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The Sporting Time

Swiss sports watches are high-performance timepieces
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Bacon, May/Jun 00

(continued from page 2)

To further emphasize the Link's cutting-edge styling, TAG Heuer will promote the collection with a range of brash, ingenious talents. Bad-boy fashion designers Thierry Mugler and Alexander McQueen, the sleek-moving track and field star Marion Jones and tennis ace Monica Seles were chosen as embodiments of the Link's character, stars "suited to the daring ambition" of a new watch-wearing generation.  

Another McQueen also symbolizes TAG's boldness: Hollywood legend Steve McQueen.  

In the 1970 film Le Mans, McQueen, who played a guilt-ridden race car driver, wore a Heuer Monaco, an automatic chronograph with a provocative, water-resistant square case, stop-seconds function, 30-minute dial, date display and a flat, caliber-11 chronomatic movement. Its modular design was unique, and, as WatchTime magazine reports, while prompting polarized opinions, the Monaco "became an accessory to the stars."  

Now the Monaco is back. Modernizing the "sandwich-style" construction of the earlier movement and softening the edges of the angular case, TAG has reissued McQueen's favorite watch. The $2,450 mechanical update has a retro swagger as well as refinements that have improved its performance and visual allure. "Today's Heuer Monaco radiates an irresistible charisma," raves WatchTime. "It stands as one of the great designer watches of the '90s."  

Keenly interested in the history of watchmaking, Fankhauser headed a research project that culminated in the release of the contemporary Monaco. His efforts didn't stop there, however. Impressed by company archives that detailed a rich past of watchmaking breakthroughs, he recognized the merits of creating another watch that pays tribute to motor car racing.  

That watch, the Carrera, has also been reissued. The original, a 1964 manually wound model that represented the height of wrist-chronograph technology, was named in honor of the Carrera Panamericana, the dangerous auto race of the '50s that wound through Mexico's remotest areas. The first chronograph to feature a ring-shaped numerical date indicator, the Carrera boasted three off-center sub dials, a decimal conversion scale, a 1/5th-of-a-second scale on the flange (protruding rim), and an extra large crown for easy push-button operating. Such illustrious Grand Prix drivers as Jacky Ickx, Niki Lauda and Bruce McLaren (the founder of the McLaren racing team) wore the ingenious Carrera.  

Today's version of the Carrera is as audacious as its predecessor. It features outsized chronograph buttons, a tachometer scale and a water-resistant case in either stainless steel or 18-karat gold. There's also a choice of straps (perforated calfskin or dark brown crocodile). The Carrera comes in two models, the $2,450 mechanical version and the $1,400 GMT automatic with display of a second time zone on a 24-hour scale for those hard-driving speed demons that don't want to bother with manual winding.  

"The spirit of that Panamericana race, which attracted only the most fearless drivers, is mirrored in this new Carrera," says Fankhauser. "It's a piece that captures our innovative past and dedication to stretching the boundaries of technology and design in the future."  

In the battle to push that outer envelope of watchmaking chic, Omega is another company with an edgy attitude. Collaborating with top-gun pilots and NASA astronauts, this 152-year-old Swiss titan touts itself as a cosmic traveler's "flight qualified" delight, having fashioned the only watch that's been worn on the moon, the Speedmaster Professional.   Accompanying astronauts on at least 50 space missions, including six lunar landings, these 321- and 861-caliber Speedmasters were so precise under extreme conditions that mission commander Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Stafford, now Omega's chairman, says, "With my experience in space, I understood the need for a device to track count-up, countdown and mission elapse time. I gave the specifications to Omega, and I'm very proud of their record in space. They did a super job."  

Omega wasn't content merely to have one of its moon watches installed in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. It continued to work with American and European astronauts, and now after a five-year research and development project, the company is again on a mission with its new lightweight titanium Speedmaster X-33.   Touted by Omega officials as the "Mars Watch," this 1/100-of-a-second quartz chronograph features an array of digital functions, which are displayed by a press of the crown or push buttons and are visible in the dark, thanks to an illuminated screen ($2,995 on a titanium bracelet, $2,595 on a DuPont Kevlar strap). Shock-resistant to 3,500 g's, the watch indicates mission elapsed time (days, hours, minutes and seconds) and Greenwich Mean Time (universal time), and sounds alarms of more than 80 decibels.  

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