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.)
"We think that a Bentley owner appreciates what is 'under the hood' so to speak as far as the mechanics of the watch. So it makes sense having a tourbillon movement," says Lisa Roman, marketing director for Breitling USA.
Rather than use established movements, the watch firm of Parmigiani created a completely new one this year for its surreal looking Bugatti Type 370, a watch named for a new model from Italy's automobile legend. Even while the car is still not on the road, a number of these special watches have made their way to the market. About 50 are made a year for about $200,000 each. It is strange looking, to say the least, with an open-faced movement placed where a normal watch has its dial. The dial is on the side, so a driver can tell the time while driving at high speed.
It is an amazing watch, but one has to ask: Are the Bugatti Type 370, Breitling Bentley or any other car watch simply gimmicks to sell expensive watches? Watch manufacturers say no. "The synergy really works," insists Roman, who says Breitling USA has attracted many new customers with its Bentley range. "It's a given that the person who buys a Bentley is interested in the watch. They appreciate the watch with its new styling for Breitling, which until now has been associated primarily with airplanes and pilots."
Perhaps the watch company with the most straightforward reason for producing a car watch is Chopard. The company's co-president, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, is a keen driver and car collector. So, Chopard has been making a watch to commemorate one of the world's most famous vintage car races— Europe's Mille Miglia. Scheufele participates in the race every year, and this year's edition is made in conjunction with Alfa Romeo.
The Italian firm's cars are not even marketed in the U.S., yet the watches are already in great demand. "There has been a waiting list," says Alexis Przybylski of Chopard in New York. The Mille Miglia GMT Alfa Romeo became available in the United States in October and starts at about $4,674 for the stainless steel edition. "Even if the Alfa Romeo cars are not sold in the U.S., car collectors and enthusiasts know very well about the particular brand and have always been intrigued by things European."
Americans do seem intrigued. As they should be. The United States is the key market for high-end European cars as well as watches, which both industries well know. Laurel Saville, a marketing consultant for Jaeger-LeCoultre, confirms that idea: "At the end of the day, it's a great way for both Jaeger and Aston Martin to develop new clientele, in that the JLC customer is in turn the AM customer and vice versa."