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Drive Time

High-Performance Cars and Watches Team Up for Fast Times
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Antonio Banderas, Nov/Dec 2005

Hot cars and cool watches have always gone together. Measuring time is an essential method for evaluating the performance of vehicle and driver, both on the track and on the road. Recently that relationship has been revving up with a spate of new watches branded with the names of some of the world's top performance and luxury automobiles.

But this latest trend focuses less on monitoring speed than on celebrating the aesthetics of fine watches and top class cars and man's attraction to each. Bentley, Bugatti, Ferrari, Maserati, Mercedes and Aston-Martin all have timepieces named for them.

It's nothing new to the market that watches are themed to racing. For years they have commemorated legendary races. The Rolex Daytona, named for the raceway in Florida, is one of the most popular watches of its kind and remains Rolex's most sought-after product. Other brands have championed racing teams, such as Oris with Formula One's BMW Williams and TAG Heuer with Formula One's McLaren Mercedes. Some watchmakers have even forged relationships with racecar drivers, such as Omega's with seven-time Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher for its Speedmaster line.

But the recent fashion has been for watch manufacturers to develop models in conjunction with high-end cars—which begs a question: Do car owners buy the watches or watch owners the cars? Apparently, it's both.

"Collecting fine cars and fine watches goes hand in hand," says Alice Riese Rolley, marketing director at Audemars Piguet North America. Audemars launched its new Dual Time Millenary Maserati watch this past summer at the upscale Concours d'Elegance car show in Pebble Beach, California. Similar joint dealer events throughout the United States followed. The watch starts at about $17,600 in stainless steel.

"Maserati and AP share many values and have the same clientele," she adds. "AP is one of the most popular watch brands in Italy so we have a great understanding. Also the Royal Oak is bold and sporty, like a Maserati car. We are very confident that the partnership will be extremely successful."

Nearly all the partnerships between watchmakers and high-end car manufacturers have been successful. The most well known include: Breitling and Bentley, Girard-Perregaux and Ferrari, and Parmigiani and Bugatti. Recent agreements include IWC and Mercedes-AMG, Chopard and Alfa Romeo, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Aston Martin as well as Audemars Piguet and Maserati.

"The co-branding relationship we have enjoyed with Ferrari over the last decade has been a great success," says Ronald Jackson, president and chief operating officer of Tradema of America, agent for Girard-Perregaux in the United States. "From this relationship we had success commercially as a result of the Ferrari-branded products that were sold, but also in terms of establishing a stronger awareness of our brand in general."

Awareness is a key to cross-branding watches with cars. And it led Porsche to make its own watches more than two decades ago, believing that it made sense to be in charge of its destiny with luxury timepieces. "It is pure design and function," says Karsten Martens, president and CEO of Porsche Design of America, which markets and distributes Porsche accessories throughout the United States. Porsche makes its watches using many of the same designs, technology and materials in its car manufacturing. In fact, Porsche claims to have been the first to use titanium and black carbon for wristwatches. Its watches are made through its own watch-manufacturing partner, Eterna. "It is about engineering and materials. It is why we used titanium before anybody else. It is also about movements; we only have chronographs," adds Martens, who introduced the PTC P-6612 line of watches in the United States in November, 2004. The P-6613 through P-6624s are scheduled for release November 2005.

Most car watches currently on the market are chronographs (which perform a stopwatch function), but a number also include more complex movements such as minute repeaters, which chime every 15 minutes, and tourbillons, which eliminate movement variations caused by gravity. For example, this year Breitling introduced the Bentley Mulliner Tourbillon with a starting price of more than $150,000—a figure that is not far off the sticker price of the car itself. They make only two a month (expect a maximum of 100) and each is unique. (Breitling also makes a standard Mulliner for $43,050.)

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