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Racing Watches

Watchmakers have been using design elements to tie into the high-octane world of motor racing since the dawn of the automobile—which came coincidentally about the time that wristwatches started to become en vogue.

Swiss manufacturer Oris decided to get on the racetrack eight years ago by sponsoring the AT&T Williams Formula One team, a partnership that has rewarded the watch-buying public with a number of really cool, affordable models that emulate the no-nonsense world of racing. The Swiss manufacturer then extended its automotive commitment to a vintage automobile rally called Suisse-Paris RAID, in which pre-1975 automobiles test each other across the 600 miles from Basel to Paris. The Oris RAID 2011 Alarm Edition, limited to only 50 pieces, was inspired by the dashboard of the Austin Healey 100M from 1953 that won the 2010 edition of the old-timer race. The manually wound movement encased in robust stainless steel is outfitted with an alarm enabling rally teams to set an ETA, or simply get up on time on race mornings ($8,500).

Chopard, on the other hand, has been at home on the rally tracks of this world since 1988, and is particularly well known for sponsoring Italy’s Mille Miglia and the Grand Prix Historique de Monaco. Its copresident Karl-Friedrich Scheufele is a passionate vintage car aficionado.

“Lovers of fine automobiles are said to have a weakness for precious timekeepers and vice versa,” he observes. “In both domains, extreme precision and sporting elegance play an important role.” The company’s latest tribute to this world of elegant precision is called the GT XL Chrono Rosso Corsa with its bright dial in Italian racing red. Housed inside a 44mm case of tough titanium, its dial displays extreme depth with its numerals printed on the inside of the sapphire crystal. Featuring a typical chronograph function—which can be used to both determine speed and the race and lap times—this automatic watch retails for $9,570.

Perhaps one of the brands most often related to automobile racing is TAG Heuer. The reason, however, is thanks to Hollywood. In preparing to shoot the film Le Mans, actor Steve McQueen’s main source of inspiration was his friend Jo Siffert, the Swiss racecar legend, who in 1969 became the first driver ever sponsored by a watch brand: Heuer (TAG, standing for Techniques d’Avantgarde, was added in 1985 when the latter company took over).

McQueen insisted on wearing the Heuer Monaco in the film. Perhaps it was McQueen’s influence, or maybe it was Siffert’s, but the Monaco seemed to become the preferred chronograph of the racing world in the 1970s. One inherent element certainly helped catapult its influence: its unique, uncompromising geometry, which aided in kicking off a renewed trend of shaped—in watch parlance, this term describes any watch that is not round—wristwatches.

Instantly recognizable, the “McQueen Monaco” (reference number 1133B) is still a sought-after timepiece on the international vintage markets. The latest version, named Monaco 24 Chronograph, is outfitted with the company’s especially rugged shock absorbing system (visible in the four corners of the dial) and an automatic movement ($12,800).

Visit oris.ch, chopard.com and tagheuer.com.

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