Cars and chronometers – the best driving watches you can buyTom Austin
The relationship between cars and wristwatches is deeply intertwined and extends well beyond mere utility. To some people, cars are tools to get us from A to B, and to others, watches simply do the monotonous job of telling us the time. We as enthusiasts see things very differently. Firstly there’s the engineering, both an engine and a watch movement are finely tuned precision machines with high-tolerance components working in harmony, often built with exquisite levels of meticulousness and attention to detail. Then there’s heritage and tradition, with the prestigious car and watch brands having rich histories, some going back hundreds of years, making some of these things highly collectible and sought-after. Keeping these stories alive is something that deeply resonates with both watch and car enthusiasts. Let’s not forget about community too, the very reason you are reading this right now is something both watch and car people share in common. Perhaps one of the coolest synergies is where the design principles that govern the creation of watches and cars often overlap, the lines, shapes and materials are carefully chosen to evoke a sense of beauty and functionality. So if you’re going to get a watch to drive with, you’re going to need to check out this list.
The ’60s hot-rod: Azimuth Twin Turbo
Azimuth exists in the wild category of watchmaking where the rulebook, along with all conventions goes out of the window. Founded in 2003, as far as watch brands go, they’re relatively new. After the founders Chris Long and Giuseppe Picchi decided the watch industry design standards to be sterile and stagnant, they set to work creating things they love, making design concepts from as far back as their childhood a reality. The Twin Turbo is one such concept, a twin-dialled concept wristwatch, designed to look like a dashboard and to be worn while driving so the dials face you while your hands are on the wheel. It takes that one step further, with the sleek aluminium case cover lifting like a clamshell hood of a ’60s racer, to allow operation of the crowns for both movements. The movements are both manually winding vintage calibre ETA 2512-2s, themselves from the 1960s. The right dial displays the minutes, and the left dial displays the hours, both with independent designs that make them look just like a rev counter and speedometer. While the watch carries a somewhat futuristic look, it manages to capture that retrofuturism we know from the ’60s perfectly. The Azimuth Twin Turbo is a limited edition watch so unfortunately, it’s no longer available and quite rare, but examples can be found for roughly A$7,000.
Price: approximately A$7,000
The classic cruiser: Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921
The 1920s were a transformative era, where automobiles truly became symbols of prestige and style. Cars roared into the limelight, gracing cinema screens and permeating popular culture, signifying status and allure. Simultaneously, the 1920s witnessed the rise of the wristwatch, transitioning from pocket watches and adapting to the era’s aesthetic. In this intersection of the automotive revolution and horological innovation, the watch as a driver’s companion began to unfold. The Vacheron Constantin 1921 emerged as a noteworthy timepiece, with its slanted dial design facilitating easy readability when worn on the inside of the wrist while gripping the steering wheel at 4 and 8, unlike how most of us would hold a steering wheel today. In contemporary times, Vacheron Constantin released the Historiques American 1921. This classic watch echoes the 1920s spirit with a 40mm cushion case, Breguet-style numerals, the manual winding calibre 4400 movement, and of course, the slanted dial. Made exclusively in precious metals and featuring a gorgeous leather strap, it stands as a faithful recreation of the original and makes it one of Vacheron Constantin’s most popular models.
The retro racer: TAG Heuer Carrera Glassbox
One of the most popular chronographs of all time, the Carrera, celebrated its 60th birthday this year. To commemorate it, TAG Heuer has released a flurry of Glassbox chronographs in 2023. Not only is the watch oozing with classic style, but its bowl-shaped dial with curved flange gives the watch an almost bezel-less look, without spoiling the aesthetics. Sized at 39mm, the watch sits perfectly on the wrist and helps solidify that retro feel. Of course, we cannot forget that boxed crystal, giving it the Glassbox name, and working with the inner curved tachymeter scale so nothing is blurred or scratched. Indeed this is a motorsports-derived timepiece, with the automatic TH20-00 chronograph movement specifically designed for timing, and it’s just one of those watches that is synonymous with driving, racing, and cruising. TAG Heuer even recently collaborated with Porsche for two special edition Chronosprint versions. It’s a timeless, hyper-cool piece that if you’re a car enthusiast, deserves a place in your collection.
The space-age speedster: MB&F HM09 Flow Air Edition
In the 1940s and ’50s, aerodynamics in motorsports and the automotive industry truly began to take hold, as engineers began to apply knowledge gained from aviation technology. Car brands started experimenting with some extraordinarily curvaceous designs, not only to make their cars faster and more efficient but importantly, to make their cars look out-of-this-world. This is where Max Büsser and his brand MB&F drew their inspiration for the Horological Machine 09 Flow, an exercise of scientific design and over-the-top aesthetics. It makes for one awesome driver’s watch. With editions in sapphire, rose gold, or grade 5 titanium, the watch is positioned on the wrist with the dial facing the driver, but the top of the watch displays the incredible mechanics through sapphire crystal windows. Powering the watch is a manually wound in-house movement, masterfully engineered with two fully independent balance wheels with a planetary differential, delivering incredible levels of accuracy. Like most MB&Fs, it looks like something from a sci-fi movie, but is done with excellent taste and the fact that so much work goes into these creations, means they tie in very closely with the revolutionary automobiles that inspired it.
Price: US$222,00 (HM09 Flow Air Edition)
The supercar: Richard Mille RM40-01 McLaren Speedtail
Supercars are loud, angry-looking, and anything but subtle, and Richard Mille has perfected this approach to their watches. In 2016, Richard Mille began a partnership with McLaren, the British manufacturer of ultra-high-performance supercars and Formula 1 race cars. Only a couple of watches have been released as part of this collaboration, but in 2021 announced its third, with the RM 40-01 Automatic Tourbillon McLaren Speedtail. Much like the Speedtail it steals its name from, it’s shaped like a teardrop, the most aerodynamically efficient shape found in nature. Constructed from grade 5 titanium, among multiple other high-tech materials, the watch’s movement features an extreme-looking skeletonised bridge that evokes the tapering shape of the car, set with a platinum oscillating mass, ceramic ball bearings, and of course, a stunning tourbillon. While RMs may not all be to everyone’s taste, they epitomise that “race car for the wrist” look, with everything that Richard Mille stands for, manufacturing watches to Formula 1 levels of detail and utilising the latest material tech. They’re of course priced like one too, with the Speedtail setting you back in excess of A$1.5 million.
Price: in excess of A$1.5M