Watches and cars In search of a horological Land Rover
Our editor-in-chief looks for a worthy watch equivalent of the Land Rover Defender
One vehicle is likely to be conspicuous by its absence at this year’s Geneva Motor Show. The very last model of the Land Rover Defender rolled off the production line in Solihull, a mere thirty minute’s drive from my parental home, on 29th January 2016. It is an uncontested icon among motor vehicles, having acted as a trusty vehicular companion to adventurers and expeditions for 68 years.
This got me wondering what watch best fits with the Land Rover Defender. If you were to believe the marketing hype of the brands present at this year’s SIHH, almost everyone had “created” an icon. But the Land Rover Defender wasn’t created as an icon. It was simply a British answer to the American Jeep that had proven so useful during the second world war and was designed to bridge the gap between a tractor and a car for farmers. It went from idea to product in around 12 months – quicker than most watches today.
Earning your stripes
The very fact that a car was produced largely unaltered for such a long time helps to explain its iconic status. The first Land Rover Series models were produced in 1948 and thus predate the Omega Seamaster and Speedmaster (1957) models, as well as the Rolex Submariner (1953), all three legendary watches in their own right that are still produced today. Jaeger-LeCoultre beats the Land Rover on age with its 85 year-old Reverso, which certainly ticks the boxes with its pedigree and staying power, not to mention the unique mechanism that gave it is name and helps to protect the watch, but is such a luxury watch a worthy equivalent of the no-nonsense Land Rover?
Simple and reliable
The very essence of the Land Rover Defender is its simplicity, making it easy to repair and restore even today. One of my neighbours had a model from the late 1960s up until only recently. When he couldn’t find any spare parts he simply made a mould and cast his own in his garage. So our watch definitely needs to be mechanical, but not necessarily luxury (a field that Land Rover nowadays covers with its prohibitively expensive Range Rover models). Ideally, our watch should have a type of mechanical movement that watchmakers refer to using a term that fits perfectly with the subject in question: a “tractor”. It needs to be reliable rather than high performance, since the Land Rover was never built for speed and over its lifetime had to cope with deployment in some of the world’s harshest environments, whether on patrol with the British SAS or the United Nations. The original Series 1 Land Rovers had a rudimentary cockpit with just three gauges, so a three-hand watch would seem appropriate.
One extremely important feature of the original Land Rover Series models was that they had a corrosion-resistant aluminium body on a steel chassis. Since the Defender can “wade” in depths of up to 500mm, our watch needs a certain amount of water resistance. Maybe not necessarily to professional diver’s watch level, but more than the basic 30 metres.
So, using the trusty WorldTempus Watchfinder, I have made a shortlist of watches that I think encapsulate the spirit of the Land Rover Defender. The first one was launched just as the last Land Rover Defender rolled off the production line.
Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Desert Type
The Land Rover Defender is just at home in the desert as it is in the urban or natural jungle. With its robust ceramic case that is water resistant to 100 metres and its self-winding mechanical movement, the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Desert Type is the perfect match for this incarnation of the legendary four-wheel drive vehicle. Its sand-coloured dial and strap help it blend in to the desert environment. Bell & Ross developed the model for air forces operating in desert environments, although its recent move into Formula 1 sponsorship adds a new automobile dimension to the brand.
Eberhard & Co. Contograf
Eberhard’s Contograf model dates back to the 1960s and its re-edition last year in camouflage retains many of the original model’s features. Its stainless-steel case, self-winding mechanical movement and a choice of stainless-steel bracelet or fabric strap make it the perfect fit with the long-serving British army Land Rover.
Hamilton Khaki Aluminium
One of very few watches on the market with a lightweight case in aluminium, the Hamilton Khaki line fits in perfectly with the bodywork of the original Land Rover Series. Its self-winding Swiss Made movement ensures reliability and its water resistance to a depth of 100 metres means that it can go wherever the Land Rover can go. It is available in a number of different versions and colours, also with lightweight fabric straps that capture the Land Rover spirit (and match well with the canvas roof).
The Jeanrichard Terrascope model fits all the criteria required of our horological equivalent for the Land Rover (100 metre water resistance, robust and resistant case materials such as carbon fibre, solid Swiss Made “tractor” movement) but its association with the Land Rover goes beyond its mere technical characteristics. Much like Land Rover, Jeanrichard stands for a philosophy of life and an adventurous spirit. Regardless of the aesthetics you may choose, it is arguably the best fit with the vehicle. When the brand was rejuvenated a few years ago, we journalists were treated to a unique tour of the Watch Valley between La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle. Our mode of transport? A fleet of vintage Land Rovers from the Swiss Land Rover club.
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