, and both are among the favorite purchases of those with the means.
It should come as no surprise, then, that these two industries have been crossing over at increasing frequency. The result of the mingling of the two worlds has been a wide array of automotive-inspired watches, taking more or less design cues and construction materials from the automotive industry. On some of the most lusted-after timepieces in jeweler's windows today you'll see such materials as aluminum, titanium, ceramics and carbon fiber; you'll see rubber wrist straps with tire-tread patterns; and you'll see ultra-exclusive watches sharing their name with the most prestigious automobiles and motor races in the world. Of course, some of them cost as much as some cars as well, but there's a wide range of choices for every budget. Here are our Top Ten favorites.
Like many luxury fashion labels, Chanel only recently got in to timepieces, but they're off to a great start, making it to the #1 spot on our list. The Chanel J12 Superleggera chronograph is constructed from ceramics, the latest hi-tech material being employed in motorsports, with black satin finish, accented by brushed aluminum, for a unique look that stands out in a field of steel watches. Superleggera, Italian for "very light", refers to its lightweight construction, evocative of classic Italian sports cars. This Swiss-made certified chronometer sells in the range of $6000.
Cartier is credited by history as having popularized the wristwatch over the pocket watch at the turn of the 20th century, and the Roadster remains one of its most beautiful offerings. It bears no official marketing affiliation with any specific carmaker, it is not the official timepiece of any racing series, and it's not made of any high-tech materials. Its sole merits on which the Cartier Roadster is included in this list are its evocative name a design, the latter referring not to a specific automobile but arguably the most desirable kind of automobile, the former managing to gracefully walk the line between sporty and elegant. The steel chronograph pictured sells in the neighborhood of $7000 with more and less expensive variations available.
Snaking through a thousand miles of Italian countryside, the Mille Miglia is one of the most famous classic races in the world, and Chopard has been sponsoring the event for over twenty years. To commemorate the partnership, the renowned Swiss watchmaker has a complete line of sports-watches. This example, selling in the $3000 range, features a tachometer, chronometer and chronograph, a titanium case and – as an extra special treat – a rubber wrist strap with tire-tread pattern styled after 1950's-era Dunlop racing tires (although versions are also available with metal and leather straps). The look is as classic as the racing event that bears its name, and the quality is reputed to be second to none.
A design that remains contemporary and avant-garde across decades is not easy, and few designs – in architecture, in automobiles, anywhere – manage to achieve that timeless modernity. The TAG Heuer Carrera is one of them, and that's what we love about it. Carrera is Spanish for "race", evoking the famous Carrera Panamericana rally in Mexico. Big name drivers like Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon wear it, and while the TAG line is full of iconic motorsport-inspired timepieces (like the square Monaco popularized by Steve McQueen in Le Mans), the Carrera
Automatic Chronograph Tachymetre is our favorite, retailing for around $3000. Like its Porsche namesake, the Carrera has been updated to keep with the times, but remains unmistakable.
While in the American market Pirelli might be just another tire company in the same vein as Goodyear or Bridgestone, overseas it is a premium label, turning out a Prada-esque fashion line, short films with big-name actors and the most exclusive and sought-after girlie calendar. It should come as no big surprise, then, that their wristwatch is one of the most intriguing and unique-looking timepieces on the market. The PZero watch series features aluminum and titanium construction with a tire-tread rubber strap that takes a more aggressive and contemporary angle than Chopard's interpretation (see above). With a wide range of variations in different colors and different types of movements, the Pirelli PZero watch starts around a reasonable $800.
Arguably, no partnership between a watchmaker and an automaker seems more fitting than the collaboration between Breitling and Bentley, both brands representing exclusivity, fine craftsmanship and the height of their respective industries. The Flying B emblem they share lends its name to their first rectangular wristwatch, incorporating a unique movement and look. The hours are displayed in a large numerical window (like a jumbo date indicator), the minutes on the main dial and the seconds on a smaller dial at the bottom. The knurled metal finish that frames the face mimics the dashboards on some of Bentley's most sought-after exclusive models. It's both elegant and eye-catching, but at $10,000, it sure ain't cheap.
Ferrari recently left their previous timepiece partner Girard-Perregaux for Officine Panerai. The iconic Swiss-Italian watchmaker has crafted a unique case evoking the lines of Ferrari automobiles and together they've launched two lines of watches, the Granturismo with more sophisticated accents and the sportier Scuderia line. We're partial to the former, with its black face and leather strap with contrasting top-stitching. Like all GMT wristwatches, this model has an additional hand to keep tabs on Greenwich Main Time (or alternatively, a second time zone); a handy feature for travelers. Prices start around $5000.
What kind of a list would this be if we didn't include a Rolex, the indisputable king of wristwatches? The Daytona has pedigree in world motorsports, taking its name from the famous American raceway at which Rolex is title sponsor of the annual 24 hour race. It's worn by grand prix legend Jackie Stewart and Indy racing czar Roger Penske, not to mention countless other racing drivers, team leaders and car collectors the world over. The only chronograph in the Rolex range, the Daytona features the trademark Rolex sweeping second hand. Available in steel or gold, with leather or metal straps, the Rolex Daytona is the definitive motorsport chronometer. But the Rolex name comes with a Rolex price, and don't expect to pay less than $10,000.
The driving watch is an interesting concept that makes perfect sense to some and absolutely none to others. This watch, made by Swiss watchmaker Parmigiani Fleurier for Bugatti makes about as much sense as the Veyron. It's also just about as complicated, exclusive and expensive, too. The completely unique mechanism was specifically designed for this watch alone and operates in a cylinder, fully visible through glass in between the 18-karat gold case. The face is one the bottom of the watch, letting the driver look at the time without removing his hands from the steering wheel. The first of only 150 was delivered to fashion icon Ralph Lauren (owner of one of only two remaining Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantics), and it sells for a staggering $200,000. (If you like the idea of a driving watch, the LP Stratosphere can be had for less than $2000).
Switzerland will always enjoy a premier status as the watchmaking capital of the world, but like the Japanese can today compete with Germany's best automakers, Japan's watches are a competitive option. Our favorite is the Seiko Sportura Ultimate Kinetic Chronograph, a unique wristwatch created to celebrate Seiko's partnership with Honda F1 and their premier driver Jenson Button. While conventional automatic timepieces use the movement of the wrist to move the gears, Seiko's kinetic movement charges a battery that will keep the watch going for five months on a single charge, with no battery to change. This version, with carbon fiber dial and bracelet links, was offered in a limited edition of only 1500 at around $4000, but the Seiko Sportura Honda F1 range includes a variety of watches at less than $600.