The Origins of... The Automobile Watch
With its gears and wheels, the mechanical watch is closely linked to the world of the automobile, sharing many similarities. But when did this love of watchmaking and cars begin?
In the 19th century, during the industrial revolution, steam locomotives revolutionized our means of transport and communication. It was during this very effervescent era that many vehicles began to take over the road. Like the railroads, they were a source of unlimited expression for the decoration of the watch.
Big Pilot's Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition © IWC Schaffhausen
In its early days, the history of the automobile merged with that of the railroad because of the common use of steam as a driving force. The first motorized car was designed in 1805 by Isaac de Rivaz of Switzerland, but it was not until the end of the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century that the motorized tricycle became a fully-fledged automobile.
Excalibur Huracan Performante X Lamborghini © Roger Dubuis
The first years of the 20th century saw the birth of the first Grand Prix races, both in Europe and in America, and the interest in road sports was immense. Racers and timekeepers alike measured their performances with pocket chronographs that featured tachymetric scales.
Rolls-Royce X Bovet © Bovet 1822
Apart from chronographs, watches specifically made for driving are rare. The contribution of watchmaking to the automobile lies massively in the onboard watches, fixed on the dashboard, the steering wheel or on the central rear-view mirror.
Premier B01 Chronograph 42 Bentley Centenary Limited Edition © Breitling
In 1918, Georges Schären, a young watchmaker from Biel, opened his store with a new concept. After WW1, the return of Bugatti, Lancia, and Delage gave him the idea of replicating the immediately recognizable shapes of the radiators of these racing cars onto timepieces. The success was immediate and a new trend was launched under the brand name of Mido. Other manufacturers quickly followed suit, mainly to meet the needs of a new generation of drivers. Watches were thus equipped with rotating crowns or domed cases to make them easier to read. Some were even specially designed to be worn on the side of the wrist, allowing the driver to consult the watch without taking his hands off the wheel.
Twin Turbo Furious Bugatti Sapphire Crystal © Jacob & Co.
However, the link between watches and cars was only really achieved with the development of wristwatches with chronograph functions in the 1940s. It became possible for racing drivers to calculate their performance with precision like never before. Some brands jumped on the trend, intimately associating their name with motor racing in all its forms.
Big Bang Ferrari King Gold © Hublot
Today, a large number of watch brands are intimately linked to the automobile world – Bovet with Rolls Royce, Breitling with Bentley, Girard-Perregaux with Aston Martin, Hublot with Ferrari, IWC with AMG, Jacob & Co. with Bugatti, Richard Mille with McLaren, Roger Dubuis with Lamborghini, TAG Heuer with Porsche, and more – whether with the entire brand or certain, more specific models.
Laureato Chronograph Aston Martin Edition © Girard-Perregaux
With the arrival of the electric car, it is likely that watchmaking will have new surprises in store for us to connect watches to the automobile world.
RM 11-03 Chronograph Flyback McLaren © Richard Mille
Carrera Porsche Chronograph Special Edition 44 mm Calibre Heuer 02 Automatic © TAG Heuer
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